Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

"Bombril is a scouring pad; kinky/curly hair is something else"

black Brazilian women

by Lívia Deodato

My hair is, curly, kinky or wavy, depending on the day and who’s looking at me. I was born with this gene. From childhood, I learned that it’s unique and invariably needs attention: humidity was a weapon, it sat down (in a very strange way) in dry weather and frizzed out when the wind blew. For many years, especially during my childhood, it was trapped in a rubber band, and if that wasn’t enough, it was wrapped in a headband. Because, in the ‘80s, neither I, nor my mother, nor the cosmetics industry had yet discovered the formula for appreciating the wavy hair that about 80% of the Brazilian population had, if you count all the ethnic mixtures.

My mother combed my curls every day, so I didn’t go out looking like a scarecrow, she tied it up securely, in many ways, or she made one, two, even three braids (two on the side of my head, which were put together to form in a third, a beautiful thing). When I developed more or less the courage to go out with it loose to school, I never kept my hands out of it – I rolled from one side to another, I put it inside my shirt, parted in the middle, gave up … and pinned it down again. My desk was in the middle of the classroom and I remember once that a friend had told me in the middle of class that my hair was full little chopped up pieces of paper that boys in the back of the room had thrown, and the way they threw them, they stuck in my hair. I turned purple (from embarrassment), and discreetly pulled my hair from the side, ran my hands through my strands  (making it stand up even more), so that the little pieces of paper would fall and without even having spent 50 courageous minutes with my hair loose in school, I tied it down again.

Among these jokes and giggles, I heard more than once that my hair was Bombril. Bombril? That rough and tough steel wool used for scouring pots and cleaning the bathroom? Yes, it seemed so. I must have went home crying to my mother, and I imagine that she said that I was beautiful and that my hair was beautiful, and that I had to ignore or look for the defects in others to fight back (ah, nothing like old-fashioned bullying).

Time went on, and hormones, climate, some bolder cuts and the invention of leave-in conditioner helped me to appreciate what they say is the face frame. I never stopped recognizing myself with curly hair. If I used a blow-dryer brush iron in this life, it was because (like almost everybody sometimes wants), I wanted to change a bit. But I never used this trick because I wanted to be more beautiful. I learned that I can be beautiful anyway, with my rebellion more tied up with my curls than with my personality.

Then, when you think that all this malaise was there in the ’80s, here comes Bombril, aware of the prejudiced association created around their brand, of course, and they launch a competition to discover the best new singer in Brazil in the Raul Gil program: “Mulheres que Brilham (Women that Shine)”, whose logo is the shadow of a profile of a woman that has a curly afro, and the slogan “Bombril’s talent contest in the Raul Gil program that will have the most success in 2012.” Look, I’ll tell you that the contest has hardly started and already it’s blowin’ up, can you see? Here’s an example of what is circulating in the social networks:


Repudiation of Bombril ad. Translated text read a s follows:

“No, my hair is not steel wool. It is my identity, my reference. We repudiate the Raul Gil program and Bombril for the artwork in the program “Mulheres que Brilham”. Bombril has to STOP comparing black women’s hair to steel wool. My hair is the appreciation of my African ancestry recreated in Brazil. For the appreciation and respect of black Brazilian women.”

The creators of art that illustrated the talent contest didn’t really think about or never heard of similar stories like the one that I just told you, and there must exist hundreds of similar stories throughout the country, right? Was the tight deadline to blame as given by Raul Gil? Did they believe this was a great opportunity to end this association and give a new meaning to curly/kinky hair Bombril? I can already imagine the brainstorming meeting for the creating of this contest: “Man, we can say that women of curly/kinky hair can also shine like the pots that are scrubbed with Bombril!” Ingenious! But no….

It’s already okay to reinforce stereotypes, guys. We don’t want any more sad children because a bad classmate said his/her hair is pichaim (nappy). The Manichean thinking that divides hair types into just two – the good (straight) and the bad (curly/kinky) – makes me sleepy (and gives me no desire to sing in the contest).

Diversity is good, and everyone likes this.

To see the report on the decision to remove the Bombril ad, see here.

Source: Jezebel Brasil

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