'Military regime' in battle for Venezuela's beautiful prize

"It's not true that we only eat celery all day," said Eliana Calicchia, a finalist in the Miss Venezuela beauty contest, famed both for its strict rules and production of world-renowned beauties.

"There are sacrifices and sometimes you wish you could eat something, but then you think of the positive side," said Calicchia ahead of Thursday's final, where the latest queen will be selected from 28 slender, short-listed hopefuls.

Venezuela has long been a beauty factory - it has six Miss Universe titles which make it almost level with the United States overall, even though with only 26 million people it has less than one tenth of America's population.

Behind the South American nation's success is the Miss Venezuela franchise and its determined president, Osmel Sousa, who proudly supports cosmetic surgery.

Sousa, who has been at the helm since 1981, decides changes in weight, hair, make-up and teeth for each of the 28 finalists as well as the "errors of nature" which need to be corrected with surgery - financed by the competition organizers.

"This is a contest of beauty, not of naturalness," Sousa told AFP.

In one of the world's most beauty-obsessed countries, the Miss Venezuela competition each year attracts more than 7,000 women prepared to reduce their waistlines, go under the scalpel and follow tough fitness programs in what Sousa calls an "almost military" regime.

"You need a lot of conviction to do this," said Isabel Castillo, one finalist.

"The heels are the worst. I'm used to them but after a while I can't feel my feet," said Axel Lopez, a 20-year-old graphic designer practicing her catwalk moves with the other 27 candidates.

Before they even imagine the luxury contracts and prizes at the end of top international contests, the goal of parading on a catwalk in front of millions of people in the nationwide contest is enough motivation for many to completely change their lives.

From spending hours on basketball courts and athletics tracks, Andrea Escobar turned to strutting confidently in 12-centimeter (five-inch) heels.

"I used to wear shorts and T-shirts and I never did my hair or wore make-up or jewellery. It was quite a sudden change," Escobar said, smiling.

"Instead of a basketball, I now carry lipstick. Now I'm not a basketball player, I'm feminine like my family always wanted to see."

For those short-listed, the day starts at dawn and includes gym sessions, catwalk classes, choreography, public speaking and wardrobe classes.

"Miss Venezuela is known for its discipline. It's a great responsibility to be here," Lopez said.

The women soon realize that the role is no nine-to-five job, learning to be groomed and smartly-dressed for evening events to promote the competition.

"You belong to the Miss Venezuela organization and your time is at their disposal," said Escobar, who suspended her studies to take part in the competition.

In the 1990s, the organization was the local business which showed most international success, and it has won around 70 worldwide beauty crowns, according to its website.

"I feel the same as the manager of a tomato factory or whatever: I have to maintain a product line that is important for the country," Sousa said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions