Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

After being accused of mocking natural black hair and earning millions in the process, entrepreneur Zica Assis responds. But is her argument convincing?


Heloísa Assis, conhecida como Zica (Beleza Natural)

Heloísa Assis, known as Zica, the founder of the Instituto Beleza Natural

Note from BW of Brazil: A few days ago, we posted an article by a blogger who expressed her disappointment in the derogatory representations and gestures of cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) in the selling tactics and marketing strategy by entrepreneur Zica Assis, founder of the Instituto Beleza Natural beauty salon and perhaps Brazil’s richest black woman. The criticism focused not only on a video by the entrepreneur in discussing her sentiments about her own hair, but the idea of using the term ‘natural beauty’ for her salon when her treatment formula is not actually natural and her constant associating black hair with ‘ugliness’ when that has long been the accepted view of this type of hair within the Brazilian population. 

Heloísa Assis, conhecida como Zica (2)

Zica recently responded to the accusations in an open letter directed at blogger Ana Carolina, the author of the critique, so to be fair, it would be necessary to present both sides of this issue, so, below we bring you Zica’s response to the accusations. 

Zica Assis responds to the article: “Respect our cabelo crespo”

Letter from Zica Assis of Instituto Beleza Natural

Sent by the Instituto Beleza Natural via a Guest Post for Portal Geledés

Hi Ana Carolina,

My name is Heloisa Assisi, but from an early age, they’ve called me Zica. I am 55 years old. I am a woman. I’m black. And for more than 30 years of my life I was very poor. To survive, I started working from the age of 9 as a babá (nanny). I was a maid, a cook, a laundress and I sold lingerie. I went though hunger in childhood. But none of that left me so many scars as the prejudice I suffered because of my hair. And I very much lament if somehow with my words I offended anyone. It was a great misfortune that the expressions and gestures that I used could give rise to a negative understanding, the opposite of what I valued my entire life which is beauty and respect for cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair).

Heloísa Assis, conhecida como Zica (3)

It was 1970s. I got a job as a maid in luxury homes in Alto da Boa Vista, an upscale neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro very close to the community where I was born, grew up, got married and raised my three children. There, I began to hear that my hair was ugly, “de bombril” (made of a scouring pad/steel wool), “wire”, dirty, too big, “a lion’s mane” and nega do cabelo ruim (black woman with bad hair).

Soon my hair…my hair that I loved so much and gave me so much joy! Yes, because in my leisure time, my greatest pleasure was to go to dances where I paraded my proud black power (afro). I came in first place in all competitions and, as a prize, I won tickets to come back the following week.

The prejudice against my hair affected me a lot. It hurt and wounded me. To stay on the job, I had to straighten it. I used henê. I’ll never forget the day I did the first application. It was like I was beating myself up. I never wanted to straighten my hair. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

The rest of the story, everyone knows. I didn’t conform, I studied, I’ve did a hairdressing course, I researched, I came into the formula of Super-Relaxing, I opened my first salon in 1993 and today, alongside my three partners, I run the largest network specializing in cabelos crespos in Brazil, Instituto Beleza Natural (Institute of Natural Beauty). We have 43 business units in five states, we employ more than four thousand employees. Most of them, like me: women, black, of humble origin, victims of prejudice in the past. We opened doors for those who never even had an open window. And today they have a carteira assinada (signed work contract) and high self-esteem. This is my greatest legacy, my greatest pride.

For all of this, for everything I went through, I’m very happy with the progress of the Movimento Negro (black movement). I’m happy to see so many girls on the Internet, in the streets, schools and jobs proud displaying their cabelos crespos naturais (naturally kinky/curly hair). And I receive all of them in our offices, where we offer hydrations, cuts and other services and products for natural hair.

Times have changed. The world – thankfully! – has changed. Prejudice unfortunately still exists. But it is denounced. No one else thinks it’s right to deny employment to someone with cabelo crespo! It is racism. It is a crime.

I never wanted, with my Super-Relaxer, to change the identity of cabelo crespo. I never wanted to establish a standard of beauty. What I did was give an alternative to those who had no choice. If I have offended anyone with my comments, I want you to understand that what the Beleza Natural advocates is not a standardization of relaxed hair. It’s just an alternative that many women decided to adhere to.

The important thing is that each one seeks their self-esteem and beauty in what it is, in what you believe. Be it with natural, relaxed, straightened, braided, megahair (weave) or straight… As the slogan of Beleza Natural says, “Bonito é ser você!” (Beautiful is being you!)

A kiss,

Zica

Note from BW of Brazil: So, what did you think? Did Zica’s note sell you on her intentions or was this simply an entrepreneur’s attempt to do a little damage control regarding her reputation? Well, my opinion still hasn’t changed. Her response did nothing to address the criticism of her gestures and descriptions of natural black hair. She in fact apologized for offending anyone but didn’t apologize for the gestures or words which leads me to believe that she still sees nothing wrong with these actions. 

As Ana Carolina and this writer pointed out in the previous article, Zica’s rise in the business world is to be commended and most of us who have followed her already know her story and her reasons for creating the formula that eventually lead to Instituto Beleza Natural. But as the gestures and disparaging comments she made in the video are of the same variety that black women hear everyday, why should her degrading comments be defined as any different than when a white actor dons blackface and made animalistic noises in imitation of Africans? For me, the fact that she is black actually makes her actions even worse. 

Zica’s donning of an afro wig that she clearly regarded as unattractive and the actor’s gestures simply played into long-established views of African attributes. Notice that may have apologized if she offended anyone but she did not apologize for the actual act which tells me she would probably have no problem repeating this performance. Her justification of her product in altering a characteristic that society sees as unattractive and her acceptance of society’s negative views of black hair basically act as her justification for providing a product to “fix” something that everyone sees as ‘bad’.

In some ways, one can understand this behavior, for in the business world, it is often difficult to sell products on a mass level and still maintain high ethical standards. It is often necessary to convince consumers that need a certain product by whatever tactic necessary, including deception, lies, inflation of facts and the manufacturing of desire. In terms of Zica, we know that centuries of negative ideals about black hair would have been worth a fortune for anyone who could come up with a product that allows people that possess this type of hair to escape ridicule and humiliation. As such, as she offers this ‘escape’, she is not so much as confronting the racist system as much as giving people want they want. Apparently, it’s easier to change something people reject rather than changing the attitudes of those that reject it. If these attitudes weren’t so deeply ingrained in the society, she probably would not have earned hundreds of millions of reais. As such, her explanation just doesn’t hold up, as we see from the comments of others below. 

comments - edit

Reactions to Zica’s letter (English translations below).

Rafaela · Researcher at Literafro FALE/UFMG: The comments did not convince me!

Isabela · Digital Marketing at Lopes Consultoria de Imóveis: Thanks Zica! You talked, talked and said nothing.

Camila · UFF – Universidade Federal Fluminense: Give an alternative to those who did not have? You mean the 4c? Carteira assinada (signed work contract) ok, but self esteem? How, if the employees are required to use the salon’s products and ALSO and cannot adopt other looks? Cabelo crespo, dreads and braids have to overcome the aesthetic and go to the political, and with your politics Zica, I do not agree.

Luzy: You have my respect, Miss Zica!

Renatinha · Unisinos: Ahem, I know…

Danny · Administrative Aux at CONSTRUTORA V2: She didn’t problematize the main subject of the text. A very superficial response.

Note from BW of Brazil: The pain that many black people feel due to Brazil’s denigration of a characteristic that reminds us and the world of our connection to Mother Africa is like an open wound and your words and gestures are like throwing salt on that wound. With that said, we understand that you have a winning product and no one’s stopping you from earning money off of the society’s opinion of what is and what is not cabelo bom (good hair). But you don’t have to add to the humiliation in the process in order to sell this product.  

SourcePortal Geledés 

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This entry was posted on December 6, 2015 by in Afro Brazilians, black women, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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