Note from BW of Brazil: Well, it’s definitely gonna be interesting this year! In case you’re wondering, I’m speaking of the annual Miss Brasil competition, an event that is normally lilly white in terms of its contestants. While it is true that beauty contests are frivolous events that simply rank women (mostly) according to their physical appearances that in many ways simply maintains the image of women as mere objects to be visually appreciated. But in another way, the contests tells us much about how Western societies view non-white women. As has been pointed out on this blog numerous times over the course of nearly five years, since its inception in 1954, only once has a black woman claimed the crown of Miss Brasil. Since Brazil’s three and a half century experiment with African slavery, the country’s elites have sought to keep black women in only a few stereotypical positions: manual labor and sexual availability.
Over this same period, it has been and continues to be the white woman who is held up as the standard of beauty, respectability, morals, the perfect wife and mother. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense as to why, in the minds of many, a black woman isn’t and cannot represent the ideal of the perfect woman. Sure, a black woman can be expected to clean the kitchen, cook the meals, take care of
the master’s her boss’s children and dance a samba almost completely nude for millions to see, but she CANNOT represent a Miss; that’s reserved for a white woman. At least that’s the message we’ve received over the past 62 years. And even though Deise Nunes managed to slip through the cracks of white supremacy and become the first and only black Miss Brasil in 1986, the standard clearly remains the same.
In the past several weeks, we’ve followed the state competitions and watched as a record six black women claimed the right to represent their states in the October contest. This writer even went out on a limb and predicted that an Afro-Brazilian woman would claim the crown this year. It would only make sense. But again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that things are changing in terms of the racial hierarchy or Brazil’s European standards of beauty. But it does mean that the activism of black women has garnered far more attention than ever before in Brazil’s history. And that is exactly what we hope to see one black woman make next month in São Paulo!
For the first time, Miss Brasil contest will have six black candidates in the competition
By Jéssica Munhoz, with information courtesy of Correio Braziliense
The participation of black women in the Miss Brasil contest is still considerably low, considering that just over half of the population is of African descent. However, it seems that things are finally changing. In the 2016 edition, for the first time, six black candidates will represent their states in contention for the crown. The number corresponds to only about 25% of the participants, but it is already possible to identify an improvement in the diversity of selection.
The candidates represent the states of Bahia, Espírito Santo, Maranhão, Paraná, Rondônia and São Paulo. Amid the current movement involving representation and black feminism, the selection of these women can be interpreted as part of the changes achieved by the discussions.
Besides representing black skin, they are also a reference for women who wish to assume the naturalness of their hair. Meet six Misses of their states:
Miss Bahia, 18, is a law student (Photo: Lucas Ismael)
Miss Espírito Santo, 18, is a dancer
Miss Maranhão, 26, is a student of Physical Education
Miss Paraná, 21, is a Marketing student (Photo: Lucas Ismael)
Miss Rondônia, 21, is an Architecture student (Photo: Lucas Ismael)
Miss São Paulo, 21, is an Advertising student (Photo: Lucas Ismael / BE Emotion)
Throughout the history of Miss Brasil – which had its first edition in 1954 – there has only been one black winner, the gaúcha (native of the state of Rio Grande do Sul) Deise Nunes in 1986. In the following editions, there were no more winners with dark skin. The lack of afrodescendente (African descendant) candidates in the selection of women who represent their states contribute to this situation.
In the 2015 edition, among the 27 candidates, only one was black: Miss Federal District Amanda Balbino. According to the Núcleo Bandeirante native, after passing through several episodes of racism, she gave up on being a model and participating in beauty contests. As a child, Amanda was always the best of her class. Therefore, many suggested that she venture into a modeling career. When she livened up to the idea and decided to follow the recommendation, she ended up disappointed. “They wanted me straighten my hair, thin my nose, change my features so I decided to give up,” (1) she told Correio Braziliense. These were some of the “barriers that many call invisible” of which Amanda spoke of in her Facebook account and that she had to overcome, all based on racial prejudice.
In her Facebook account, having just been crowned, Amanda also spoke about the difficulties faced to get the crown. “So many other black women carried on, persisted and faced these barriers that many call ‘invisible’, but if they asked we would know our color,” she declared.
The Miss USA this year, Deshauna Barber, is black and faced the prejudice of many Americans. The winner of the beauty contest is a lieutenant of the US Army and also fights against the crimes of racism, and talks about empowerment and racial struggles.
The Miss Universe has in its history only four black winners. The last, crowned in 2011, was the Angolan Leila Lopes. She was elected in São Paulo and leveraged the crowd that cheered more for her than for the Brazilian candidate. Leila is the second Miss Universe from Africa.
- It’s always fascinating to see how Brazil proclaims itself to be such a diverse nation with an endless plethora of phenotypes, while simultaneously promoting a European standard that women of African descent must adhere to. Is there any wonder why cosmetic surgery is so common in Brazil? Amanda Balbino is clearly a black woman but it is also clear that she has some degree of racial admixture in her genetic pool. But the bottom line here is that to pass through Brazil’s Eurocentric standard, a person of mixed race must look white or have negligible non-Eurocentric features to be considered truly beautiful. In other words, although Brazil claims to be proud of its mixed race heritage, whiteness remains the desired classification and appearance.