When Diana D'Agostino, the wife of the Venezuelan National Assembly's president, disparaged the women working in the government, calling them “poorly dressed, dirty, or walking around without makeup,” she doesn't seem to have anticipated that her comments would be ill received by many in the public.
D'Agostino made her remarks in response to criticisms following her recent appearance on the cover of a glossy celebrity magazine. D'Agostino called her critics Chavismo supporters, saying, the country's political Left has “gotten into a bad habit” of employing unkempt women. “Us Venezuelan women aren't like that,” she explained.
Venezuela has a reputation for its cultural infatuation with cosmetic surgery and beauty contests. The country witnesses more plastic surgeries on a per capita basis than anywhere in Latin America, and it also leads the region in reported cases of eating disorders. In a country with 13 “Miss Universe” champions, beauty standards that are impossible for most women weigh heavily on Venezuela's girls.
Hearing D'Agostino's comments about what Venezuelan women are supposed to look like, many women online have responded by sharing their experiences with how beauty ideals clash with the wellbeing of women and girls.
Writing on Onda Feminista (Feminist Wave), Mariana González outlined what she sees to be the main points behind D'Agostino's comments:
“Las mujeres venezolanas no somos así.” ¿Y entonces que son las venezolanas que tienen prioridades más importantes que maquillarse? ¿Cuya vida no gira entorno a su apariencia? ¿Extraterrestres? […] Si una representante gubernamental anda arreglada o en pijama, maquillada o con cara de recién levantada, es completamente irrelevante. Su trabajo no es andar modelando. […] Además de horriblemente misógino, este comentario es desatinado, absurdo y complemente desconectado de la realidad.
“Us, Venezuelan women, aren't like that.” And so what exactly are Venezuelan women who have more important priorities than putting on makeup? Whose lives don’t revolve around their appearance? Aliens? […] Whether a government representative is well dressed or in pajamas, has makeup on or looks like she just woke up, is completely irrelevant. Her job is not to look like a model. […] In addition to being horribly misogynistic, her comment is foolish, absurd, and completely disconnected from reality.
In a post titled For Diana D'Agostino, the artist Yole Quintero shared stories from her adolescence about her fight for acceptance, and her problems with her surroundings, social demands, and plastic surgery:
…yo no crecí intentando ser inteligente, yo crecí intentando ser bonita. Tanto era, que me la daba de bruta para que no me rechazaran, que me hacía la gafa, la boba. Supongo que es más fácil esconder la inteligencia que la fealdad. De esta época no tengo muchas fotos, justamente porque no me gustaba verme.
… I didn't grow up trying to be intelligent. I grew up trying to be pretty. So much in fact that I lowered myself to stupidity so that they wouldn't reject me. I pretended to be the idiot, the dummy. I suppose it's easier to hide intelligence than ugliness. I don't have very many photos of that time, precisely because I didn't like looking at myself.
Hace 7 años más o menos, me hice la única operación que me he hecho en toda mi vida […] Intercambié parte de mi cara por sentirme bien conmigo misma cuando me viese en el espejo. Era estético, mis miedos eran estéticos. Y me dolía muchísimo pensar que si hubiese nacido bonita, me hubiese ahorrado tiempo, dinero y sufrimiento.
Around 7 years ago, I had the only operation that I've ever had in my whole life […] I exchanged part of my face to feel good about myself when I look in the mirror. It was aesthetic, my fears were aesthetic. And it hurt me a lot to think that if I had been born beautiful, I would have saved myself a lot of time, money, and suffering.
In one of her “Chronicles of the Defective Feminist,” Aglaia Berlutti emphasized the pressure she experienced specifically within Venezuelan society:
Nadie que no sea venezolano comprende muy bien esa presión invisible que llevamos a todas partes como un peso real. Es complicado explicar a alguien que no creció siendo estigmatizado y menospreciado por su aspecto físico cómo es vivir en un país donde la belleza se exige, en donde ser «bello» —lo que sea que eso pueda significar— es un elemento necesario e incluso imprescindible para el triunfo social.
Nobody that's not Venezuelan understands very well this invisible pressure that is felt everywhere like a real weight. It's complicated to explain to someone that didn't grow up stigmatized and despised for your physical aspect, how it is to live in a country where beauty is demanded, where being beautiful—whatever that means—is a necessary and even essential element for social success.
Berlutti also points out the complexity of the values of beauty in identity:
Y no se trata solo de la cultura de la apariencia, conocida y bien difundida alrededor del mundo gracias a los medios de una época egocéntrica e infantil, sino de algo más complejo, turbio y doloroso. Porque en Venezuela la belleza es un síntoma de algo más duro de sobrellevar. De una percepción sobre la identidad que aniquila la individualidad. Como si lo estético fuera una meta, un proceso y un triunfo que pocos pueden alcanzar y que define en todo extremo posible, la forma como Venezuela se entiende a sí misma. O mejor dicho, la forma como menosprecia la diferencia.
And it's not just about the culture of appearance, which is known and dispersed throughout the world thanks to the media of an egocentric and childish era, but also something more complex, dark, and painful. Because in Venezuela beauty is a symptom of something harder to bear: a perception about identity that destroys individuality. As if aesthetics were a goal, a process, and a success that few can achieve and that define at all cost, how Venezuela understands itself. Or in other words, a way of looking down on differences.
Naturally, not every response to D'Agostino's comments addressed the struggle against oppressive beauty aesthetics. The satirical news site El Chigüire Bipolar (The Bipolar Capybara) had some fun with D'Agostino's apparent obsession with appearances, casting her concerns as a plea for international aid:
La abogada y esposa del presidente de la Asamblea Nacional (AN), Diana D’Agostino, solicitó el día de hoy en rueda de prensa a la comunidad internacional ayuda humanitaria de maquillaje y secadores de pelo.
At a press conference today, Diana D’Agostino, the attorney and wife of the National Assembly president, requested humanitarian aid from the international community in the form of makeup and blow dryers.