Tag Archives: Brazil

The Brazil Files: Bela or Bust Part 1 – On Gender

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse 

Continued from “Bela or Bust (Introduction)” . . .

Author’s note:
I recognize that to say that the preoccupation with being beautiful for women in Brazil boils down to three separate entities is oversimplifying. Gender, class, and race obviously intersect constantly and are difficult to consider beyond their Venn diagram-like existence. Yet for the sake of clarity and hopefully accessibility, I have decided to discuss this topic in three parts: 1) gender, 2) class, and 3) race.

Despite Brazil being one of the most powerful countries in Latin America, it is still working to develop an image that coincides with the nations with which it frequently interacts for diplomatic purposes and international recognition. While issues surrounding class are certainly a cause for shame to the Brazilian national identity, one of the other issues on its pulse for change is gender. Brazil has undergone rapid change in the last few decades in terms of women’s equality, with women moving from predominately domestic roles to working beyond the home and holding positions of power. Yet even with these achievements, the obsession with physical perfection has not dwindled, though in Brazil’s case, advances in women’s rights and an extensive beauty regimen are not necessarily at odds. In fact, in an ironic twist, what some women in the United States may find as a sign of oppression has become a mark of power and success.

Having grown up in the South, I’m accustomed to seeing women spend hundreds of dollars a month on their appearance and hours on maintaining it, but when I moved to Brazil, I was sincerely shocked to see that in both small towns and big cities, full-service beauty salons were everywhere, including people’s homes. Many Brazilians know someone who knows someone who does waxing, hair straightening, and nails in the back of her house. As Brazil has one of the largest informal labor sectors in the world, beauty certainly makes up a large part of this statistic, mean that many women have additional job opportunities even when they remain in the home. From Avon, Racco, and Mary Kay sales to nail care and lymphatic massage, the opportunities for a supplemental income are endless and easily accessible for women of all walks of life.

An intense focus on beauty has also been a mark of pride for women, especially as they climb socially. With more women each year entering the workforce in Brazil, peer recognition and respect are contingent on appearance. As more women hold positions of power, the pressure to remain beautiful only grows, as it can sometimes guarantee a better position and internal advancement within a company. However, this is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to Brazil, as this situation is often repeated in the United States, yet to a less obvious degree.

At this point, some of you may be asking what exactly I am implying when I say things like “intense focus on beauty” or “extensive beauty regiment.” When I say this, I am talking about what we would consider “high maintenance” in the United States as the accepted norm for women’s appearance. A woman must always be “bem arrumada.” This means that even when one goes grocery shopping, heels, nice clothes, and styled hair is the norm. One of my students once told me that she felt absolutely dirty when her nails were not done, and another informed me she would never leave the house with wet hair because that was super “pobre” (“ghetto”). Sure, some of the beauty norms make total sense, particularly those related to hygiene and personal maintenance (i.e. frequent waxing) considering the heat and beach cultures of some regions of Brazil. There is also a cultural connection in that just as many Americans obsess over cleanliness, Brazilians often obsess about neatness. This desire to be neat and clean goes beyond the household and can be easily observed in people’s overall appearance. But in terms of the daily need to be basically perfect, a pressure that is placed disproportionately on women, there is certainly room for questioning and criticism.

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The Brazil Files: Busy Being Foreign

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Since I’ve been living in Brazil, I have suffered from memory loss. On occasion, I simply forget that I am black.

Let me explain . . .

I was born in the United States, in the South to be exact, during the early 1980s, to a mother with very fair skin who, along with her seven sisters and brothers, had witnessed and undergone Jim Crow segregation. My great grandmother and grandfather, a teacher and farmer, respectively, who both had dark skin, had given birth to a light-skinned child, my grandmother, who would then go on to marry a man of equally light skin who was raised to distrust black people who looked like his in-laws. My father, on the other hand, came from a family where the emphasis on high cheekbones and dark wavy hair was made more frequently than that of slightly flattened noses. We have Native blood, they’d say.

You see, colorism was alive and well in my family.

And yet years later, when I still feel compelled to remind my mother that her coarse, nappy hair is beautiful or that there is no need to insert the words “but” or “despite” as my family refers to model Alek Wek’s ebony-skinned beauty, I know that the remnants remain. At the end of the day, we are all of African descent, and in our slavemasters’, old legislators’, and white domestic terrorists’ eyes, we were all black. Yet within that category, we found various ways of re-categorizing ourselves to fit our own neat little model of racism. We created a home-kit, if you will, of silly divisions of what was acceptable and what was not in terms of appearance and behavior.

My maternal grandfather warned his daughters of the dangers of the villainous, malicious dark blacks. Of course, there were exceptions, my dark-skinned aunt and uncle being visible reminders of our inescapable heritage, and the only dark people my grandfather ever truly accepted beyond a superficial level (his race track buddies do not count). But for the most part, darker blacks were to be avoided, despite my family’s shared plight with them in a segregated south.

My mother, though quite young during the segregation period, still bears irrevocable memories. She has recounted stories of slapping a young white girl who had stared at her in a hospital bathroom because she had “never seen a Negro girl up-close before,” of thinking that “colored only” fountains would one day magically transform into a spring of rainbow-infused water, and of remembering her confusion as to why her older sister spent so much time “marching” in the street when she was not wearing her majorette uniform. And presently, in her work as a geriatric social worker, she is reminded of the divisions the period and the long-lasting subsequent effects they have had on the black community when her older, darker-skinned black patients assume she is “stuck up” or cannot be trusted because of her light skin.

Having grown up in a family like this, race inevitably became a daily topic of discussion.

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The Brazil Files: Link Love!

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Brazil beyond what I cover here, which is mainly from the pop culture/race perspective, check out this awesome site: Eyes on Brazil . The author and blog moderator Adam covers many facets of Brazilian life and culture, and gives the perspective of an estrangeiro (“foreigner”) without patronizing, belittling, or exoticizing Brazil and its people. It’s also a great site if you have general questions about Brazil and/or want to work on your Portuguese as Adam is highly responsive to comments and posts short video clips on Brazilian Portuguese colloquial expressions and slang. Here’s a bit more about the site from the author:

Eyes On Brazil exists in order to give a deeper understanding of the Brazilian arts (as well as all things Brazilian) to an English-speaking audience. Personally, I’ve spent almost 10 years studying (and dreaming of) the sleeping South American giant known as Brazil. Seven of those 10 years were focused teaching myself Brazilian Portuguese, and as such, I consider myself fluent.

Adam also has sibling sites on Belem (Brazil), Salvador (Brazil), and even Colombia.Veja já!

The Brazil Files: Not So FIERCE – America’s Next Top Model Goes to Brazil

By Racialicious Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Considering that I am presently living in Brazil, everyone and their mother sent me emails to alert me that this year the America’s Next Top Model “exotic” location was going to be São Paulo, Brazil. Of course, I was on it like white on rice.

I have previously covered ANTM’s behavioral faux-pas (read: extreme insensitivity in relation to the respective racial/ethnic/national identities and/or sexual orientations of the contestants, just to name one of many problems), but I felt the need to take another stab at their culturally-oriented failures considering I am living here in Brazil, visit São Paulo every other weekend, and could safely say, before even watching it, that it was going to end up a hot mess.

In light of the fact that some of the comments made during the show were quite obnoxious, I decided to return the favor. I say let’s squelch fire with fire, ladies. And no, I am not talking about the burning sensation during a Brazilian wax, which seemed to be about the only thing this season’s gaggle of beauties knew about the country that over 196,000,000 people call home.

I have decided to write a little ditty about my take on the show. Check out the clips to see for yourself. Footnotes are provided for additional information. I would have set it to the beat of “the Girl from Ipanema,” but I was too tired from watching the stereotypes and stupidity unfold before me to actually do that. Here goes:

In São Paulo, samba’s not the really the thing. (1)

But hey, at least the girls got flip flops with bling. (2)

Oh and Spanish, speak it they do not. (3)

And in São Paulo, it’s hardly ever hot. (4)

So if you really wanted a sun burn or a tan,

You should have gone to beaches of Rio, a clip of which they ran. (5)

And though capoeirista Eddy speaks quite clear,

They decided to run subtitles as not to offend our AMERICAN ENGLISH ONLY ear. (6)

And Carmen Miranda— for the eyes she’s a feast.

Yet too bad home girl is actually PORTUGUESE. Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Conflict of Interest

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Before I utter any statements of depth in this piece, I have to present a bias. Though not meant to offend those who believe in proselytizing, I find myself firmly standing on the side of those against it. If you feel that religion and/or a faith tradition of some sort is your source of hope, guidance for life, and possibly even your ticket to eternal salvation, so be it. I respect that, and I fully honor the right we each have to practice some form of the aforementioned. However, the second you start telling me or someone else which form is best (read: which version will prevent me from burning in hell for the rest of eternity), we’ve got beef.

With that said, I want to go ahead and put it out there that I take issue with the bulk of missionary work (past and present), especially that which takes place in developing nations. It is a reminder of the power of nations who sit firmly and comfortably in their G8 seats, spectators in a game of international tennis. Only in the case of missionary work, the victory comes at a higher price, one that can mean not only renouncing one’s culture, but also one’s religion (or at least denouncing it in public) as a means of attaining vital resources. This is not to say that missionaries have not done good work. There are countless records of missionaries who have helped others in excellent ways, minus all the religious rhetoric. However, even if the message of faith lies in no more than an utterance or the simple presence of the mission’s name, missionary work nevertheless boils down to a political campaign in the name of God.

In light of my objection to this line of work, I find myself dealing with a mental conflict almost every day of my present job. My campaign has nothing to do with God, but in terms of international influence, the English language and American culture come pretty darn close. Though I have been teaching English in Brazil since July of 2008, there are still a few things about my current profession that rub me the wrong way. The source of my discomfort in teaching my mother tongue lies in implications more so than tangible, empirical evidence, thus making my inner turmoil all-the-more “inner.” Much like a mosquito bite on the sole of your foot, my conflict has been an itch I can’t quite scratch.

Before enrolling in the program in which I am involved, I already knew I wanted to live in Brazil for a few months to a year to have more exposure to Brazilian culture, particularly an aspect of it that involved more of the quotidian variety. I was looking to go beyond the favela-riddled, bikini-clad, beach bathing, rainforested Brazil with which we are presented on our television screens and in our Netflix queues. I wanted to be forced to speak Portuguese on a regular basis and pushed a bit beyond my comfort zone. I was not looking for a spoiled, privileged, escapist ex-pat experience of the Eat Pray Love genre.

The easiest way to achieve my goal was to teach English here, but I knew in the back of my mind, I would be presented with interesting challenges that I may not have faced if I had chosen another route to secure a job in Brazil. For one, I would have to be a de facto representative of American Culture TM. My language and my country would be placed center stage during class, but what Americans do, eat, buy, and think would be the main topic of conversation at all other times as well. I would be reduced to a living, breathing souvenir. Yet in actuality, I find myself to be a bit of a disappointment to my students and the Brazilian English teachers, not for lack of teaching skills, but for lack of conforming to their ideas of Americans and American life. Continue reading

Series Introduction: The Brazil Files

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

For those of you who are longtime followers of Racialicious, you may remember me as a Special Correspondent.

For those of you who are not, let me re-introduce myself! My name is Wendi Muse. I’m a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where I created a major in “Legal and Cultural Studies of Oppressed and Marginalized Peoples,” aka I set myself up for a stint here at Racialicious. After having previously written exclusively for The Coup Magazine, I began writing weekly articles for Racialicious in 2007. My first article was about racism within the Craigslist personal ads, and the rest was history (you can check out my other Racialicious articles here.)

However, in July of 2008, I moved to Brazil to teach English and conduct research. Due to the simple fact that time did not previously allow, I was unable to continue writing here at Racialicious. Fortunately, I have a little more free time, and have come back to share some of my experiences in the magical world of race and ethnicity—Brazilian style!

Before I share my first piece, however, I caution readers that my articles are in no way representative of the entire Brazilian population, nor do I expect them to be a blanket portrayal of the thoughts of millions of people in the largest country in Latin America. That, quite frankly, would be impossible. I do hope, however, to put some myths to rest in addition to opening up the avenues of conversation surrounding race and ethnicity here at Racialicious. We often catch a serious case of myopia when it comes to discussing race in America, and it’s important that we hear the side of our friends down south, too. Their struggles, opinions, and perspectives are equally important and worth giving a listen as we try to make change here stateside.

With that said, I look forward to writing here again! Até mais!

Beijinhos,

Wendi