Brazilian model Celso Santebañes, who billed himself as a “Human Ken Doll” died Thursday from a case of bacterial pneumonia following a bout with Leukemia. He was 20 years old. Diagnosed with the rare form of blood cancer last year, Santebañes underwent a battery of chemotherapy treatments starting in December of 2014. He died at 4:30pm at the Federal University of Uberlândia Clinical Hospital, where he was undergoing his latest round of chemotherapy.
Starting at the age of 15, Santebañes entered beauty contests. As a teenager, people kept telling him that he looked like a Ken Doll. Obsessed with the perfection of physical beauty, Santebañes started to identify features of his face that didn’t look like the the Mattel brand doll.
His nose was too wide, his lip too natural and his philtrum -- the crease of the upper lip -- simply too natural. By his late teens, Santebañes had fixed his “imperfections” and joined a growing number of adult men aspiring to look like a Ken Doll. Not to be outdone by the original Mattel doll, Santebañes released a line of “Celso” dolls modeled after himself. He daydreamed about making a film with Valeria Lukyanova, the Ukrainian “Human Barbie.”
In his five month battle with cancer, Santebañes immediately had to confront his own physical deterioration, the undoing of what had become his personal identity and national image. It started with dark spots on his skin and bleeding gums, side effects of the blood cancer. Once in treatment his hair fell out. He’d later be confined to a wheelchair, a scrawny pale shadow.
"Today I start a new cycle of my life," he said in January. "I am starting chemotherapy and I admit I'm a little concerned about some side effects, like hair loss, nausea, my body's rejection [of chemotherapy], among other things, but I am no longer concerned with the issue of aesthetics. For me that doesn't matter. What matter is my health now, and I will fight for it."
In May, he interviewed with Hoje Em Dia and reflected on his earlier pursuit of physical perfection. He wore heavy facial makeup, and a hat.
“Everyone who wants to be pretty, who wants to be perfect, to call attention to themselves, [it's] to supplant this lack of... of love, perhaps,” he said, adding that if he survived, he wouldn’t do any more surgeries. “I wouldn’t do any more, what’s done is done.”
“I want the simple pleasures of life and [if told I was better] I’d want to run to a waterfall,” he said.