In Venezuela, women are injecting themselves with silicone to keep their butts looking perky, despite the fact that it’s killing them.
How It’s Done
When most people think of implants, they picture shells filled with liquid being inserted into the body, the way breast implants are. However, silicone butt implants are not shells; rather, they’re straight liquid silicone, which is injected in gel form and then spreads uncontrollably through the tissues.
As it migrates, the silicone can paralyze muscles (including spinal muscles, which leads to full-body paralysis). It also causes tumors and varying degrees of pain in the affected areas; some women are in so much pain that they can’t get out of bed or sit down, and require constant painkiller “cocktails.”
Additionally, since it’s a foreign chemical, silicone compromises the immune system in a disease known as “silicoma,” which causes rashes, fevers and autoimmune diseases. And if it finds its way into the bloodstream, it can block blood vessels and cause an embolism, or clot, which can in turn cause heart attacks, lung problems, and more, depending on which part of the body is affected.
As the Atlantic reports, 17 Venezuelan women have died in the past year from the silicone procedure, which “an estimated 30 percent of Venezuelan women aged 18 to 50 have undergone.” This “gift” is often presented to girls by their parents at age 15 – since 15 is, apparently, the right age for giving your daughters gifts which kill them. Since the treatment costs only about $8 US and is typically done at home, it’s not exactly an expensive gift, at least monetarily. However, death is about as high a long-term cost as you can get, and the cocktail of side affects listed above makes it pretty clearly not worth the risk.
Though most people would look at these warnings and swear to never get an injection, the death toll has risen since the injections were made commonly available in 2008 – and since the 30% number is just an estimate, we don’t really know know how many women are at risk. Additionally, even the estimates don’t take into account the number of 15-, 16-, or 17-year-olds who may be getting implants.
Even more worrisome is that, according to the president of the Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association, the injections “can never fully be taken out. 100 percent of cases become complicated. It could take four days or it could take 20 years, but eventually the patient will become irreversibly sick.” Thus, while 17 women have died in the past year, it is anticipated that the number of deaths will dramatically rise in years to come. In fact, if 30% of Venezuelan women have received these injections, that means that somewhere between 8 and 9 thousand women are potentially at risk – and the country’s Association of Cosmetic Surgeons estimates that 2,000 women are getting injections monthly.
Considering these facts, it seems quite clear that DIY silicone injections are not a smart decision. Yet how to explain their increasing use? It’s unclear whether most people are as-yet unaware of the risks, or if they simply don’t care. However, considering Venezuelan culture, it would perhaps not be too surprising if some women chose to ignore the lists of side effects.
After all, this is a country in which women spend 20% of their incomes on beauty products (they buy more than any other country), and which won a Guinness World Record for most international beauty queens, many of whom become successful celebrities back home. (A possible reason for this success is the fact that Venezuelan girls can start training to be beauty queens at special schools as young as age 4.)
In Venezuela, looks are everything. One woman was quoted in the Atlantic article saying that undergoing plastic surgery is “completely normal” for Venezuelan women, and another adds that, in Venezuela, “a beautiful woman has greater career prospects than someone with a strong work ethic and first-class education.” A third states that many women even go into debt to finance their plastic surgery, and many Venezuelan banks offer special plastic surgery loan packages. The pressure to look perfect is ever-present; one study found that “fear of negative appearance evaluation,” or others thinking you look bad, is the greatest predictor of bad body image in young Venezuelan women.
However, a beauty culture which prizes women’s physical appearance above all else is not limited to Venezuela. In the United States, for example, there were 14.6 million cosmetic surgery procedures performed in 2012, the vast majority on women – and that number is 5% greater than it was in 2011. Internationally, other countries are right on our tail; in fact, three other countries are ahead of us on number of procedures performed per capita.
International beauty culture infects women and girls at all levels of society, from a very young age – one study showed that girls aged 5 to 7, when shown pictures of thin dolls like Barbie, “said they wanted to look thinner compared with those who saw dolls with a healthier body shape.” As girls grow into teens and then into women, their consumption of problematic media (TV, movies, fashion magazines, advertisements, etc.) only grows, and their levels of body dissatisfaction grow right along with it.
Is the Government Doing Enough?
In an attempt to protect women from the dangers of butt implants, the Venezuelan government has made the cosmetic use of silicone bypolymers illegal, but one undercover researcher found that she could purchase a bottle online easily, and there are plenty of businesses that offer back-room injections for those who don’t want to do it themselves.
In light of this, many activists are claiming that the government has not taken strong enough measures to stop women from getting injections. So, these activists, in many cases women who actually received the procedure only to experience negative side effects, are trying to educate the public about this issue themselves via nonprofits like NO to Biopolymers, YES to Life (whose founder recently passed away due to complcations from her injections).
However, the truth is that without changing Venezuelan (and global) culture, women will continue to die. Even if educational efforts are successful and women stop receiving polymer injections, in a country so obsessed with beauty there will always be another fad to take its place. Before the silicone injections, it was a “tongue patch” of plastic sewn to the tongue which made eating solid foods so painful that women were forced onto liquid diets, before that breast enhancements, and so on – the method might change, but the goal remains the same.
The greatest proof of this? A quotation at the end of the Atlantic article, in which one anti-polymer activist stated that “As for Venezuelan men, they shouldn’t worry. We’re still the most beautiful women in the world.”
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.