Colombia's breast obsession

The controversial drama "Sin Tetas" offers a grim look at beauty standards and the economics of sex.

By Adrienne So

Published October 6, 2006 10:18PM (EDT)

Where to begin with this one? Reuters on Thursday offered a review of the wildly popular Colombian television series "Sin Tetas" ("Without Tits"). The show's teenage protagonist, Catalina, doesn't have large enough breasts for her liking -- and, more crucially, she also doesn't have money, job prospects or a future. She believes that getting the former will bring her the latter, which is how we get Reuters' contemplative headline: "Do big breasts lead to paradise? Colombia asks."

Facing limited options, Catalina decides she needs a gangster boyfriend (or traqueto) to take care of her. But in a hideous chicken-or-egg debacle, she can't seem to get a traqueto without large breasts, and she can't pay for breast augmentation without a boyfriend to fund the operation. Catalina tries prostitution to raise the funds, but again, her small cup size stands in the way, and the series quickly spirals downward into episodes of treachery and violence.

Reuters reports that the horrors suffered by the would-be teen prostitute are based on a true story, and represent the real-life circumstances of many young women in a country torn by a guerrilla civil war and a thriving illegal drug trade. Attaching herself to a wealthy traqueto is often the only way for a young woman to escape grinding poverty, and traquetos aren't shy about sending their girlfriends under the knife.

According to Reuters, Colombians are split on the show's impact. The show is set in Pereira, a party town trying to remake its image, whose young women have already done some creative campaigning in an attempt to reform their traquetos. City spokesman Luis Garcia called the show "tele-trash" and told the wire service, "All the guys in the story are assassins and the girls sell themselves in order to augment their breasts. It is the stereotype we object to."

But Margarita Rosa Arias, an actress on the show, claims that the show has a different purpose. "Vanity is pushing the girls of Colombia to do crazy things. We are addressing this in the show, not celebrating it," she said.

As gross as the show's premise is, taking Catalina's story off the air isn't necessarily the answer. The tragedy of the matter is that in this context, breast augmentation seems to be a sensible business investment, given that this society's romantic relationships are often rigidly hierarchical and driven by economics. If the show is broadening awareness of these social inequities and unnatural beauty standards, that's good news. On the other hand, "Sin Tetas" is a TV show, not a public service announcement. There's a difference between exposing a crisis and exploiting it, and this breast-centric drama may not recognize the distinction.

Adrienne So

Adrienne So is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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