I was fascinated this week by Alexander Edmonds article about plastica in Brazil. In my opinion the most telling part of the article was at the very end when Edmonds makes the statement, “When access to education is limited, the body- relative to the mind- becomes a more important basis for identity as well as a source of power”. Is it any wonder, then, that some of the most beautiful and striking models arise out of some of the World’s poorest nations?
I was reminded of the tragic story of Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model who died of anorexia in November of 2006 at the age of twenty-one. In her case, as Edmonds puts it, her beauty was her “source of power”. When she was a child, her family’s savings were stolen, and suddenly she felt that she was responsible for helping her family out. After winning a small beauty contest in her hometown of Jundai she began to model and her career took off. Some could argue that there is nothing she wouldn’t do for her career to be successful, and many speculate this is how her weight loss spiraled out of control. For Reston, looking thin and achieving an ideal body type was a small price to pay to be successful. She died November 15, 2006 after kidney failure due to anorexia. She was 5’8” and weighed 88 lbs.
Natalia Vodianova is another example of a model raised in extremely poor conditions (in her case in Russia), but her story is one with a happy ending. She enrolled in modeling school and learned English when she was fifteen, and by the time she was seventeen she moved to Paris to pursue her modeling career. In her case her mother knew that this would be her path to a better life for her and her family, and she urged Natalia to go. At the time it was a sacrifice, but twelve years later, she has walked in over 175 runway shows around the world for the industry’s biggest names and has graced the cover of Vogue, twice.
These two stories get back to Edmond’s idea that these women take part in plastica because it could be what they need to have their big break, and at the very least, to be the breadwinner for their family. In most cases it isn’t out of vain, but out of a yearning and longing for a better life, no matter what the cost.