“In a society aesthetically governed by a white paradigm…the lightness or whiteness of the skin…persists as a symbolic mark of imaginary superiority.” – Muniz Sodré
In various other articles, we have highlighted the exclusion of Afro-Brazilians along with the overwhelming representation of white Brazilians in the mainstream media. We have also run a series of articles about interracial relationships which featured a roundtable discussion on the topic of black Brazilian men having a preference for white women, specifically blonds.
In the same vein, this current post really speaks for itself. In articles from October 24, 2011 and January 31, 2012, there were two online articles that highlighted the beauty of white women in Brazil’s TV media. One article was entitled “Loiras da TV: as apresentadoras platinadas que fazem sucesso (TV’s blondes: the successful platinum colored hosts)” and the other “As dez apresentadoras de TV mais bonitas do Brasil (The ten most beautiful TV hosts)”. By its title, the first article is blatant in its promotion of blond beauty. In the second article, one has to look at the photos to note that none of the women regarded as the “most beautiful” of TV hosts are Afro-Brazilian. (Note: The photos in this article from Sabrina Sato to Xuxa are the 30 photos of the women presented in the two articles)
What would explain the invisibility of any women of color on this list? One reason, or one might say, excuse, would be the relative lack of black TV hosts and journalists. Research shows that 86% of television hosts and 93% of journalists on Brazilian television programs are white. Which leads to the question of why there are so few Afro-Brazilians studying in the field of communications in universities and the further discussion of the battle over affirmative action policies to give more black Brazilians access to a college education. In regards to the other article, it’s obvious why there are no Afro-Brazilians on the list of “TV’s blonds”. But over the years, Brazil’s media hasn’t hidden the fact that it prefers blonds, a gross misrepresentation of the country’s population in which more than half of nearly 200 million citizens proclaim themselves non-white and where even the vast majority of white women do not have natural blond hair. Perhaps analyzing Brazil’s modeling industry where Afro-Brazilian women are also vastly under-represented can provide a few clues.
According to João Pina in his article, “On the Hunt for the Next Gisele“, “More than half of Brazil’s models are found among the tiny farms of Rio Grande do Sul, a state that has only one-twentieth of the nation’s population and was colonized predominantly by Germans and Italians.” Today, 81.4% of the population of Rio Grande do Sul defines itself as white. Part of Brazil’s standard of beauty owes itself to one of the state’s most famous citizens.
Correa and Santos citing Erika Palomino reveal that, “the standard of beauty of the Brazilian woman from fashion to the media is represented through the image of Gisele Bündchen, that conquered the world. Thin, with her princess features, full breasts and narrow hips, Gisele revolutionized the aesthetic standard in fashion and outside of it.” (1)
Although the domination of blondes and white women in general is blatantly obvious in the 21st century, the alarms of the coming of this European aesthetic were sounded decades ago. In 1987, anthropologist/historian Gilberto Freyre, whose works are widely credited with spreading the Brazilian myth of “racial democracy” criticized the new standard that he noted. For Freyre, the morena type embodied by actress Sônia Braga was Brazil’s national beauty preference. Braga was short, slightly brownish skin, long, dark hair with a slight kink to it, big butt and small breasts. One could also see in Braga a racial mixture that wasn’t purely European, the Brazilian mestiça (mixed-race woman) that one could argue is embodied in actress Juliana Paes today (photos of Braga and Paes further below).
For Freyre, Brazil was suffering from a European or “Yankee” (American) influence with the success of actresses like Vera Fischer. Fischer was a tall, white woman with blond, straight hair and a less rounded figure (2).
An article from Veja magazine in 2000 proclaimed that Brazilian women didn’t become old, they became blond in reference to the fact that women of Brazil were some of the biggest consumers of hair coloring chemicals in the world (2). But in a country where people will immediately proclaim their pride in biggest the “biggest mixed race country” in the world, why do so many women adapt themselves to this standard? Psychologist Rachel Moreno explained it this way:
“First, it is the fact that we are in a tropical country, with the body most exposed. The other is the imposed standard of beauty, that is absolutely Eurocentric, that of a young, white woman, straight hair, preferably blonde. It has nothing to do with the composition of the Brazilian. What surprised me was knowing that the model of beauty in Europe is the classic model of the Brazilian woman: a morena with curly hair and a body full of curves. In other words, what ends up as the standard of beauty is exactly that which is most difficult to achieve, in order to stimulate consumption.” (3)
In this sense, can we consider the promotion of the white woman as a standard of beauty to be consumed? With this domination of the European aesthetic as the ideal of beauty dominating airwaves and in the media in general, what effect might this have on the image of black women and mate selection of black males seeking partners in long-term relationships? As Tássia Fernanda de Oliveira Silva put it, because Brazilians live in a country that is dominated by a white paradigm, “black women are submitted to a process of racial selection that favors white women.” (4) As we have already discussed in previous articles, although racism persists in Brazil and affects all non-whites, racial identity remains fluid, not only due to racial admixture but also due to the fact that blackness for many is still a negative attribute to be avoided. We won’t tackle all of the implications of this issue in this post but three actors of the Salvador, Bahia-based Banda de Teatro Olodum theater group weighed in on this topic in a book about their long-running theater piece entitled Cabaré da Rrrraça.
Cabaré is a popular piece that has toured throughout Brazil since the late 90s and tackles topics such as racism, racial identity, racially-charged sexual stereotypes and the black experience of African descendants in the state most recognized for its large black population: Bahia. On the topic of black men, black women, white women and interracial relationships, here are a few comments from Telma, Jamile and Jorge.
“Unfortunately, black women, mainly those that live in the periphery, are judged, most of them, as women for having sex with. Black women aren’t good for dating. Black women are for going out with and white women are for marrying. I’ve already heard this. Black mothers themselves say: I don’t want my son to marry a neguinha because I don’t want to have to deal with combing that hair. We’ve already heard this.”** (5) – Telma Souza
“This happens because we come from an upbringing in which they tell us that black is ugly, it stinks, it’s no good, blacks have bad hair…And who wants to deal with this? No one. So the black man seeks a white woman, with white skin so that he doesn’t see himself to say that he’s made it.” (5) – Jamile Alves
“The television shows us that the standard of beauty is the European standard. School gives us a standard that is not my face. When the guy that’s there in his community turns on the television, what’s cool is the blond from (musical group) Tchan, it’s Xuxa. The blonds have become the standard for these people. The soccer player, when he ascends and starts to earn money, the woman that he’s gonna marry is a blond. When the pagodeiro (pagode music musician) starts to rise in the media, his trophy is to be with a blond woman. I’m not generalizing. Love, love in interracial relations, exists, I am not saying that it doesn’t, but this is not always the case.” (5) – Jorge Washington
Often when the topic is the issue of racism in Brazil, one of the first things people will argue is that the existence of interracial relationships somehow “proves” that racism is not a problem in Brazil. But I would argue that interracial relationships and the perception of more harmonious racial relations have more to due with the history of submission on the part of the black Brazilian population rather than a lack of racism. If it is true that white women and white people in general are regarded as superior, more intelligent, more beautiful, more powerful, etc., and there doesn’t exist a widespread movement to counteract this hegemonic value system, it is very likely that the very population that is discriminated against has itself adapted to and accepted this set of ideals that marks them as inferior. In other words, if there is no “counter attack” of values, if there is no challenge or rejection to white supremacy, social relations would appear to be harmonious. As we have shown in various articles on this blog, the Afro-Brazilian population is consistently subjected to racism, racially-based social inequality, exclusion and genocidal rates of homicide. Even so, this doesn’t necessarily prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the media is fully responsible for the superior position of white women in the feminine social hierarchy, but it is too powerful a tool to rule this out and for some people it is quite obvious. We will continue to develop this theme in future articles, but for now, we will leave you with the comments of three black women who shared their ideas on some of the topics discussed in this piece: Joana: Black actresses appear on television? Yes, they appear, still as maids. (4)
Cristina: I see the black woman in the media in a negative form. In no moment do they put blacks in an equivalent position to whites. They seek to show blacks in a way that for them will never change. Blacks will always be beneath whites and the media certainly does this. (4)
Solange: I am not pretty, I don;t think I’m pretty, pretty is other people. I am not pretty because compared to the standards of beauty, I really far back. I’m small, black and so many other things. And who thinks this way is not just me, it’s the society that thinks of the white woman with a great body, long, straight hair as beautiful. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like my color; of course I like it, but I have consciousness that the white woman is more well regarded. (4)
* – Long time television host, singer and actress passed away on September 29, 2012
** – Note that in her comments, Telma seems to be confirming the colonial era Brazilian saying in regards to race and sex: “White woman for marriage, mulata women for fucking and black women for work.” A number of studies have confirmed that many black Brazilian women feel that black Brazilian men have adapted this slave master’s ideal in their relations with black women.
Sources: Mde Mulher, Moda e Luxo
1. Correa, Suzamar and Robson de Souza dos Santos. Modelo negra e comunicação de moda no Brasil: análise de conteúdo dos anúncios publicados na revista Vogue Brasil. Iniciacom, América do Norte, 4, sep. 2012
2. Goldenberg, Mirian. “Afinal, o que quer a mulher brasileira?” Psicologia Clínica, 2011, vol.23, n.1, p. 47-64
3. Moreno, Rachel. “A beleza virou um problema social.” A Gazeta, Vitória, Caderno Dia-a-dia, p. 16, 26 de abr. 2009. Entrevista concedida a Elaine Vieira
4. Silva, Tássia Fernanda de Oliveira. Representações de mulheres negras na mídia televisiva. Master’s Thesis. Universidade do Estado da Bahia.
5. Uzel, Marcos.Guerreiras do Cabaré: A mulher negra no espetáculo do Bando de Teatro Olodum. Salvador: EDUFBA, 2012