Plastique in Brazil

The poor have a right
to be beautiful.
The poor suffer so
from asymmetry.

But with a little help, Luisa’s face
cuts through the cash economy.

She rises, winged, aerodynamic
cheeks his masterwork.
I ask: what kind of capital
is beauty? What can it buy?
For those that have no name
and no books to fill their brain
but oh body!
your beat and heat, your wile.

When boys dream of soccer scholarships
and girls finger their fat stomachs
and cry. When NGOs go into the favelas
with retired models and cameras and teach
the girls to stick out their
assets, smile.

And if they don’t the girls just go down the street
a mile, to the same place Luisa bears his cold hands
at her breast, this god, his cuts a promise
an escape.

The poor have the right to a straight nose.
To big, perfect eyes.
The poor have a right
to rise.

Susan Wardell


This poem is an interpretation of the ethnographic context of plastic surgery in Brazil, as presented in the journal article Edmonds, A. (2007). “‘The Poor Have the Right to Be Beautiful’: Cosmetic Surgery in Neoliberal Brazil.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13(2): 363–81. The line ‘the poor have a right to be beautiful’ was drawn from the article’s title; all other wording and narrative details are the author’s own.

Susan Wardell is from Dunedin, New Zealand. She currently lectures in Social Anthropology at the University of Otago, while raising two small humans and a few potted plants. She has been published in Landfall, Takahe, and Ecological Citizen. She won 2nd place in the Landfall Essay Competition in 2018.

© 2019