Note from BW of Brazil: The beauty and appreciation of blackness has long been a theme that we promote here at BW of Brazil and today’s feature on seven dynamic young women personify this objective perfectly. If you didn’t already know, the need for alternative media outlets specifically devoted to Brazilian women of visible African ancestry is extremely important in a Brazil that continues to pretend that these women don’t exist. A recent study confirmed another yet another of our perceptions: Afro-Brazilian women are almost completely invisible in Brazilian films, representing only 4.4% of principal characters in these movies. Add to this the invisibility and stereotypes of black women on television series, and near exclusion in women’s, teens and bridal magazines as well as advertising and it shouldn’t be hard to understand why the women in this report, similar to the producers of a popular online video series using Afro-Brazilians in mock TV commercials, decided to take matters into their own hands.
Contrary to how Brazil likes to portray black women, they are not here to serve and stand in the shadows of white women and the popularity of these womens’ blogs and You Tube channels proves that there are other black women out there who look to them to fill the void of black outlets and voices that speak to their needs. Although only one of these women has been previously featured here on the blog, we have been aware of most of their activities for some time and this great report by Jarid Arraes gives each of them a little shine. Enjoy the report and check out a few of their videos below (even if you don’t understand Portuguese).
Brazil’s gurus of black beauty online
The area of beauty has gained increasing visibility on the internet. But what is the space – and the role – of black blogueiras (bloggers), and vlogueiras (vloggers) and “youtubers” in this territory?
By Jarid Arraes
There is a new market niche that is gaining more space online: the branch of beauty. Many girls dream of creating a blog or YouTube channel and with this earn money to support themselves, besides receiving products sent by companies in exchange for reviews and advertisements. In Brazil, this market has gained strength and today there are already many young bloggers who have become celebrities on the internet. It is important to debate, however, about the social relevance of these new positions and professions and how old prejudices continue to be reproduced. Among the many gender stereotypes, hetero-normativity and the stimulation of consumption, highlight racial issues.
According to the last census of the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics or IBGE), more than 50% of Brazilian people identify themselves as preta (black) or parda (brown); ie, more than half of the population recognizes itself as negra. But despite the Brazilian people being quite interbred and not looking all that much like the European ideal of beauty, it is noted that women who gain more visibility and money with blogs and social networks are mostly white, blond, thin and middle or upper class. But why would this be?
The branch of blogging about beauty, first, ends up being restricted only to enthusiasts with good financial conditions, because to start talking about cosmetics and hair some initial investment in products necessary. Only then is it possible to draw attention from any store or company that can consequently send goods in exchange for divulgation. A lot of research is not necessary to discover that there is a wide disparity of income in Brazil, which focuses on a white minority of the population.
Secondly, very few products are made for women who do not fit these standards of beauty. There are few name brand of makeup that manufacture cosmetics to suit darker skin tones as well as the hair products that are predominantly designed to promote straight hair. It is because of this that it’s so hard to find a black blogger or youtuber, with natural hair and, especially dark-skinned.
It is possible to draw hypotheses to explain this absence or lack of visibility of black bloggers and youtubers. After all, they exist – they just don’t have as much success as blondes. By doing a historical and socio-cultural evaluation, it appears that the internet is not accessible to everyone. But above all, there remains the possibility that the public simply prefers to watch who fits into the white and slim standard of beauty.
It is essential to research and study this area more deeply; after all, a new field is opening up to the most diverse areas of knowledge. To kick things off, let’s see what some black blogueiras and vlogueiras have to say on the subject.
Collaboration and sisterhood among black women
Rosângela José is a 35 year old vlogueira with a degree in Business Administration. Her experience with the universe of black feminine beauty on the internet began in 2009, when she decided to stop straightening her hair. Encouraged by friends with whom she had already conversed about makeup, Rosângela started recording videos and today is regarded as a reference by many girls in the virtual world. “I believe that the tips I shared on my channel, how I deal with my hair encourages other black girls and women, by the return that I have from some, through comments, emails and Facebook messages,” she acknowledges. And she is absolutely right; her representativeness was inspiring enough for Beatriz Andrade, a 27-year old graphic designer that is also a beauty guru: “She is a mega example, exudes self-esteem, she’s too much and I’m a super fan.”
The ties that these women, principally unknown, create among themselves may often be invisible and distant, but can also lead to partnerships that arouse political debates and sisterhood. An example of this is the video that Rosângela recorded with another black youtuber, Fabiana Lima from the channel “Beleza de Preta (Black Beauty)”. Amid reports of personal experiences and politicized discourse, the two bloggers raise issues relevant to all black women, independent of any interest in cosmetics and hair care products.
Thus, it becomes quite obvious the social relevance of the theme. After all, talking about “beauty” is not, necessarily, talking about petty and superficial things. For blogueiras negras (black women bloggers), this issue is, first, a reminder for social activism, especially the feminist and black movements.
Resistance to racism
For blogueiras negras in the industry, it’s nothing new: there are frequent episodes in which racism was present in their channels and pages. Posing as simple offensive comments, to more severe persecution, almost all interviewees have witnessed racism and that there is, in fact, a preference for white, blonde girls to divulge and work with cosmetics.
However, despite the difficulties, for some bloggers the positive comments serve to strengthen – it’s the case of Fernanda Chaves, a 26-year old mother and homemaker. Nanda – as she’s known on the Internet – is defined as “neutral” when it comes to politics, but regrets that there are still things like racism and sexism. Still, she notes that black women, in their words, must do their part of them and “show that they are no worse than anyone else.”
The youtuber Gill Viana, who works exclusively with aesthetic issues on the internet, seems to agree with the idea that the best answer to racism is doing a good job. “There is racism on all sides and on YouTube, and in the blogosphere world it’s no different. I think each one will go there and seek their place in the sun, showing with their work that they are as capable as any other,” says the 28-year old blogger.
São Paulo native Maraisa Fidelis is one of the most well-known blogueiras negras in the world of cosmetics and, for her, the whole issue is pretty straightforward: “You do your work and the one that decides the audience is the public. If they watch you, companies look at you; if they don’t watch you, companies don’t look at you. Simple as that.” In spite of recognizing that there are few black women starring in the virtual world of beauty in Brazil, Maraisa says he has never suffered discrimination and strives to not involve issues such as racism on her blog, because she prefers to dedicate her space to only aesthetic issues.
Nevertheless, Maraisa’s comments cannot be taken as a closed case, since she herself recognizes the importance of her work in strengthening the self-esteem of black girls. And no wonder: about eight months ago, the blogger decided start wearing her hair natural and today beautifies Youtube with her empowering crespo (curly/kinky). Although her blog not be directed only to girls with curly hair, there are certainly many girls who feel represented and empowered to follow the example set by the vlogueira.
Fernnandah Oliveira, better known as Criloura, was one of the most politicized and secure in her comments. The 36-year old social worker dominates the world of hair and makeup, but also actively participates in discussion groups on sexism and racism. Her perspectives are quite different from Maraisa: “I think that beauty is within a process of subjectivity of self-esteem and acceptance. From this inclination it’s possible to present how citizenship, as a space and process of recognition and guarantee of rights and duties, is directly connected to this process,” she says. Similarly, she considers it necessary to expose and get involved in the wounds left by racism in beauty channels. “For whoever doubts this, just count the number of black bloggers and vlogueiras that are among those at the top and the white ones. It’s miserable to see how there is a difference in numbers and quality, on the inclusion of black women and men in this universe of fashion and beauty blogs and vlogs.”
Still on possible links between politics and beauty, vlogger Michelle Shirai, a 30-year old Brazilian living in Japan, states that online she has never suffered discrimination, but understands very positively her political influence on her audience: “My work with the videos is not only talking about beauty, but also of finding the true identity, crespa (curly/kinky), curly, dark or light skinned black women, to be proud of features and shapes. It involves respect and my union with many other black women bloggers and youtubers. It gives strength, courage and self love of not accepting what society thinks of imposes think how we should dress, or wear our hair.”
As can be seen, the importance and influence of the work of bloggers and youtubers for black women is evident, even for those who are not politically motivated against racism and misogyny.
The beauty of activism
It is extremely important that all black women who work in fashion, hair and cosmetics on the internet know the potential that their spaces have to generate social transformation. These tools are so relevant that even without the intention of the bloggers, people who follow them are not the same after watching their videos and seeing their photos.
Unfortunately, it is still impressive to see black women secure themselves, sporting their natural hair and unashamed of their facial features. After all, we are all conditioned to value and appreciate only the beleza branca (white beauty). For black children involved in our culture, it is even more important that this work continues to be done, making possible for them a more secure self-esteem and free from internalized racism.
In this respect, all the bloggers interviewed talked about this, and somehow ended up being activists through their work. Beatriz Andrade defines this process when she says that “to the measure that one understands self-esteem, pre-concept decreases because knowledge of self causes a freedom that neither racism nor sexism are enough to maintain inner captivity.” Her message, as well as that of all the other gurus, is that every black woman accept and love herself, that overcomes the violence suffered since she came into the world and, from there, show what comes to her. If this is not activism, nothing is.
Source: Revista Fórum, Illustration art by Paula Portella