Billie JD Porter has previously graced our screens on C4’s The Joy of Teen Sex, raising eyebrows and passing judgement on everything from freaky fetishes to genital piercings, but
Billie JD Porter has previously graced our screens on C4’s The Joy of Teen Sex, raising eyebrows and passing judgement on everything from freaky fetishes to genital piercings, but this Monday she turns to a more serious side of sexuality in her exploration of South America in a new, three-part BBC Three series: Secrets of South America.
The series will examine how teens across the pond live in cultures that seem worlds apart from our own. First, she takes us to Venezuela, where she spent six months with contestants of the Miss Venezuela beauty contest as they take part in an extreme regime to transform them into international beauty queens.
Though Argentina is an oil-rich country, it still struggles with violence and poverty, meaning that its teen girls are desperate to succeed in the competition in order to make life easier for their families.
Billie meets 18 year-old Meyer, whose family has to work seven days a week in order to earn the money needed to fund her surgery. Meyer’s brother and cousin have already been shot dead in the barrio in which she lives, and so she desperately wants to win the competition in order for her and her family to escape the slums and find a better life for themselves.
Already she has had breast implants, a nose job and her teeth corrected, as well as having a mesh fitted to her tongue that makes it painful to eat solids as a bid to lose weight.
20 year-old farm girl Laura has even given up university to fully focus on the contest, led by self-styled King of Miss Venezuela, Osmel Sousa. Having been successful at creating beauty queens for decades and with a string of Miss World victories to his name, Sousa shows no signs of slowing down as he talks to Billie about why he demands perfection, whatever the cost.
While questions of feminism and the masculine dictation of what beauty should be are no doubt relevant to the debate, what is perhaps more worrying is the prioritisation of beauty over education.
Of course, winning the competition could provide an element of financial security, and it would bring with it a life of glamour. Winning Miss Venezuela does not guarantee the title of Miss World, and so one is left wondering what happens to the girls when the competition is finished, when their families have sacrificed their every penny and the girls’ education has long been abandoned.
The second show takes us to Argentina and looks at changing attitudes to sex amongst young people. Although here in the UK we have been seeing an ever more casual attitude towards sex and sexuality for quite some time, Argentina is still very much a Catholic society that places high value on chastity and saving oneself until marriage. No doubt we will see a conflict between the generations as Billie talks to both young and old in a bid to understand where the sudden relaxation of sexual morality has come from.
Thirdly, and finally for Billie, is a trip to Brazil to examine a young girls’ coming of age in the slums of Rio. Named ‘Cinderellas of the Favelas,’ the show explores the effect of the widening wealth gap in Brazil, which is partly due to rapid technological development and the World Cup creeping closer, and what effect this has on teen girls. While the rich and middle-classes hold lavish 15th birthday parties for their daughters as a kind of débutante ball, the poorer families in the favelas cannot afford to do the same for their own daughters.
Rio de Janeiro is notorious for being crime-ridden, something highlighted in the multi award-winning City of God, which narrates the life of a young boy trying to find his way in the world amidst gang-related drug crime and violence. However, for some lucky young girls, their 15th birthdays give them a glimpse into the lifestyles of the upper classes as parties are arranged especially for them. Billie explores what life is like in the slums, and I am sure she will find out that Rio’s poor girls want nothing more than any other teenage girl.
Because that is what it comes down to, isn’t it? Humanity and its universal likes, dislikes, aspirations and hopes. Whether we, as girls, are born in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina or the UK, all any of us really want is for our families to be happy, to excel in something, to feel beautiful occasionally and to make life our own, no matter what circumstances we are born in.
I’ll definitely be tuning in. Will you?
The first episode, Extreme Beauty Queens, is on Wednesday 5th February. Will you watch? Have your say in the comments section below.