(CNN)Close to 60% of Paraguay’s adult population is overweight, according to statistics last year from the health ministry.
But those people still experience discrimination, says photographer Luis Cobelo.
And with unrealistic beauty standards permeating the media, Cobelo asks: “What is beautiful? Who made the rules?”
In May, he photographed a pageant in the capital of Asuncion that is called Miss Gordita (“Miss Chubby” in English).
Seeing the contest inspired Cobelo to highlight what he calls “another kind of beauty,” a beauty he defines as “personal and individual.”
The crux of this program isn’t fashion and beauty. It is the rehabilitation aspect. The contestants, who weigh between 200-260 pounds, see a nutritionist, a psychologist and an image consultant three months before the fashion show component of the pageant. They are taught better eating habits and how to be more comfortable in their skin.
By the end, Cobelo said, “they can say: ‘Look at me. This is my body.’ “
Many of the women emerged from group counseling sessions changed, he said, and they didn’t mind showing off for the camera.
“They felt confident with me,” Cobelo said, “and I was very clear to say that I want you to show me how you feel with your body.”
His desire is to show how beautiful these women are, and he stressed the need for atypical displays of beauty.
“Society is very hard. It’s very ugly with us,” he said.