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Powerful Photos Capture Impact of 'Narco Aesthetic' In Medellín, Colombia

06/19/2015 05:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

"Beauties" is a photo essay I shot on the interpretation of beauty and female culture in Medellín, Colombia.

Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia. During the '80s and '90s, it was at the epicenter of narcotics traffic in South America. Today, plunging homicide rates, a public campaign to reduce violence, and urban development have helped new libraries, parks, schools and sustainable infrastructure flourish. This combination has qualified Medellín as a city of change on the international stage.

However, when a big phenomenon and transition like this happens in a society, it is inevitable that it affects all aspects of it; in this case, one of them was the interpretation of beauty. During these years, the female body became a reflection of a lavish lifestyle. Drug lords would visit the U.S to conduct drug deals and return with images of beauty that they'd seen on prostitutes there: blonde and voluptuous, with thin noses. Back home, they had the money to transform any woman into that canon of beauty.

This understanding of the female body, usually called narco aesthetic, had a deep impact on the female culture of the city. In Medellín, women have historically been seen as strong figures, mothers and hard workers. For many, it is still like that, but the 1980s and '90s brought a very materialistic approach that changed the role of women's beauty and bodies.

This is how cosmetic surgery went mainstream in Medellín. The photoessay introduces the viewers to teenagers with casual familiarities with liposuction; a diet pill seller so desperate to be "as pretty as her friends" she allowed an unqualified doctor to put bio-polymers in her buttocks (a procedure she's now seeking to reverse); and handfuls of women who've spent millions of pesos on plastic surgery besides.

Even so, my main objective wasn't to focus on the popularity of plastic surgery in the city, but on how social factors changed the understanding of our own bodies. I just wanted to investigate how women and beauty are interpreted in a particular space and time frame. However, it was inevitable that the love for plastic surgery in the city showed up in the essay; not taking it into account would have meant ignoring a big part of the reality.

Provoking girls to realize there are alternative ways of seeing beauty is a huge priority in my reportage. I would like to believe that my work will inspire other women to analyze what they see around them and realize that it's just a culturally formed interpretation of beauty; you don't need to take it in full.

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    Elena (left) is 18 years old and Tita is 19. "I had liposuction when I was 15 and breast implants at 18. I can't remember when I first wanted to start changing my body. It has always been a desire," explained Elena. "Now I'm going to have more liposuction, and I'd also like to have work done on my butt and face."
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    "I started to save money for surgery when I was 18. I was so focused on getting the money that I couldn't continue my studies."
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    Diet pills have become very popular among the women in Medellín. Some are sold through models' Facebook pages.
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    Aleida injected biopolymers. These liquids' origins cannot always be identified, and they're often used in these types of uncertified aesthetic surgeries, making them potentially very dangerous.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost Spain and has been translated from Spanish to English.