In debate, the black woman’s body standard: What is the effect on black Brazilian women when they don’t measure up to the stereotype?

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Note from BW of BrazilWhen you close your eyes and I say the words “Brazilian woman”, what comes to your mind? In my years traveling back and forth from the United States to Brazil, I often find it difficult to have an intelligent discussion with the average, red blooded American male. From the time I began regularly travelling to Brazil in late summer 2000, when people would learn that I had been to Brazil a few times, invariably, in one way or another, the topic would turn to Brazilian women. 

If the person I was conversing with was male, often times I would have to help these men pick their tongues off the ground or help them put their eyes back in the sockets. “Brazil?!?!? Dem bitches is HOT! How long does it take to get a passport?”, sums up a large percentage of those discussions. Even when I would occasionally meet people who were familiar with things Brazil was famous for, such as its music, futebol players or capoeira, the topic would ALWAYS end up back on THE WOMEN.

If I was conversing with a woman, often times, I would get a reaction like, “Brazil?!? What’chu goin’ down there for?”, combined with a look that says, “I know what you goin’ down there for!”. Other times, women were blatant with what they thought my reasons were for visiting Brazil. “I heard about them Brazilian women”, or “I know you messin’ wit’ dem Brazilian chicks,” or variants of these comments were most common.

It didn’t help much that some time in the beginning or middle of the first decade of the 21st century that a number of American-based porno producers started hittin’ up Brazil for some of their productions. Add to this, the books, magazine articles and even Hip-Hop music videos that were detailing or featuring images or reports about Brazilian women and suddenly many black Americans were beginning to get a very one-sided view of Brazilian women. Along with a friend of mine, a São Paulo-based doctoral candidate in African and African Diaspora Studies, I spoke a little about this in a previous post.

Back in either 2008 or 2009, when I was taking classes in a Master’s course back in Detroit, I remember showing photos and video of some of the places I had visited in cities such as Rio and Salvador to a classmate, a black-Japanese woman. Upon looking at one of my female friends from Rio, this classmate remarked, “I thought all Brazilian women were beautiful.” As most people have an image of Brazil’s people that is either mixed or some sort of “exotic black”, my friend Kátia apparently didn’t fulfill the image my classmate had. Kátia is a dark-skinned black woman who wears her hair in a short, neatly cropped afro.

Obviously, much of the imagery about Brazil has a lot to do with the images that people see of Rio’s Carnaval season. As many know, year to year, Rio’s Carnaval offers thousands of images of gorgeous, sculptured, scantily-clad bodies wrapped in varying degrees of brown skin, so what are we to expect of what people think when they are consistently fed a diet of such images? 

But I have another question. What happens when the Brazilian woman, specifically black Brazilian women, don’t measure up to these images? After all, it’s not just American and European men that have these images of the brasileira stamped on their brains. White Brazilian men also expect black women to be a certain way and these expectations include believing they are all maids, know how to dance the samba, offer quick, easy sex and have bodies of sexual goddesses. 

When I have debates with my American friends, none of whom have ever been to Brazil, they have difficulty believing that every Brazilian woman is not “a dime”, a “perfect 10” or easy to get into the horizontal. I’ve been visiting and/or living in Brazil for almost 20 years and I can attest to the FACT that Brazilian women run the gamut of looks: short, tall, fat, slim, sculptured, black, white, brown, racially undefinable, beautiful, average and, depending on your perception of what attractive means, not so beautiful.

But again, how does this affect the black Brazilian woman’s perception of herself? A number of black and non-black Brazilian women experts have debated this issue for a number of years. Below, two of them discuss some of their findings.

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In debate: the black woman’s body standard

By Wellington Andrade

In a society marked by the visibility of the body, it’s possible to perceive an impact in this field, especially for black women: the demand for the so-called standard body, similar to that of passistas de escola de samba (samba school dancers). But how do you deal with this when you don’t have that type of body?  To try to answer this question, the Notícia Preta website invited black psychologists Ellen Moraes Senra and Lívia Marques.

Psicóloga Ellen Moraes Senra
Psychologist Ellen Moraes Senra

For Ellen, who is also a specialist in cognitive behavioral therapy, a black woman’s non-acceptance of her own body can bring psychological problems. “Low self-esteem, anxiety in situations of exposure, such as the presentation of a job in an academic environment or even in the corporate environment, in addition to the much-feared depression.”

The psychologist also points out that other disorders can be developed, such as eating disorders that are usually less reported by the black population. For her, the difference is that the black female body carries marks that are not the same as those of a corpo branco (white body), where the stretch marks stand out and in fact tend to draw more attention.

The self-acceptance of the black woman’s body is a long way off. “From our birth, we are forced to bow to standards, whether by criticism of colleagues, non-acceptance in school or even due to the lack of encouragement from our own. But this scenario is changing, and our representation is present in more and more spheres,” Ellen relates.

Psicóloga Lívia Marques
Psychologist Lívia Marques

Psychologist Lívia Marques explains that the process of recognition of blackness is a process for blacks and for the black woman. “In this case it involves the physical body and also the psychological part of breaking beliefs and paradigms imposed for so long. Today we see that women who didn’t know the texture of their hair since the age of four and during therapy seeing themselves in a hair transition, which involves the whole of this woman, is very significant.”

But the deconstruction of the ideal body in reference to that of the passista (Carnaval dancer) is still a challenge. “In fact, the media and the indústria de produtos de cabelo (hair products industry), for example, have realized that black women are really recognizing their blackness within a European standard imposed since colonization and the arrival of the black in Brazil. This new reality has changed hair and makeup standards, for example,” Lívia emphasizes.

The psychologist evaluates that the standard body always taught has to be deconstructed in a general way. “A really cool practice that I like is to hang out with rodas de conversa (discussion circles) and feiras pretas (black expo events) where it’s possible to see yours and that really makes you feel embraced. Go with someone that supports you. But I always say if you realize that this woman is not well, seek help from a Psychology professional. It is a process in many cases to break with such deep-rooted beliefs for the mulher preta (black woman),” Lívia finalizes.

Source: Notícia Preta

 

About Marques Travae 3201 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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