Why the Porteños Look So Good

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mugi35_18_02_aerobic.jpgBuenos Aires is a city brimming with confidence. I never had the pleasure of experiencing the ‘Paris of South America’ before the economic crash, but even as a city now in the midst of recovery, there is still a pervading air of confidence in the local population. The beautiful locals strut about like there is not a care in the world and despite economic hardship, the younger generation still parties like there is no tomorrow. So, as a foreign visitor to Buenos Aires, I often ask myself, “where does this confidence come from??”

Well, behind all of this carefree confidence there lies a peculiarity. It seems like that the Porteños cannot cope without going to the gym at least three to four times a week. Really. I used to believe that gym culture was basically confined to the Western world. And then one Thursday afternoon, upon walking into a gym just off Gurruchaga St. in the Palermo district, I was proven absolutely wrong.

gym.jpgThere was seriously more sweat pouring out of that gym than from Pete Sampras in his heyday. There were more spot checks being performed than at a drycleaners. The local women were busily jumping around in group packs in an aerobics room, shouted at by a quasi drill-sergeant. And the men all seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with looking at their reflection in the mirror, as if mirrors were going out of fashion. And it was not just your standard gym junkies, Muscle Marys and tri-athletes in training. The gym was full to the brim with young adults, students, mothers and even a few over-fifties striving for physical perfection.

There actually appears to be more gyms than steak houses in the boroughs of Palermo and Recoleta. Every day when I entered one of the gyms in Palermo, the space was jammed packed with everyone trying to sculpt the ultimate body.

Suddenly I was enlightened – the atypically perfect Porteño had not just been blessed with good bodies by Mother Nature; they are a result of zealous gym attendance. Porteños are practically obsessive about their looks.

For the local men, looking good seems to go beyond even the definition of metrosexual. A lot of the men’s lives ostensibly revolve around the gym – once they are done with their work-outs they flutter like butterflies around the gym, socializing. And it is not that rare to see better dressed men than women in Buenos Aires, which is remarkable considering how stylish the women are to begin with.

cliente_melia.jpgThe funny thing about immersing yourself in any given culture is that you start acting like a local in the blink of an eye. This is the only rationale explanation I had for the fact that I embraced the gym ethos myself whilst staying in Buenos Aires. I am quite averse to spending any time in gyms, let alone going more than once per week. However, here I was staying in one of the world’s most hedonistic cities supposedly on a holiday, and somehow I was hitting up the gym every few days.

I learnt words and concepts that I have never come across before during my life and probably never want to become familiar with again – sets, kettle-bells, the pros and cons of doing cardio over weights, lycra, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, ergo machines, body combat, treadmills, sweat towels, and the virtues of a sauna post work-out.

A porteña fashion model

Thanks to AveLardo.

However, it was extraordinarily difficult to actually concentrate on the exercise due to the sheer number of attractive women waltzing about the gym at any one time, and rather than concentrating on butterfly sets, I soon had butterflies myself trying to summon the courage to approach the Porteñas with my broken Spanish.

Whilst immersed in the Buenos Aires gym culture, it struck me that no sane person puts themselves through this without a good reason. And it seems to me the reason is that Porteños put serious pressure on themselves to have the ideal bodies that are constantly shown-off on billboards and around the clock on TV. It’s like the overriding goal of many Porteños is to forever improve their appearance, and this is reflected everywhere from the gym culture, to the beaches, to the impeccable fashion sense, and even to the disturbing tendency of Argentines, young and old, to embrace the LA culture of plastic surgery.


carlos on December 24, 07

Get your head out of the clouds, man… Argentines confident?!? Please… You don’t have the foggiest idea of what you’re talking about. Argentines are VERY insecure. The fact that Buenos Aires has more psychoanalysts per capita than any other city in the world says it all!!!
Also, you keep insisting that Argentines are elegant people obsessed with looking good… That couldn’t be further from the truth. Please get out of Recoleta and Palermo and visit the real Argentina. You would be surprised at how “elegant” the average Argentine is…

Tim Kernutt on January 16, 08

I’m sure there are unconfident Argentineans, just as there are confident ones. In fact, ironically a lot of the locals strutting around the gyms are probably the most unconfident and insecure.

However, despite this my overriding feeling was that, whether talking about Palermo Viaje, the working-class areas of BA or the country towns, that Argentineans carry themselves with a confidence far greater than many other cultures.

Caroline on March 2, 08

I just spent 10 days there – but I didn’t stick the the tourist agenda – I went to grocery stores and did many ordinary things. All in all, I found the people to be gracious, courteous and civilized – but no more confident or beautiful than anywhere else in the world. (I also have to add that shy people are going to be less likely to speak to a stranger than outgoing ones – so I probably met people with more personality than average.) I noticed these things: more beautiful heads of hair than anywhere else I’d ever been. The businessmen wore the most well cut suits I could imagine – and they were a pleasure to steal a glance at. However, across the board, the clothing not as fashionable as other places I’ve been. Nobody was fat or had unsightly bodies, but the ‘body beautiful’ stereotype, at least in my opinion, didn’t bear out. YES – there were some stellar looking men and ladies, but as anywhere, they were standouts, not the norm. All in all, everything about the city was to my liking – but above all, the people were the most important asset of all – I found them to be friendly, warm and kind. I do speak reasonably proficient Spanish, so this made my stay easier – it also made me better able to converse with people from various walks of life about ordinary things. If you are a people person, you must visit Buenos Aires. If you are not a people person, you might not fully appreciate this great city.

César González on March 3, 08

Thanks for your balanced, thoughtful opinion Caroline. I’m glad you point out the body-consciousness of Porteños – it’s definitely pervasive.

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Pedro on August 1, 08

I completly agree with you! I`ve been there one year ago, the portenos are so confident! I`m an history`s lover, and I would say that all this confidence came from the past, when the portenos expelled the english men from their territory at once. I`m not talking about the malvin`s war. Anyway, I wouldn`t say that that`s bad. It is better being confident than pessimist.

Lara on August 13, 08

The reality is that many people from other countries (read comment by “CARLOS”), dislike the folks of Argentina, who are seen as arrogant. The truth is, Argentines (and in particular Portenos), may come across as that, but that is because they do like themselves. They also point out what they do not like about themselves or their country. Is there anything wrong with that? The fact that there are more psychoanalists in Argentina has NOTHING to do with their “obsession” for looking good, etc. That fact has to do with Argentina’s emphasis on education and free university. Thus, the college of Psychology has always had high numbers of students (along with Medicine and Law), particularly women. This has been so for decades. Then, there is the reality that their culture emphasizes NOT keeping things in. And Argentines do not keep things in. They are expressive and effusive. They talk about their lives with friends, family and their analysts. What is wrong with that? It is healthy. And they do go to the gym. It makes them feel good and it also makes them feel good to know they look good. Personal appearance is important in Argentina, and frankly, it should be important to all people. I hate going to the market here in the U.S. or even going to a concert (in a nice venue, etc.), and seeing people totally underdressed. And it is not for lack of money because go to Argentina and no matter how underprivileged someone may be, they will TRY THEIR BEST TO FIX THEMSELVES UP AND LOOK GOOD. It is part of their culture. And human beings, we like it or not, are biologically programmed to seek beauty and admire beauty. So, let’s not kid ourselves. I mean outside beauty, the type that it is more obvious to recognize at first glance. Yes, internal beauty is important of course, but like the saying goes: MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO.

Argentines are a confident people and that sense of confidence comes from their culture which nurtures and embraces open expression in all forms: kisses, hugs, talking, dancing, cultivating your mind and speaking your mind, and yes, LOOKING GOOD.

Claire on August 31, 10

Portenios are extremelly friendly and good looking people!

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