In a nation where the standard has always been white, self-esteem for black women is a strategy of survival
Note from BBT: Brazil has never made it a secret. The standard for nearly everything that the nation and its citizens value is white. Even with the advances that the black Brazilian population has made, particularly in the past decade, these improvements, in reality, have only made a small dent in the dominace of whiteness across the board. This standard even applies in areas such as sports and music where black Brazilians are expected to dominate or least have greater participation.
Having followed the situation in Brazil for 20 years, I concluded years ago that the old saying very much holds true: If you can control someone’s mind, you won’t have to worry about their body. For decades, in reality centuries, Brazil’s manner of psychological manipulation has made its black population not see itself as black, wish it wasn’t black and desire to whiten its blackness.
For a racist eugenicist, the ongoing whitening of Brazil’s black population would be like a dream come true, in many ways. But nowadays, something is happening that that racist eugenicist possibly didn’t count on: black Brazilians waking up. Some of the discussions and debates about black identity, racism, white supremacy, black money, black love and palmitagem are conversations I wouldn’t have imagined could be happening on such a widespread level just 15 years ago.
Make no mistake, there’s still a long ways to go but I’ve seen more than just a little light at the end of tunnel. The personal reflection by Xan Ravelli below is a perfect example of what I mean. She speaks of the European standard of beauty, colorism, the pride of a black family (which is sometimes difficult to believe existed in Brazil) and the question of the romantic choices black men make.
It goes without saying, conversations like these must continue until every Brazilian of African descent hears the good word.
Why was there an alternation of what is beautiful in weight and curves, but never in color?
By Xan Ravelli
Xan Ravelli is the name behind the Soul Vaidosa digital radar active since 2013. Vaidosa (vain) in body and soul, music therapist by training, #prefacrespamãede2efeminista, her Soul Vaidosa was the first channel of YouTube Brazil to unite themes in beauty and black feminism.
What makes a person beautiful? What is it to be beautiful? When we talk about beauty, is it only appearance that we are talking about?
The conversation here today is about beauty, self-esteem and colorism. We have real “fashions”, standard trends that dictate over time what is beautiful and what fits the standard of socially worshiped and accepted beauty. A walk through the Greek sculptures, through the paintings of the Middle Ages, to Martha Rocha (see note one), Gisele Bündchen and the Panicats (see note two) bring us a clear view of this.
There was an alternation of what is beautiful in weight, body curves and height, but never in color. Beauty was never black and, above all, it was never dark.
I grew up in a family surrounded by a lot of love and a lot of respect for my aesthetics, in a house that at all times revered my color and my features. “We are the blackest and most beautiful,” my grandfather used to say whenever he hugged me. I was the darkest among my cousins, the darkest in my house, the darkest in school.
And it was in that space that for us black women, it is almost always a space of emotional, aesthetic and, often, physical aggression, that I came across colorism, a concept that I would only understand years later, but that was already perceived because of the way my classmates were treated, black women with lighter skin – how they managed to get closer in friendship to each other and also to other white teenagers.
But approximation is not inclusion. The standard has always been to be white, light. After a long time I also understood how complex it is for black women with light skin to have their identity structurally manipulated by whiteness that for the sake of maintenance can either forget/deny their blackness or remember it and use it as a mechanism of oppression and exclusion.
I say that my beauty did not come for free, it was warred for, it was fought for, because self-esteem, for black women, is not an option, it’s not well-being. SELF-ESTEEM, FOR BLACK WOMEN, IS STRATEGY OF SURVIVAL.
In some cases, literally, since many women use extremely aggressive creams and undergo treatments to lighten their skin. After all, almost anything goes to feel belonging or closer to a standard of beauty.
According to Joice Berth (whom I love), “beauty is more an instrument for controlling bodies and excluding people for the benefit of maintaining a hierarchy whose only function is political”. And that has been, for many years, excluding those that are the base: black women, dark-skinned black women, dark-skinned and fat women. These are denied work, money, affection.
Let there be more and more talk about representativeness, about proportionality, so that this still utopian alternation of what is beautiful can be a real day.
- Maria Martha Hacker Rocha was a beauty queen who was elected the first Miss Brazil in 1954. She died on July 4th of this year.
- Panicats were the stage assistants for the humorous programs Pânico na TV, shown by RedeTV between 2003 and 2012, and Pânico na Band, shown by Rede Bandeirantes between 2012 and 2017. Since their debut in 2003, several models, actresses and dancers have been part of the cast.