Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez momentarily interrupted his ongoing critique of the U.S. to castigate another enemy: Venezuelan doctors who hawk breast implants. In a state television address, Chavez said Venezuelan women, egged on by doctors, spend way too much on plastic surgery, reports The New York Times. While the country's booming implant industry is already weathering controversy — a 20-year-old woman died in Caracas this month from complications — doctors say it's wrong for Chavez to call for "discrimination" against their profession. Here, a brief guide to the ruckus:
Why is Chavez so upset?
He says Venezuela's addiction to breast augmentation is a "monstrous thing." It is "painful," Chavez says, to see impoverished women pressured into paying for cosmetic surgery when they can't even afford basics. He lays much of the blame on doctors, who, he says, make these women feel bad "if they don't have some big bosoms." Chavez even suggests that implants can predispose young women for early pregnancy and drug abuse.
Are breast implants that popular in Venezuela?
"In beauty-conscious Venezuela, boobs are big business," says Corky Siemaszko in the New York Daily News. Between 30,000 and 40,000 Venezuelan women have their breasts lifted or otherwise enhanced every year. Billboards advertise bank loans for the surgery, and gossip blogs trade opinions on which Miss Venezuela contestants have gone under the knife. "I've never seen more silicone anywhere else," says feminist Spanish filmmaker Mireia Sallarès, as quoted in the Times.
How has Chavez's rant gone over?
It's receiving mixed reviews. An opposition newspaper, El Nacional, attacked Chavez for what it called his "antiquated, militaristic, coarse, repressive attitude on the freedom of women to do what they want with their bodies." Others said that Chavez's point — bizarre as it may be for him to make it — is actually pretty reasonable. El Nacional was being "a bit over dramatic," says Kyle Munzenrieder in Miami New Times. In fact, this might be "a rare instance where Chávez is right. There's nothing wrong with preferring a woman's natural state, no matter the size."