Note from BW of Brazil: Perusing through a popular Brazilian bookstore recently I came across the popular “men’s entertainment” magazine SMOOTH. The magazine is very popular among African-American men and every month features articles about electronics, films, clothes, automobile accessories, music, etc. The main attraction for this magazine is, of course, the vast assortment of mostly women of color, scantily clad, featured in full color photo layouts and in interviews. The women are often video models and dancers featured in the latest Hip Hop/R&B music videos.
American and other foreign magazines in Brazilian bookstores is nothing new. In any well-stocked bookstore, one can routinely buy an assortment of well known American, French, Spanish and German magazines. What’s interesting about finding something like SMOOTH is that it is a magazine that prominently features women of color, generally African-Americans and Latinas, in every issue. This is a sharp contrast to Brazil that has a huge population of African descendant (preta/black and parda/brown) women. But as this blog has consistently shown, they are generally invisible in Brazil’s TV and print media. Magazines of this sort generally feature white women or women that North American and European men would consider to be Latinas, meaning women who are not exactly white but light enough that they also wouldn’t be classified as black. In case you forgot or thought the images featured week after week, month after month and year after year on Brazilian magazine covers have changed, check the photo below.
Note that the only black face on all of the covers of the magazines was the recently defeated mixed martial arts fighter Anderson Silva, who was the subject of a “blackfaced” roasting after his loss a few weeks ago. There was only one SMOOTH magazine that I found in the bookstore that day and it was selling for a retail price of R$55.95, meaning nearly 56 Brazilian reais. As the Brazilian real to American dollar exchange rate was about $2.24 last week, this means that one copy of SMOOTH was selling for an equivalent of about 25 American dollars. A bit pricey for one magazine.
Here’s the question. There are many women who see these types of magazines as sexist, exploitative representations of women that maintain the image of women as nothing more than sexual fodder rather than complete human beings. Others believe sensuality and sexuality can co-exist in the media in the proper context. There are those who say black women shouldn’t care that less than 10 black women have ever been featured on the cover of the Brazilian edition of Playboy magazine in more than 35 years. But there are also those who want the world to know that black women are beautiful and sexy as any other race of women. More still. It’s very common to hear a Brazilian say that their country has the “most beautiful black/mulata women in the world”. If that were true, where are they in the media? On the other hand, black Brazilian feminists repudiate the representation of black women in a sensuous manner as the Brazilian “mulata” has historically been presented in a sexual manner in advertisements to attract male tourists in search of cheap, easy sex to the country. Wherever you stand on this issue, it seems a bit odd at the least and extremely racist at the most that a country where about 50 million women define themselves as non-white are regularly invisible on the thousands of magazine stands one sees throughout the country.
What’s your take on this topic? Feel free to leave a comment.