This photo essay examines female culture and the interpretation of beauty in Medellín, Colombia.

Medellín is the second largest city in Colombia. During the '80s and '90s, it was at the epicenter of narcotics traffic in South America. Today, plunging homicide rates, a public campaign to reduce violence, and urban development have helped to create new libraries, parks, schools and a sustainable infrastructure. This confluence of those factors has qualified Medellín as a city of change on the international stage.

However, the social actors of the narcotraffic conflict in Colombia created a new ‘aesthetics’, a “Narcoaesthetic” as it refers to the drug lords’ powerful influence, not only with their money but with their taste, on the whole country’s interpretation of beauty. During these years, the female body became a reflection of a lavish lifestyle. It changed the perception of the women's role in society, evolving from naturally strong figures to a very materialistic approach to their beauty and bodies. This is how cosmetic surgery went mainstream in Medellín and a marked body culture and industry sprung up.

Manuela Henao

Manuela Henao, (b. 1987) is a documentary photographer born in Colombia and raised in Spain. After completing her media communication degree in the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid, Manuela moved to London, UK, where she obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Photography at London College of Communication. In 2014, she was awarded with a Royal Photographic Society / The Guardian bursary to create "Beauties", the photo series presented here.

Currently Manuela is working towards a new personal documentary photo series on the history of gender divisions and women's realities around the world.