The Brazil Files: Bela* or Bust (Introduction)

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

“So, are the girls hot?”

This is the most common question I receive from American men when I explain that I have been living in Brazil. These men come from all walks of life, are of various racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, and of varying levels of education, exposure to other countries, etc. Long story short, this question seems to be on the minds of many men. It is, for better or for worse, a universal curiosity.

But in my response, I quickly put things in perspective.

“Well, for one, Ugly travels. I see just as many unattractive people in Brazil as I do in the States, and equally as many beautiful people on both sides as well. But I can safely say that the majority of women in Brazil work really hard to be beautiful, more so than the majority of American women.”

There are usually follow-up questions about body types (butts being the primary focus, of course) and clothing styles (are the clothes all skimpy?) and I handle those accordingly. The preoccupation with appearance in Brazil-related questions is to be expected considering that one of the primary portrayals of Brazil in the United States relates to beach culture, scantily-clad women, and sex. But when one takes the time to consider the reasons behind the high standards of beauty in Brazil, it is obvious that there is more to being beautiful and participating in the process of achieving that than just a bikini wax or the perfect nails. Beauty in Brazil is a complex matter involving gender, race and, most certainly, class.

In terms of statistics, Brazilian surgeons perform cosmetic plastic surgery at one of the highest volumes in the world. According to the Brazilian Society of Plastic Surgery, 1,157,540 cosmetic surgical procedures were performed in 2007, placing Brazil behind the United States in the volume of annual procedures (the U.S. ranks number one with 1.8 million, a number that does not include reconstructive surgery or non-invasive procedures like botox injections). For 2008, the Brazilian beauty industry (and this number only accounts for formal sectors) recorded $21.7 billion reais (about $11.8 billion USD) and a 10.6% growth in revenue since 2007. Articles upon articles remark at the growth of the beauty industry despite the pending doom of the global economic crisis. Coincidence? I think not.

In the upcoming weeks, this 3-part article on beauty in Brazil will continue with analysis based on race, class, gender, and media. Be sure to stay posted for more!


*Bela (yes, just one L, aka that is not a spelling mistake) means “beautiful” in Portuguese
**Pictured: Brazilian model Adriana Lima
***For statistical citations, please see the following: