With Associated Press
SANTIAGO, Chile – When the beauty of Miss Universe takes place in a few weeks, Chile will be represented by a thin brunette who has a killer smile and speaks Spanish with a clear emphasis on Venezuela.
Andrea Diaz was born and raised in Valencia, Venezuela, where from the age of 12 she learned to roll her hips and gracefully slip down the paths to a local modeling academy. At 19, she won an event organized by her country's baseball team and became a goodwill ambassador for the team.
But Diaz's career changed her course in her twenties as she moved to Panama and then to Mexico to model jobs that are now rare in Venezuela. Three years ago she settled in Chile, where most of her family has also been relocated.
"I represent the new Chile," said 26-year-old, as she trains at a local gym in Santiago for the upcoming contest. "This is an inclusive country where immigrants are looking for opportunities."
As thousands of people leave Venezuela daily to escape food shortages and inflation expected to exceed 1 million percent, dozens of potential beauty queens also get to fly and find work as models and personalities of the media abroad.
Some even represent their adopted homelands in international beauty exhibitions.
Next month, Portugal will be represented in the Miss World competition in China by a former participant in M. Venezuela. And the recent Miss Earth contest, held in the Philippines, featured two Venezuelan models that fought on behalf of Peru and Spain.
"My dream of being a queen of beauty will not stop just because I have arrived in a new country," said Jessica Rousso, who represented Peru in Miss Earth, just one year after her move to the country.
He failed to reach the finals but said he would now train for more events where he hopes to win a crown for Peru, the country where her mother was born.
"I'm still young," said the 22-year-old. "And I want to be a global spokesman for good causes."
The world of beauty is watched almost as much as the baseball in Venezuela, which has long been obsessed with glamor and good looks. The country of South America is a world leader in international exhibitions, with seven Miss Universe and six Miss World titles.
While critics have described girls as rosy and obsolete, many Venezuelans are saying that the events have helped hundreds of women from all walks of life begin their careers as models, actors, broadcasters and news presenters. A former Miss Venezuelan winner served even as mayor of a region in Caracas and ran – without success – for the country's presidency.
However, as the Venezuelan economy falls, many of the country's events no longer offer a direct path to employment. Live fashion shows have stopped, TV productions have slowed down and companies like fashion brands are increasingly away from spending money on advertising.
Giselle Reyes manages four modeling schools for young women in Venezuela, which she considers to be a "beauty university". She estimates that 70% of her graduates have left the country in the past decade to pursue job modeling in Mexico, Colombia and other countries.
"I have even a hard time finding modeling instructors now," Reyes said in a studio in Caracas that is lined with photographs of famous Venezuelan winners. "People always tell me they will work for me for a few months while finding a way out of the country."
Even Venezuela's most competitive beauty event no longer seems to guarantee its graduates a job in their own country.
The national television contest Miss Venezuela selects 24 participants each year and puts them in an exhaustive six-month academy that includes daily gymnastics routines, modeling courses, and conversations by trainers who sometimes co-ordinate their students with plastic surgery.
However, at least 17 members of the Venezuelan class of 2015 seem to work abroad in Mexico, Colombia, Turkey and further afield from India, according to a web search of the social media profiles. The number of contestants working abroad in 2014 is similar.
"In the 1990's, participation in Venezuela essentially guarantees that you are working on modeling or on television," said Rafael Briceno, a Caracas-based radio station who has given public speaking lessons to dozens of participants in Miss Venezuela. "Now the local market for models is too small."
Many of the Venezuelan beauty queens who have gone abroad are credited with their rigid preparation in Venezuela, helping them to succeed. But they are also relieved by the demand for the demanding beauty standards imposed by the organizers at home.
Diaz said that while he was still alive in Venezuela, he went to a skin cleansing session that went wrong and left small scars and reddish spots on her two cheeks. Subsequently, the modelers in Venezuela began to reject it.
In Chile, Diaz was able to win the national beauty contest despite the rashes, which can easily be hidden with makeup. She was able to participate because her father is Chile.
"Chile accepted me as I was and helped me to regain the confidence I had lost," Diaz said.
Now, as it prepares for Miss Universe, which is being held next month in Thailand, the model hopes the jury does not just focus on its physical characteristics, but sees it as a cosmopolitan woman who has moved around the world to pursue the goals her. She says she dreams of becoming a motivational speaker who works with young people on self-esteem.
"A beautiful woman is not just a woman with perfect skin," says Diaz, "but someone with heart, with ideas and sense of purpose."
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