Image credit: Evan Hurd
Colombia is one of Latin America’s top makers of fine lingerie, but finding an unpadded brassiere in Bogotá is impossible. I have been to more than half a dozen stores. “No one makes them,” I am told, “because no woman wants them.” This is largely thanks to Natalia Paris, a petite model and drug lord’s ex-paramour in her mid-30s from Medellín, who has been posing in intimate apparel for the past 20 years.
In the mid-1990s, as her star was rising, Paris dated one of Pablo Escobar’s former lieutenants. “I fell in love with him,” she tells me, without regret. (He later vanished and is presumed murdered, allegedly by his former gang partners.) “He was so handsome. Not a fat, gross traqueto. He was divine.” Traqueto is Colombian slang for “drug dealer,” of which there are many more now than then. If Colombia in the early 1990s had two huge cartels—the Medellín and Cali cartels—it now has hundreds of cartelitos, and thousands of narco-tycoons. Like the early drug dons, they crave beautiful women, but only of a certain type. Today’s traquetos have called forth a new look: narco-estética. The idea pops up in almost every magazine I open and almost every television show I watch. A talent manager describes the look to me. “It’s the aesthetic of the hot babe, the mamacita. Small nose. Thick lips. A lot of this,” she says, pointing to her chest, “and a lot of that,” patting her buttocks. “All fake. And they are very blond.”
And so, instead of being taken over by the FARC, the rebel group fighting in the jungle for the past 50 years, Colombia has been overcome by silicone. Breast augmentations have become so popular that Medellín, the model’s hometown, is known as Silicone Valley.
Many people believe Natalia Paris started the trend. “She was the first one to get them,” says a fashion designer who knew Paris in the 1990s. Paris pleads innocent. She does admit that she chose Pamela Anderson as her role model: “It was what was popular then. To me she was magnificent.” But Paris had no intention of unleashing this tsunami of fake breasts. “I just wanted to work and look the way I wanted to look. I didn’t look for this.”
Her mother gave her implants for her 18th birthday, after she had caught the national eye as a bikini-clad poster girl for a beer company. Her career took off, helped also by the notoriety of her romance. Soon, thousands of young women believed that if they looked like the golden girl from Medellín, they could land one of the dealers. A traqueto match was a ticket out of poverty in a country with few opportunities for women—a reality captured by what was one of Colombia’s most popular television shows, Without Tits There Is No Paradise, a soap opera about a flat-chested poor teenager who wants to sell her virginity for a pair of implants.
I’m here to spend a week with Natalia, to witness Colombia’s mysterious relationship with this star. But as she gets ready for a photo shoot at the Bardot Bar in a fashionable Bogotá neighborhood, another mystery presents itself. I look at her cleavage as she removes her gray cotton muscle shirt. Her breasts don’t look any bigger than mine. But they sure are firm. Are those really the size of Pamela Anderson’s?