05/07/2012 09:33 am ET Updated Jul 07, 2012

Beauty, Sex and Opportunity: Colombia's Globalization of Sexuality

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In 2009, Colombia's largest broadcasting network, Caracol International, aired a televised special titled "Sex Tourism in Colombia: Pleasure Without Borders", which illustrated the various sex industries that cater to a foreign clientele from the United States, Europe, and Asia and have earned it its rank as the third most popular sex tourist destination in the world.

This country's report illustrates the manner in which sexuality, specifically referring to the region's prominent gendered and eroticized practices ranging from beauty pageants to prostitution, is being used as a means of forming transnational linkages with foreign regions across the globe. These transnational linkages formed through sex tourism, domestic work and marriage are driving Colombia's globalization of sexuality.

The literature surrounding globalization and its influence on the Latin American region supports the thesis that "globalism [driven by] economic imperialism tends to travel south despite the difference in culture and everyday life; but it can also be argued that this imperialist-globalist tendency is not the only one: people from the south [expand] north while economic reforms in their home countries force them to leave." This notion would then suggest that the globalization of sexuality Latin America is currently witnessing was catalyzed by the economic incentives Northern and international expansion could potentially provide.

Theories of the "contemporary globalized world" typically include the acceleration of migration, prevalence of travel, and the growth of information technology all of which are driven by economic incentives. This project, however, seeks to approach globalization by analyzing the manner in which the rapid political and economic transformations taking place within the international arena are seen to interact with various "cultural and psychosocial meanings of [...] sexuality for the actors [in this case Colombian citizens] themselves." In other words, how Colombian citizens are using their national understanding of sexuality, shaped by its beauty culture, in order to engage with the greater global economy.

I argue that Colombia's beauty culture is allowing for the proliferation of sexuality by instilling the country's female population with the desire to establish transnational linkages through sex tourism, domestic work and marriage. Colombia's region-specific history of sexuality and its emphasis on female beauty has led to the formation of the country's prevalent "cultura de belleza" or beauty culture. Since 1934, when the national Miss Colombia pageant was first founded and held in Cartagena, female beauty has emerged as a source of national pride, achievement and, for many, an opportunity to escape poverty.

The country's prevalent soap opera and cinema culture, integral components of Colombian media, also play a large role in the promotion of the country's fixation on beauty. Colombia's telenovela or soap culture is unique compared to other Latin American nations in that the scripts and plot lines originating from the country's productions have in many ways pioneered today's concept of a good telenovela and are often sold to neighboring countries for re-production.

Whether the telenovelas are family comedies or narco-dramas, the script demands the casting of women that uphold the Colombian ideal of beauty. These media outlets showcase opportunities in which sexuality and beauty can be used to establish transnational connections with wealthier foreign regions as well. Lastly, exploring Colombia's beauty culture and the media outlets that promote it within the region allows for a discussion of the implications that the globalization of sexuality has on the region including, the promotion of trafficking of persons by way of sex tourism and the exposure to exploitation through the domestic work industries.

This project was ultimately motivated by my desire to understand how Colombia's beauty culture is contributing to the country's globalization of sexuality and how it differs from neighboring countries in the region that witness the same kind of proliferation, but do not have a comparable fixation on feminine beauty.