‘Señorita 89’ Spotlights the Ugly Side of Beauty Pageants in Latin America

Señorita 89 is about a beauty pageant but it goes beyond skin deep by examining beauty standards,  stereotypes, and how exploitative the industry can be

Señorita 89 Pantaya

Photo: Amaury Barrera/ Courtesy of Pantaya

Señorita 89 is about a beauty pageant but it goes beyond skin deep by examining beauty standards,  stereotypes, and how exploitative the industry can be. The 8-part series follows 32 contestants competing to be Mexico’s next beauty queen in 1989 and it’s now streaming on Pantaya, an LA-based Spanish streaming platform.  The series is written and directed by Argentinian screenwriter and director Lucia Puenzo (La Jauria) and features a celebrated cast of beauties as they navigate through the world of elegance, class, glamor and deceit, betrayal, cruelty, exploitation, and manipulation. Señorita 89 dives deep into the darkness of how misconstrued society’s idea of beauty is simply because of what one needs to do to get on that famed stage. It shows how horrific it can be. With this powerful series,  Puenzo aims to highlight the ugly world of the beauty queens alongside Academy Award-winning executive producer brothers Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín.

“In 1989, everything that scandalizes us today was allowed,” Puenzo tells HipLatina. “The objectification of women’s bodies, sexual harassment in the workplace, the abuse of power by men, and the ideology of viewing women as the property of another with all its implications.”

The series starts with the alluring, captivating images of beautiful women and beautiful scenery but the reality is quite the ugly contrast. There’s a celebration hosted by the matriarch of beauty pageants and former Queen, Concepción (Ilse Salas) at her La Encantada ranch. We see Concepción pushing the women into sex work among other ghastly actions all in pursuit for more power. The hypocrisy of the system is underscored by one moment where it’s revealed that her husband is the plastic surgeon performing surgeries in a secret room in the ranch even though the contract states they aren’t permitted to have plastic surgery. 

The series — shot in Mexico City, Acapulco, Oaxaca, and Ciudad Juárez — highlights all contestants representing each state of Mexico as they join the party. It follows the narrative of Elena (Ximena Romo), an intellectual pursuing her Ph.D. who is the beauty queens’ cultural tutor. Elena is shocked by the twisted practices and preparations she witnesses as she gets to know the world of beauty pageants.

However, right from the beginning, the show introduces itself as intense, brutally honest, and almost cruel as the girls try to maneuver the complex, confusing, and even manipulative life of surviving in a new world. The elegance of fancy dresses and jewelry are all around us in every scene, offering a poetic juxtaposition to what is beneath the surface of a beautiful woman. 

“We’ve tried not to victimize these beauty queens, even though they exist in an atrocious world as a consumer product for men,” Puenzo explains.

The complexities of the Señorita 89 world will throw you into today’s modern-day issues that still sometimes resemble so much of the oppression occurring in the 1980s. “Señorite89” will make you dissect and confront gender equality, misogynistic dynamics in your world, privilege, poverty, and classism within the show as much as we unpack it now.  The show is an eye-opener as we see oppression of women in the 80s was considered “acceptable” yet today it would be condemned and amplified by social media.  However, it is also a poetic truth about being a woman in a world that taught us to compete with one another. 

“Women, who at first could barely look at each other and who faced the worst of patriarchy, discovered that they could go further together. That would be their transformation: to get out of the space of being victims, to stop looking at each other with distrust, and understand the strength of collaborating.” Puenzo explains. 

The cast features award-winning actors, including Salas (Las Niñas Bien), Romo (This Is Not Berlin), Bárbara López (Amar a Muerte), Natasha Dupeyrón (La Boda de Mi Mejor Amigo), and Leidi Gutiérrez (Las Elegidas), Coty Camacho (Desenfrenadas), with Edwarda Gurrola (Soy Tu Fan), Marcelo Alonso (Neruda), and Juan Manuel Bernal (Monarca) to name a few. 

The cast’s dedication to their character is monumental as each character’s presence in the show is impactful and moving. Each beauty pageant’s backstories are honest, relatable, humble, and often painful— proving the connection the glamor world can sometimes have with everyday people. This line the writers worked with throughout the series premiere, hinting that storylines will be more complicated than betrayal amongst beauty queens over the throne. This was about all of life’s circumstances leading up to survival or death. 

The premiere will move you. It will shake you. It will leave you to evaluate who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, and it will make you doubt your idea of what beauty is. Because even amongst all the beauty, the show is dark. It shows you the ugly that comes along with trying to fulfill the role of being beautiful — a direct representation and reflection of our confused idea of what we may perceive as beautiful, successful, and worthy today.  

Señorita 89 is about how everyday women are already queens by simply overcoming the adversities they continuously face while still having to abide by societal expectations. And, as it’s said in the show, it’s about what happens, the domino effect and the chain of command once they break, when women revolt.: “The worst type of sin in any fairytale is to turn things upside down. They are turning kings into servants. The beautiful, ugly. And those who think they have the right to get away with anything, into victims,” Puenzo says. 

The first two episodes of Señorita 89 premiered on Pantaya Feb. 27 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Tune in every Sunday for new episodes.

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