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On Colombian TV, a Sort Of 'Flat-Chested Betty'

Capitalizing on her newfound fame, Puerta recently delivered that message to a public school in the poor, southern suburbs of Bogota -- the very breeding ground for much of the hardened criminality portrayed in the show.

To a group of screaming 10- to 15-year-olds -- who, judging by their attempts to rush the stage in hopes of an autograph, apparently ignore the show's "mature audiences only" warning -- she gingerly stepped around tough questions like "What's a pre-paga and traqueto?" -- slang terms for a prostitute and gangster.

Another young boy asked if in the world they lived in such a thing as paradise even existed.

Holding out the example of Catalina, whose disillusionment following surgery eventually leads her to commit suicide, she tried her best to refute the ingrained myth of easy money.

"Happiness only comes from studying and working hard for everything you achieve," she said. It's unclear, however, whether her message will get through.

Colombia's passion for implants is almost unmatched. According to the Colombian Society of Plastic Surgeons, more than half of the 450,000 operations performed last year were breast augmentations, costing about $2,000 to $3,000 per procedure -- more than half a year's salary for the 58 percent of the country living below the poverty line.

That would seem to support not Puerta's view but, rather, what Catalina's catty antagonist in the series, Jessica, tells her: "What matters today is having a good pair of [breasts] -- no matter if they're made of rubber, wood or stone."

The southern city of Cali boasts that it's the plastic-surgery capital of Latin America. Radio stations there have run contests in which the winner gets a free breast enhancement.

Recently, the mayor of Ibague, a city 80 miles west of Bogota, agreed to finance tummy tucks, buttocks lifts and other aesthetic operations for the city's secretaries and public employees. To date, more than 400 women have taken advantage of the offer.

"It's overwhelming in Colombia the pressure on women to have a voluptuous, artificially perfect body," said Puerta. "But it's the diversity of shapes and sizes that is the most delicious part of our existence."

Despite what Puerta defends as the show's moralizing lesson, not everyone is convinced of the show's merits. Said Florence Thomas, a researcher of gender issues at Bogota's National University: "The only thing producers were after in showing so much cleavage was a higher rating."

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