Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

For black women, just taking to streets is already a form of resistance: Black females talk about ‘cabelo crespo’, kinky/curly hair


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Note from BW of Brazil: Walk around any number of Brazilian cities across the country and something is sure to strike you about the Afro-Brazilian population. Nowadays, black Brazilians can be seen rockin’ a wide variety of hairstyles that many wouldn’t have dared to wear just a few decades ago. We see huge afros from the kinkiest to the loosely curly, to dreadlocks and braids to bald heads and fades, sometimes in a variety of colors. Afro hair textures just a short time ago were a source of shame as most women automatically straightened their hair with a variety of methods and many men kept their hair very close cropped to avoid being targets of racist hair jokes. We won’t attempt to pass off the idea that every Brazilian of visible African descent is wearing natural hair styles loud and proud because, as we’ve repeatedly shown, Brazil’s ultra Eurocentric standard of beauty still reigns supreme and millions of afrodescendentes (African descendants) still desire to be accepted according to this standard. But the fact that so many men and women are wearing their natural hair as a sign of resistance or acknowledgement of black beauty shows that black consciousness campaigns throughout the country have been more than a little successful. 

A right to their bodies: women talk about their cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair)

Paula Lima, Tássia Reis, MC Soffia and Lúcia Udemezue, of the Manifesto Crespo, tell stories that represent a large part of black women

By João Vieira

“We go out in the street and it’s already resistance.” The phrase was spoken by singer Tássia Reis, one of the women heard by a report by Terra and summarizes accurately what it is being black in Brazil. With 53% of more than 200 million Brazilians, besides being the majority, the black population suffers daily with the eyes of society as a whole, especially when deciding whether to insert themselves into their own culture.

The biggest symbol of this, most likely, being their hair. Still being discussed – in a timid and isolated way, it’s true – in scenes of novelas (soap operas) such as Babilônia, the crespa visual becomes makes the black women in particular an easy target of prejudice. It was like this for decades, and it’s like this today. The similarity between the life stories of Tássia and MC Soffia, a rapper who’s only 11 years old, reflects this theory. “I consider the school the worst place for a menina crespa (curly/kinky-haired girl). It’s very cruel. And on the street too, among friends,” says Tássia. “The pressure of the society made me straighten, because at school the girls were saying that my hair was duro, ruim de bombril (hard, bad, brillo pad), these things. So, in order not to be made fun of by the whole the school, I asked to straighten my hair, because we suffer a lot there,” says Soffia.

The report gathered testimonies of four women, one of whom, Lúcia Udemezue represents the collective Manifesto Crespo, of different ages and opinions. Paula Lima, MC Soffia, Tássia Reis, Lúcia and the Manifesto tell their stories, which reflect the reality of many black women and show that the discussion of cabelo crespo is beyond fashion.

paula-lima-textoPaula Lima, 44

Have you already straightened your hair?

Yes, I’ve straightened it. As a child I straightened my hair, I used cremes, my mother straightened it with cream. I had a comb, chapinha (flattening iron), a relaxer, everything. I’ve wore a maria chiquinha (pigtails), a ponytail, shoulder length, ultimately. I think every woman likes to experiment, right? And they also always have other references, and one moment you paint it, ultimately. So I straightened, yes, I tried it all.

Why did you straighten it?

I think it was almost a tradition. It was easier to care for, and I think aesthetically it was more common. The mother put a lot of cream in the children’s hair, and straightened because she could make a cut. I think it had a facility for my mother herself to deal with the hair. It was unusual to see natural hair. I don’t remember kids my age with natural cabelo crespo, no chemical, as today we see a lot. And it’s very cool that today there is freedom and respect because we know that there is this diversity because of the mixture of races.

When did you stop straightening?

Look, in truth, I used a prancha (hair flattening iron) for a long time. It was then that I began to braid it because I thought it was stylish and I saw a movie with Angela Bassett in which she had thick braids, and I fell in love with them. Then I wore braids for years, only that I liked water a lot. So when I took vacation and went to Bahia, I relaxed and left my hair as it had to be. And that’s what happened, because I remember that at the time I did (talent reality show) Ídolos, and then came back from vacation and was about to braid my hair again. But I was adapting myself because people started to compliment me so much that I began to see myself another way in the mirror as well.

Hair as affirmation?

It’s funny. I never thought of my hair in this sense of affirmation, because I was born knowing I was black, my hair was crespo and it had all the rights that any other person [has]. So I never carried a flag because that to me has always been something natural.

Tássia Reis, 25

tassia-reis-texto

Have you ever straightened?

When I was a child my mother didn’t put any chemicals (in my hair) until a certain age. After a while, she began to use a relaxer that loosens the curls, so to speak, so that it was “easier” to comb. And then I braided it, I always had braids. I never wore a straight texture. Always the crespo texture, but for a time it had chemicals, yes.

Did you suffer much prejudice as a child?

I think all black women of this country [suffered from it], right? And that’s why I used chemicals, relaxers, trying to get nearer to the standard that is imposed on everybody, and I was ashamed. I didn’t want to be made fun of. Then I wore it tied down, I wore braids, and get like the “stylish” ones and not the neguinha do cabelo duro (hard haired little black girl). I never ran away from the stereotype. This in school because I consider the school the worst place for a crespa girl. It’s very cruel. And on the street too among friends. I remember one time I went out on the street, even my mother had used one of these relaxers, but the hair was still quite thick, and then I went out on the street feeling wonderful, and within two minutes they began to make fun of me and I went home to tie down my hair. I just wanted to be accepted.

What is the importance of the black woman wearing her natural hair?

I think more important than wearing her natural hair, it is that she understands that cabelo crespo is not bad. And I’m talking about cabelo crespo like mine, you know? I’m not talking about the cabelo cacheado (curly hair) that appears on TV because they consider that hair the limit of crespo hair and acceptable for television and society. It is very important that she knows that that’s the root of it, her identity. In Brazil, especially, they don’t accept our roots and are all the time saying that we are other things with this myth of social equality, not respecting our differences. So from the moment I know I’m wonderful, I don’t need to straighten my hair, make my nose thinner and stop being who I am to be accepted, because I don’t need to be accepted, I have to like me, because it’s all right. And if I want to straighten my hair after that, okay, it’s my choice. Because the problem is not black women straightening their hair, the problem is society straightening her hair. The black aesthetic is political. We go out on the street and it’s already resistance, for nothing, with a closed mouth, walking down the street.

MC Soffia, 11

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Have you thought of straightening?

I’ve already straightened my hair when I was little. The pressure of society made me straighten, because at school the girls were saying that my hair was duro (hard), ruim (bad), bombril (brillo pad), these things. Then, to not be made fun of all over the school, I asked to straighten my hair, because we suffer a lot there. But now my mother takes me to black women’s events with beautiful hair, like mine, and then I didn’t want to straighten anymore and if someone insults me, I’m gonna care, right? But I already even have a response to give.

Have you suffered physical abuse at school?

No. They called me cabelo duro (hard hair) these things really. But they only insulted me, they didn’t mess with my hair, or beat me.

What made you affirm yourself with your hair?

My songs because I sing a lot of songs about natural hair. And what I went through I don’t want other children to suffer as well. Because most of the times it’s not the child who wants straighten, it’s the family that wants (this) and the pressure at school, because they insult her. Then I give the music to the kids who have cabelo black (afro) to encourage them and wear their own hair.

Have you influenced your friends?

I think so, right? Because at school there were some girls with tied down, straightened hair, that had beautiful curly hair, but they were straightening, and they started began wearing it natural when they heard my music and the things I talked to them about these meetings I went to with my mother.

Lúcia Udemezue, of the Manifesto Crespo

lucia-manifesto-texto

Who is the Manifesto Crespo?

Our work grew out of discussions on the various issues of the Afro-Brazilian cultural universe, its artistic and aesthetic productions, searching to recognize its value and strengthen the memory and self-esteem of black women in a fight for the redeeming of our origins – since Brazil has the largest population originating from the African Diaspora. We have as a central focus the discussion on how cabelo crespo can and should be viewed in a creative way, making it so that the idea that there is cabelo ruim (bad hair) demystified.

What are the achievements of the collective?

There’s an example that happened at SESC. Nowadays, cultural and educational spaces like SESC strengthen this opportunity to talk about identity, body and cabelo crespo quite a bit through braid and turbans workshops. Even with some resistance to the topic by some education professionals the return of our activities is always very positive as it is a space to demystify this black body, this hair always called bad and difficult. We always receive messages from people who empower themselves and opened beauty ventures from our workshop and we now have a different view on the “standards of beauty.” This issue of braids, of learning to braid hair.

Is there even greater prejudice against hair that is really crespo (kinky)?

I think there is but this prejudice with kinkier hair, with this question of relaxing. [Relaxing] is a way of straightening, isn’t it? So I think there is still an issue to be resolved with this type of hair. There’s a very curious story I saw this week, that in the United States they even divide the cabelo crespo into categories. Then mine, which is kinkier, would like a C4, and yours a C2. So there is, yes, it’s a barrier.

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Cabelo crespo: fashion or a political act?

Wow, this is difficult (laughs). It may be fashionable; it can be a political act. The important thing is that the person, the woman mainly, has a right to her body, you know? That’s what matters. What she’ll do next, whether on the aesthetic side or more linked to the political manifesto, it’s an option, the issue is having the right to the body. She has to have the right to use straighten and wear it natural too, and can’t have to be “accepted” by a concept of beauty created by society.

In addition to Lúcia, the Manifesto has Denna Hill, Nênis Vieira, Nina Vieira and Thays Quadros.

Manifesto Crespo

Manifesto Crespo

Trouble finding a specialized salon

In conversation for this report, Paula reported difficulty feels finding a salon that knows how to deal with cabelo crespo, which makes her even opt for home treatment. “I’ve gone to the salon to moisturize my hair and left (with it) drier than when I went. So I have to turn around, I’m experiencing, I’m changing, and it seems to have worked out by the compliments I get (laughs),” she said.

To clarify this aesthetic side, Terra tried to contact the Instituto Beleza Natural, even coming to submit questions to the company, but didn’t get responses before the publication of this report.

Source: Terra Beleza

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