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?
The shoot starts. Natalia hops up on a couch, wearing nothing but white cotton undies and a strip of white fur. With three cameras in front of her, she gives it all she’s got. And she’s got a lot, beginning with the toned torso of an NFL cheerleader and the studied poses of a Playboy pinup. She wraps the stole around her shoulders and slides it between her legs. A blow-dryer roars as Raúl, the photographer, directs. Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” is on the box, but it’s when the salsa starts playing that Natalia brings her fingers to her mouth and gives Raúl the Natalia look. Hair to the side. Click. Right arm goes up, left knee bends. Click. She slides down the wall, she kneels on the sofa. Click. Click. Raúl’s got it.
“No matter how many girls come up, no one can dethrone Natalia,” says Mauricio Souza, a modeling-agency owner who has brought seven of his teenage students to watch. The girls are chattering about The Mafia’s Dolls, a new soap opera about the lives of traqueto women. “They all dream to be Natalia Paris,” Souza tells me.
Suddenly the underwear slips down and one buttock peeks out, leaving Natalia looking like the little girl in the Coppertone ad of yore. An assistant rushes to the rescue. The assistant pulls it—not up, but farther down. Natalia thanks her. And keeps on working for the next six hours.
During a break, she hands me a copy of a lingerie catalog. Natalia is on almost every page; only the colors and styles of the bras, corsets, and garter belts change.
But even if she is the country’s beloved bombshell, Natalia knows she needs to reinvent herself—“Not getting any younger,” she says. That’s why she is trying out acting. At the next break, I ask her what role she plays.
“A dumb blonde,” she says. And I recall something she said on her Facebook page, this woman who has her own line of skin-care products and stars in a new reality show: “It doesn’t matter if they think you’re dumb.”
On our last day together, sitting with me at a Juan Valdez Café, Natalia defends her taste. “People create their fantasies around me. Yes, I’ve sold my appearance, but I’ve never sold that look.” And anyway, she says, “I like to look more natural now.”
Paris will not take responsibility for starting the silicone bonanza, but she will take credit for something else. “When I removed my implants, everyone started doing the same.” That solves the mystery about her breast size: her D cups are now more like 34Bs. Is a new trend of smaller breasts under way? As I take a last sip of my coffee, I look forward to the day in Bogotá when I can buy a bra that fits.