As women, the most difficult thing we face is accepting our bodies and loving ourselves with all of our flaws. This becomes extremely difficult with the heavy influence of media and societal pressures projected onto women.
I thought that I had it bad in the U.S. when it came to photoshopped, highly unattainable images of women in magazines, movies and commercials, but I never felt more pressure to look perfect than in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
You can never go out without a face touched with makeup, sleek, straight hair, platform shoes (their version of high heels) and an outfit that you planned days in advance. When I leave the house in workout clothes without mascara, people watch my every move, and I’ve been given ‘the up- down’ no matter where I am headed.
When I do go to the gym (the only place where workout clothes is acceptable) I work out next to women who look like they are going on a date after. I do not go to the gym to look good, I go to the gym to work out, sweat and feel better about myself.
I spoke with other women on my study abroad program and my Argentinian friends who agree with me on the cultural importance of body image and always dressing your best when walking around the streets of Buenos Aires.
“Buenos Aires is definitely a more fashion forward city, with tight clothes that are in style, chunky heels, and makeup. I do not dress as casually in the U.S. as I do here, especially since people would never be caught dead wearing sweat pants to class,” said Lauren Sperling ‘16 from the University of Colorado-Boulder.
It is almost impossible not to think you are overweight when you cannot fit into any of the impossibly small, childlike sizes at clothing stores. Some stores have a one- size- fits- all size, or there are only three sizes on a rack (small, medium and large), and the largest size is not the same large as it would be in the U.S.
It became such a problem here that a law, “Ley de Talles” (Law of Sizes), was introduced and put in effect in December of 2005, requiring stores to stock larger sizes. Clothing manufacturers, distributors, and businesses that do not comply face a large fine or possibly closure. However, people remain skeptical about the enforcement of this law, since it is difficult to find clothing that actually fits. According to the Association against Bulimia and Anorexia (ALUBA), one in ten Argentinians suffer from an eating disorder. This roughly totals to 4 million people. Argentina has more citizens with the disorder than any other country, behind Japan.
This statistic shows just how Argentinian women are affected by expectations to look a certain way due to societal pressures and unrealistic media portrayals. It’s estimated that the amount of eating disorders in Argentina is three times higher than in the United States. According to the Albion Monitor and Ministry of Health 30 percent of porteñas (women who live in Buenos Aires) admit to dieting, and 34 percent admit to smoking in order to obtain a slimmer figure.
According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), in 2013, Argentina was ranked within the top 25 countries in the world with the highest rates of cosmetic procedures performed. It is not surprisingly that many health insurance plans here provide coverage for one cosmetic surgery per year. Here in Argentina, there is an obsession with staying young and looking beautiful.
“It would be horrible to be struggling with an overeating disorder here, since there are barely any plus size clothes, and the media is pretty much the same here as the U.S. with billboards of beautiful, thin women and half naked women on television. I think women are more objectified here as seen by the piropos (catcalls) and machismo,” Sperling said.
Although I feet an abnormal pressure to fit into Argentina’s mold of being beautiful and thin, I found inner peace with myself and the body that I have. It is so easy to fall into the trap of body shaming, but, once you come to love yourself, you can do anything.
Remember that when you study abroad, you will encounter a lot of things that are different than in the U.S.; some that are negative and some that are positive. Body image, the portrayal of women and the pressure of perfection does not have to ruin this amazing time of exploring other cultures, lands, languages and people. Remember that beauty is defined differently all over the world, and that we, as women, define that beauty.
Do something that makes you feel beautiful whether it be writing, speaking with a friend, sitting in a café with a cup of coffee, exercising, going for a walk, or simply listening to music. The power lies within us to determine our own beauty, not in society or in another person.