Favela Barber: Afro-Brazilians Adapting Own Aesthetics of Beauty
Note from BW of Brazil: Having been studying the Afro-Brazilian community for two decades, one thing that has really caught my eye in the past decade or so is the Afro-Brazilian community slowly carving out its own niche in terms of its concept of beauty. And the various hairstyles that one is bound to note among black Brazilians is a clear sign of this. As I pointed out in a recent article, this is a big deal.
For decades, Afro-Brazilians have sought to not attract negative attention to themselves by flaunting physical characteristics that are deemed “unacceptable” in Brazilian society. While one would have to go to extreme measures in order to decrease the melanin in the skin, maintaining one’s hair according to the accepted (European) standard is one way that the black population has sought to just “get by”.
For years this meant that black Brazilian women would need to straighten out their kinks and curls by any means necessary and black Brazilian men would need to shave their heads as close to the scalp as possible. It was a way of bowing one’s head and adhering to society’s expectations. If you wanted to get that job or impress someone you were interesting in dating, it would be necessary to “do something” with that “cabelo ruim” (bad hair).
But things have changed. Inspired by their own black civil/human rights organizations, access to higher levels of education and exposure to trends and movements of their African-American “cousins”, Afro-Brazilians are boldly showing Brazilian society that they are developing their own level of acceptability in terms of what can be considered attractive and slowly rejecting the imposition of Eurocentric standards of beauty.
In the nation’s capital region, one particular barber, inspired by the classic age of Hip Hop in the United States, is filling a demand in the area of beauty and style of a community that has long been underserved.
Inspired by 80s/90s hightop fades of Big Daddy Kane and Fresh Prince, “Favela Barber” blows up serving Afro-Brazilians adapting own aesthetics of beauty
Mateus Kili, the “Favela Barber”, draws the attention of social networks with reinterpretations of the 1980s flat-top and designs a salon in Ceilândia
By Ranyelle Andrade
Hair sculpted to perfection with a lot of style and creativity are the specialty of the “Barbeiro da Favela”, meaning Favela Barber, a personal brand that Mateus Kili adopted when he found himself in the craft. Although he is the son of a hairdresser, he didn’t imagine pursuing a career in the beauty market. However, he fell in love with the profession and embraced the nickname when he discovered that he could go outside of the standards and contribute to the self-esteem of men and women from the periphery.
The originality and perfectionism of the creations were soon noticed on the internet. After publishing the result of one of his most skillful cuts, a stair-shaped flat top, the resident of Brazil’s capital city, Brasília DF, saw his talent gain national prominence, as well as the first venture, recently opened in Ceilândia, in partnership with friends. Ceilândia is an administrative region of Brazil’s Federal District (DF) and is the largest of administrative regions with more 400,000 residents.
With more than 1,100 shares (and counting), the publication drew praise for the inventiveness of the barber. It also aroused the nostalgia of those who associated the style to the one immortalized by Will Smith in the iconic series The Fresh Prince of Bel-air (or Um Maluco no Pedaço, loosely meaning ‘a crazy one up in the piece’, as translated in the adaptation of Brazilian TV). For years, The Fresh Prince had a huge following on Brazilian television, particularly among Afro-Brazilians who didn’t have this sort of representation in the Brazilian media.
Free advertising came at a good time. Soon, he gathered his friends and started an old project: setting up a business specializing in afro hair to fill the gap in this market in the region. Although 65% of the population in the Administrative Region is black, the supply of specialized salons in Ceilândia is scarce.
“For a long time, black people didn’t go to the beauty salon to do their hair. This was a space where we were forced to lower it, cut it, straighten it. This is changing” – MATEUS KILI
With the viral photo, the space of approximately 25m² was noticed even by foreign profiles. And if the posts attract attention on the networks, the visual identity stamped on the walls invites those who pass by the place for a peek. “People are curious, they come in, ask the price. There is also a level of representativeness, the impact it has for people to see a black woman, empowered, with all an pink afro,” he exemplifies.
The woman with the painted curls is Tânia, a colorist, visagist, a specialist in African hair and a partner in the enterprise. Besides her, Luan Oliveira, tattoo artist and body piercing, and Moisés Pretinho, responsible for the administrative part, are part of the company. With eight hands, they manage to encompass a reasonable number of procedures at Under Family Studio. But, after success, the flat-top spent a lot of time on the list of most requested.
Rescue and resistance
The look that Mateus has spread on social networks was inspired by the military style of the 1940s and 1950s and had its peak in the golden age of Hip-Hop. Although it has returned as a trend for male hair, everything indicates that the first person to show an authentic flat-top around there was a woman.
Based in the US, Jamaican singer Grace Jones presented the square layout to the world before it would appear on the head of other artists on the cover of an album released in 1980.
Later, rappers Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, MC Rakim, Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince adopted the look and gave the cut the rebellious tone associated with the musical style – followed even today.
Like the rhymes that talk about black invisibility, the height and style used in the flat-top echo the political essence of the style.
“For a long time, the black population was conditioned to the restrained use of cabelo crespo (kinky/curly hair) (very short for men and straightened for women) in order to behave in a white-centric aesthetic standard muffled by the insignia of ‘boa aparência‘ (good appearance)”, explains the historian and coordinator of Policies for the Promotion and Protection of Racial Equality of the GDF, Marjorie Chaves.
In this sense, the movement of capillary transition and rediscovery of curly hair goes beyond the field of beauty to become an encounter with identity, a response to racism and a symbol of resistance.
Young blacks have spoken of self-esteem, self-care, affection… And contributed to other young people to rethink their self-representation, even though soap operas, TV programs and magazines do not represent the diversity of our population – MARJORIE CHAVES
“Oppression by a European aesthetic standard has had serious effects on our self-esteem. Even with all the recent change in the way of handling curly hair as a rescue from a history that has been denied to us, the idea that voluminous hair with braids or dreadlocks is ugly still persists.”
Prejudice in the market
Marjorie’s reflections make perfect sense in the personal experiences of fans of the visual. The viral model, Luis Davi, 18, remembers that the job market is one of the places where intolerance to afro hair is most present. “I was already afraid of being fired for that, I always got scolded and was advised to lower my hair. I try to take it with a good attitude.”
In this scenario, social networks didn’t enter Mateus’s story at random. According to the researcher, the debate promoted on digital platforms helps in a positive representation of the black body and curly hair. This space tends to change precisely because of the popularization of these media as an environment for the dissemination of ideas.
“Social media was and has been a powerful disseminator of ideas. Young black women have spoken of self-esteem, self-care, affection and have helped other young women to rethink their self-representation, even though soap operas, TV programs, Brazilian magazines do not represent the diversity of our population.”