Model Laís Ribeiro says companies outside of Brazil “are afraid to put a black woman on the cover” but says nothing about exclusion of black models in Brazil

Lais Ribeiro para Victoria's Secret 2013 (2)

Note from BW of Brazil: Model Laís Ribeiro has made quite name for herself on the international modeling circuit. Like another highly recognized black model from Brazil, Emanuela de Paula, Ribeiro is also from Brazil’s northeast (state of Piauí). Below are a few photos and short interview with the brown-skinned beauty. While respecting her point of view, one of her comments seems a bit strange considering the invisibility of black models specifically in the Brazilian market. More on that at the end of the article. 

“Out there, there is a fear of putting a black woman on the cover,” says the Victoria’s Secret model

by Kátia Lessa

Three years ago, leaning in a corner of the backstage of a Reinaldo Lourenço fashion show in São Paulo Fashion Week, Laís Ribeiro was a newcomer to the fashion world. Soft-spoken in a low tone, she still bore much of the accent from her hometown, Miguel Alves, Piauí. Between one parade and another, she would not let go of her phone, where she spied on photos of the son that she had when she was 16 and had left with her parents to try her luck in São Paulo.

Lais Ribeiro é clicada por Michael Roberts para editorial da 'L'Officiel' holandesa (3)

Today, at 21, she is an “angel” – as the ad girls of the Victoria’s Secret brand are called – and has done campaigns for major brands in the world such as Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Tom Ford and GAP. Her speech is steady and she has a happy look, but she doesn’t disconnect from the thought of her son Alexander, 5 years old. She proudly shows photos of the boy on the phone and sports a tattoo on her neck that she made with his name.

Check out the interview with model Laís Ribeiro

What has changed in your life since you became an “angel”?

Lais Ribeiro – Wow, everything. I came from a town in the interior of Piauí, where everything is very calm, very different. In recent years I’ve acquired more culture in the world, I live in New York, I speak English, I’m dating a Spanish man, traveling the world, I’m meeting people that I never imagined I’d even come close to.

Ribeiro on the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris Fashion Week
Ribeiro on the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris Fashion Week

What are the problems that a model in this stage of your career faces?

Before the auditions were the difficult (thing). They were picking up anyone. You did lots and lots until you get something that rents you for little money. Today, my dilemma is choosing between two very important clients and wanting to shoot on the same date. But I trust my agency, they have agreed on the direction of my career. To spare me from the longing of my family, that still hurts a lot.

Had your child lived with you in New York?

Not yet (tears fill her eyes that have already been made up). But, God willing, in August he and my mother will be there with me. When he was little he was with both my parents and did not feel my absence much. But now, every time I can go to the Piauí to stay with him, every four months, he grabs me, gets into my suitcases and says he wants to go along.

Model Laís Ribeiro models for the Lenny brand
Model Laís Ribeiro models for the Lenny brand

The model Carol Trentini is pregnant with her first child. What tip would you give her?

I would say to her that there is already Carol Trentini, who already has a consolidated career and structured life to enjoy every minute with her son. I was at the beginning when I had mine, I didn’t have this option. With respect to the body I say that she breastfeed a lot because it really helps you lose weight.

Materially, what have you gotten with your work?

I bought a house in Piauí and it was amazing because my grandmother was very moved. She didn’t quite understand what’s happening to me. She watches 8 o’clock novela of the girls being trafficked in Turkey (1), and when I travel she thinks they are exploiting me too. (Laughs) Also I have a motorcycle, Kate, my passion.

Do you ride a motorcycle in New York?

No, in Piauí. I put my son on the bench and ride everywhere.

How are you treated in Miguel Alves?

Today everyone is proud, they come to talk to me. But being skinny like this has already made me suffer a lot of bullying. When I leave to go to the bakery, looking bummy and wearing flip-flops my mother says, “are you really going out like this, Laís? Everybody will be staring at you.” But I don’t even want to know, I’ve been like this all my life.

Lais Ribeiro é clicada por Michael Roberts para editorial da 'L'Officiel' holandesa (9)

Have you struggled in the fashion market for being black?

Here in Brazil, people are more tolerant, but the companies out there (outside of Brazil) are afraid to put a black woman on the cover because, on magazine stands, we compete for sales with little blond girls. It’s complicated.

What do you still want to achieve?

The cover of Vogue Paris. After all of this, I don’t want little (things), no …

Note from BW of Brazil: OK, one thing about this interview deserves to be addressed. Laís believes that “in Brazil, people are more tolerant” but that “out there” or outside of Brazil, there’s a fear of putting a black woman on a magazine cover. While no one will dispute that black models are basically invisible on international runways and fashion magazine covers (as well as the inner pages), what does she mean that “in Brazil, people are more tolerant”? Is she speaking of in the general population where there is an abundance of racist comments, sentiments and actions? Or is she speaking of the Brazilian fashion industry where black models are even more invisible than other countries when one takes into account the Afro-Brazilian percentage of Brazil’s population (51%)? This is a topic that this blog has consistently covered on the past year and a half, but let’s review more data. 

VIP magazine
VIP magazine

Recently, the Brazilian magazine VIP celebrated its 32nd year anniversary with a cover of actress Débora Nascimento. According to the Publicitas website, VIP magazine “focuses on the needs and desires of young, modern Brazilian males. It is an offshoot to Brazil”s leading business publication Exame however, features articles relating to fashion, beauty, cars, vacations and beautiful women. VIP profiles the hottest women in provocative pictorials, “sexy articles” and confessional stories. Readers indulge in the magazine”s alluring contents and use it to get informed about the latest music, cars, products, and trends impacting popular culture.”

Actress Débora Nascimento featured on the 32nd anniversary (32 anos) cover of VIP magazine
Actress Débora Nascimento featured on the 32nd anniversary (32 anos) cover of VIP magazine

In this 32nd anniversary, the magazine all but blatantly stated “we don’t feature black women”. One page makes a summary of its more than 300 issues with a column that breaks down the type of women featured on its covers since August of 1997. Right there is red, black and white, the stats are as follows: 81 morenas (brunettes), 65 loiras (blondes), 2 afrodescendentes (women of African descent) and 1 Oriental (Asian woman).

VIP magazine 32nd anniversary
VIP magazine 32nd anniversary

So, out of 149 covers featuring women on the cover in the past 16 years, only 2 have featured black women. Did you get that? 2. Two. TWO!!! Or better, 1.3%. How’s that for diversity? One of the black women was actress Taís Araújo who a few years ago was Brazil’s “it” black girl, appearing on a number of magazine covers, TV shows, etc. 

Actress Taís Araújo, one of two black women to appear on the cover of VIP
Actress Taís Araújo, one of two black women to appear on the cover of VIP

One would assume the other black woman would be the aforementioned Débora Nascimento, but there are those who don’t consider Nascimento to be black. But that is another topic for another day. But, with two black women out of 149 covers featuring women, does this mean that Brazil is more “tolerant”? No? Well, maybe other Brazilian magazines give Afro-Brazilian women a little more love, right? Don’t count on it!

VIP magazine's 32nd anniversary breakdown of the type of women featured on 149 covers since August of 1997
VIP magazine’s 32nd anniversary breakdown of the type of women featured on 149 covers since August of 1997

As this blog has shown repeatedly, Brazil’s print media is as segregated as South Africa at the height of apartheid. According to a study that investigated the representation of Afro-Brazilians in advertisements of six nationwide, widely circulated Brazilian magazines, persons of a Caucasian/European phenotype represented 94.55% of the individuals/models featured. More specifically, the study analyzed 1,279 ads from 76 issues of six magazines (Veja, O Cruzeiro, Exame, Pequenas Empresas Grandes Negócios, Cláudia and Nova) over a 38 year period finding that Afro-Brazilians represented only 4.2% of 2,312 characters identified.

This “dictatorship of whiteness” was also verified at Vogue magazine’s Brazil edition. The Brazilian edition of Vogue magazine debuted in May of 1975, but it was only in January of 2011 that the magazine featured a black Brazilian woman, Emanuella de Paula, on a cover by herself. Previously, the magazine had featured long-time black British model Naomi Campbell on a cover. In 2010, the magazine also featured Afro-Brazilian models Gracie Carvalho along with de Paula on its 35th anniversary edition cover, but this two-page layout also featured eight other women, all white.

Vogue Brasil's 35th anniversary cover
Vogue Brasil’s 35th anniversary cover

In 2011, there was speculation that Vogue Brasil’s standard of beauty may be opening its doors to diversity as it started the year off with the Emanuella de Paula solo cover in an edition called “Black is Beautiful” (in English). This speculation didn’t pan out as Vogue Brasil continued with business as usual. The following 11 covers all featured white women (one also featured a man) on the covers.

Vogue Brasil magazine covers for 2011 - The first, January, features black model Emanuella de Paula
Vogue Brasil magazine covers for 2011 – The first, January, features black model Emanuella de Paula

The inner contents revealed similar results. In 792 ads in Vogue Brasil for 2011, only 38, or 4.8%, featured women of visible African ancestry. With this in mind, one could argue that Vogue Brasil’s promotion of its “Black is Beautiful” edition was necessary exactly because of the fact that black models had been so absent for 35 years and, judging from the cover girls after the Emanuella de Paula cover, they will continue to be.  

Source: Folha de S.Paulo, Paula, Luiz Valério de and Cláudia Rosa Acevedo. “Análise do retrato de indivíduos afro-descendentes em anúncios publicitários: 1968-2006.” Perspectivas Contemporâneas, vol. 5, p. 21-50, 2010. Correa, Suzamar and Robson de Souza dos Santos. “Modelo negra e comunicação de moda no Brasil: análise de conteúdo dos anúncios publicados na revista Vogue Brasil.” Iniciacom, vol. 4, no. 2, 2012


1. This was part of the plot of the 2012-2013 Globo TV novela Salve Jorge that was filmed in both Brazil and Turkey.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.