“I hated myself and didn’t even know it”: Activist’s memories demonstrate how Brazil undermines the self-esteem of black people

stephanie 2
stephanie 2


Note from BW of Brazil: One of the most difficult obstacles to discussing and perhaps overcoming racism in Brazil is the society’s insistence on denying its existence altogether, minimizing its effects or labeling those who speak out about it as vitimistas (persons who ‘play the victim’). But the fact is, it is impossible to fight something if people can’t/won’t even admit it exists. For many years, Brazil was able to slide under the radar of countries around the world that had major racial issues amongst its citizens. Since about the 1950s, professional social scientists have exposed this ‘social disease’ in a wide variety of books and articles, but these studies often remained within the academic environment. But in the past decade, thanks to social media/networks, everyday black Brazilians have been voicing their perspectives and experiences of having been born, grown up and living in a country that continues to have difficulty in speaking on as issue that affects millions of citizens in such a brutal way

Stephanie Ribeiro is an architecture student whose material has appeared on this blog from time to time. Today, we present another of her wonderful, personal, thought-provoking texts on how Brazil’s particular brand of racism affects many black people on a psychological level. This text is obviously her personal thoughts, memories and experiences, but without a doubt, her re-collections apply to countless other Brazilians who aren’t white and cannot ‘pass’ for white. 

Activist takes a “punch” at racism with a viral text about self-love

Stephanie Ribeiro, 23, is an inspiration for all black women. Get excited with the impact of her words

Courtesy of Revista Glamour

“Racism works in a way that 90% of black children believe that they are not beautiful and are not capable.”  – The impactful – and viral – text of Stephanie Ribeiro, 23, a black feminist activist, starts like this. Inspired by Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day, October 12th), she posted a message on Facebook on Thursday the 13th on self-esteem among black youth. In her message of self-love, the student accounts in the first person how to deal with racism in childhood and adolescence. “I was so ashamed and disgusted with myself and my body, that there were times I avoided photos and scrubbed myself very hard in the bath (…) I hated myself and didn’t even know it.”

At 14, Stephanie made a book to increase her self-esteem. She was always beautiful!

Stephanie, just like many, many girls learned to love herself later in life, but her words can still make a difference for the young people who are going through it now, in the 2016.

“I wanted to say to all of them that they are beautiful and that our aesthetic is beautiful, even if others say the opposite. My self-esteem was destroyed and it hurts to this day. I have such stupid insecurities, even being a black woman within various standards, from having a slim body to lighter skin. If it was painful for me, imagine how crueler it is with other blacks?”, she told Glamour.

Even with an amazing mother I always thought my hair was horrible, says Stephanie. Today, she loves her curls and is inspired by actresses like Tais Araújo, wonderful!

At 14, Stephanie took some photos as a model to believe more in her beauty. At the time of the booking she took the photos to school to show them to some people “kind of saying, ‘Hey, look how beautiful I am,’” she recalled.

If it weren’t enough all the normal insecurities that women feel in adolescence, racism only worsens the difficult phase. “It was really terrible. I remember a boy who was talking to me, called me beautiful on social networks, and even when we met each other live. But in a show in which he was with friends, he pretended not to know me,” she said.

In the cruelest moments, her mother always stood by her side. “She went to school complaining of the racist way they offended me. My mother always loved me,” she said. And when we talk about the importance of atrizes negras (black actresses) in leading roles, here’s the proof: “I only wore my hair down and I felt beautiful with it when I saw Tais Araújo in the role of Helena, in the novela (soap opera) Em Família in 2014 (1). She wore cabelos cacheados/crespos (curly/kinky hair). Even with my curls being smaller, I saw a black woman being seen as beautiful.”

Another visually stunning photo from the book. “I think only I felt beautiful when I changed cities to go to college. It was like a fresh start,” she said.

For Stephanie, life became easier when she moved to another city. “I think that I felt pretty in the day to day when I moved for the city [she’s froms Araraquara] to go to college. It was like a fresh start. Since I’m from a small town, everyone knows everyone knows each other and sees each other. People they found me and called me ugly were always close and near, “he said.

“Today I know I’m wonderful, but Dia das Crianças (Children’s Day) comes and I get this strange feeling,” she said. Quite sincere, Stephanie said that she’s afraid of having children, because she doesn’t want to see them suffer for being how they are. “I always talk about this, so that people are conscious of the difficulties and how it’s necessary to support and love,” she added.

“Racism works in a way that 90% of black children believe that they aren’t beautiful, that they’re not capable, that their hair is horrible, that it’s “normal” no one wanting to take the couple photo at the festa junina (2) with you, that if your classmates see your black parents they will make fun of their dark color.

I was so ashamed and disgusted with myself and my body, that there were times in which I avoided photos and that I scrubbed myself harder in the bath (3). Just as there were times when I was ashamed to have black grandparents, uncles, cousins and parents and wanted to hide this all the time.

I remember once I had to go to a basketball class and I stood in front of the mirror trying to hide my breasts because I was disgusted with my breasts, since the boys said that my body was okay, but my face was trash. So I took tape and put it on to hide them because I didn’t want to attract attention.

When I called attention I was made fun of.

I hated myself and didn’t even know it.

I relaxed my hair for the first time at and my frustration was that the volume of my hair continued. I had never worn my hair loose up to 15 when I was forced to because it was falling out and I had “patches”.

I remember that after relaxing I had the courage even as a child to wear it loose in school and was the most hellish day of my life. The jokes, the pointing, the names, the looks, I at 7 ran to the bathroom and wet it. Because wet it didn’t have so much volume…

My mother, my grandparents and aunts said I was beautiful, but I NEVER believed it.

At 14 I entered a beauty contest because I thought I was so ugly that my mother thought that if I made a book I would believe I was beautiful. I did a book and I was ashamed to look at the photos, when it arrived I needed a moment alone to open it and see the pictures as I thought they would all be horrible.

I thought I was ugly, the boys called me ugly, no one wanted to be “meu namorado” (my boyfriend) or even go out with me, I was losing “bv” (boca virgem or virgin mouth) (4) in the second year of high school, people said I was ugly so much that I believed it.

At 14 I had EXACTLY this face and yet I was the girl on the lists of ugly, nasty and “made fun of” in the classroom, at the school and it was like this my entire life.

I always cry thinking about it, I am and I was very, very beautiful, but people made me believe otherwise. And even today I still have to fight to rebuild my self-esteem, it’s not just about aesthetics, it’s about having believed that I was what the others said. Trash.”

Source: Revista Glamour


  1. In fact, Taís Araújo portrayed Helena in the novela Viver a Vida
  2. Festa Junina, also known as festa de São João for their part in celebrating the nativity of St. John the Baptist, are the annual Brazilian celebrations historically related to European Midsummer that take place in the beginning of the Brazilian winter. These festivities, which were introduced by the Portuguese during the colonial period (1500-1822), are celebrated during the month of June nationwide both in Brazil and Portugal. The feast is mainly celebrated on the eves of the Catholic solemnities of Saint Anthony, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Peter. Source
  3. A practice that many black Brazilians have reported.See here for example.
  4. Virgin mouth meaning she had never been kissed
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. This is beyond tragic that such a beautiful woman could ever think herself to be anything less. My parents are Jamaican but I was raised in Canada where I still live. I know what’s it’s like to not feel beautiful unless you’re appeal to European standards. But I thank my parents and other role models in the community for instilling self worth in me by focusing on the greatness of who we are as black people in the world. Still, real beauty is who we are inside, that’s where each and every person needs to look. Until we can fully fall in love with ourself from the inside out we can never see the beauty in another and fully fall in love with anyone else. Just remember, anyone who can call someone ugly is only projecting how they feel about themself. They don’t feel beautiful or good enough and putting down someone else makes them feel better, even if only for a minute. When you understand this you will understand that ugly words are a reflection of the person who speaks them and not you. It is something to pity not be threatened by. As the saying goes, how someone feels about you is none of your business.
    Love & Blessings,

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