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A pageant winner's effort to change Venezuela's focus on beauty

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Throughout her life, former Miss Venezuela Eva Ekvall was known for her high cheekbones, a glistening smile, her flowing locks.

But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she took up another cause: trying to teach her fellow beauty-obsessed Venezuelans that far more important things, like health, should be their priority.

While Ms. Ekvall, who passed away Saturday at a hospital in Houston at age 28, rose to fame as a beauty queen, the photo for which she might be most remembered is the cover of her book, called "Fuera de Foco" (Out of Focus), in which she is photographed bald. The book is about her struggle with the illness.

"I hate to see photos in which I come out ugly," Ekvall told the newspaper El Nacional in an interview last year when the book was released. "But you know what? Nobody ever said cancer is pretty or that I should look like Miss Venezuela when I have cancer."

She told BBC Mundo: "It's absurd that there should be a taboo about breast cancer in a country of breast implants, where women have few reservations about showing off their surgically-enhanced breasts.”

Her words have resonance. In the United States, women look up to celebrities in Hollywood movies and magazine covers to form their ideals of beauty. In Latin America, it is beauty pageant winners, as we detailed in a story about beauty schools in Bolivia.

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