In Venezuela, Beauty Is Born ... and Made

What explains Venezuela's crushing dominance in international beauty comps?

ByABC News
October 8, 2009, 9:49 AM

Oct. 8, 2009 — -- The hunt for the perfect woman, it seems, is over. She lives in Venezuela.

"It's something in the air, something in the water, I guess," said Patricia Zavala, 24, tall and thin with impossibly long legs, perfect proportions and perfect teeth. One of 20 finalists for the annual Miss Venezuela Pageant, she smiles playfully as she sits in Caracas's El Paliedro amphitheater during the dress rehearsal.

Of course, it's not really the air or the water. In reality, Venezuela has learned how to manufacture beauty -- which helps explain how the beauty queens produced by this relatively small South American nation of just 26 million people win far more international pageants than contestants from any other country.

"Here we have that sparkle, you know?" said Merelisa Gibson, 22, another finalist.

Watch the full story tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

Click HERE for a slide show of the 2009 Miss Venezuela Pageant.

Venezuelans have been crowned queen in close to 60 international beauty pageants, winning Miss World five times, Miss International five times and Miss Universe -- the biggest of all -- a staggering six times, including the last two years.

And so, this summer there was Miss Universe 2008, Dayana Mendoza, a former Miss Venezuela, crowning Miss Universe 2009, Stefanie Fernandez, the current Miss Venezuela.

No country had ever achieved back-to-back wins before.

Known for its chaotic politics, its mercurial, red-shirted president, Hugo Chavez, and its abundance of oil, the country also seems to have an abundance of beautiful women.

"There is a saying here amongst women," said Jose Rafael Briceño, a media and speech coach for the pageant. "It's something like, 'I would rather be dead than look ugly.'"

Attitudes like that may not win awards for cultural sensitivity or political correctness, but those attitudes do help Venezuela win beauty pageants.

If Venezuela has a secret weapon in its quest to conquer the world -- or at least the world of beauty queens -- it can be found in a large pink building in northern Caracas. It is the home of the Miss Venezuela School, a kind of Olympic training academy for extraordinarily beautiful women.

Each spring, several thousand young Venezuelan women eagerly apply for the pageant. Their numbers are quickly reduced. Ultimately, a few dozen go through intensive training -- four months of rigorous drills in makeup, bikini modeling and walking effortlessly in four-inch heels (apparently, no easy feat). Twenty finalists are selected.