Note from BBT: Sixty-seven years, three black Miss Brasil winners. All of the other winners of the beauty contest have been white, or something close to white by Brazilian standards. Just curious, what is that old saying that Brazilians are accustomed to saying? Oh yeah, it goes something like ‘We brazilians are equal regardless of skin color’.Even though Brazil has long externally prided itself on the physical diversity of its people after nearly five centuries of mixing across racial lines.
The truth is that this is clearly not the case because when we look at numerous industries, we consistently see that white skin, or something close it, is the general accepted standard in Latin America’s largest, most populous nation. Brazil has a reputation around the world for having some of the most beautiful women on the planet but even as non-Brazilians seem to love the so-called ‘exotic’ look of millions of Brazilians, Brazil itself has long taught its people that whiteness is an attribute that one should desire while having darker skin and features that are not purely European was something to be ashamed of, or something that people should strive to ‘improve’.
Exposure of this ideology in Brazil has long been confined to books and academic studies but with the rise of social networks, black and brown Brazilians have become increasingly vocal about their experiences living in country that pretends to appreciate its diversity of looks all the while promoting a ‘dictatorship of whiteness’ in nearly every area of society. As has been proven time and time again, some areas of prominence are believed to be only for white Brazilians, with the title of beautiful being one such area.
Brazil may have had three black Miss Brasil winners, but two of them came recently in consecutive years, 2016 and 2017, which means since the contest started in 1954 to 2016, a period of 62 years, only one black woman had won the title in over six decades. I have no doubt that the 2016 and 2017 winners were given this honor because of the rising demand for black representation over the previous decade. Since then, the winners of the contest have returned to the ‘standard’ look.
Well, at least, as two black women have won in recent years, this would mean that things are improving in Brazil and people are becoming more accepting of a more diverse beauty standard, right? Realistically, I can’t say that, not after reading some of the things black Miss Brasil winners have said about what they’ve heard while they were competing or after their victories.
In the piece below, the third black Miss Brasil winner shared her own experiences.
Monalysa Alcântara says people didn’t accept a black Miss Brazil: “I suffered a lot’’
Courtesy of Amcham and UOL Band
A model from the state of Piauí, Monalysa Alcântara fought hard to win the Miss Brasil 2017 crown, when she was 18 years old. But during the band television program Melhor Agora, hosted by Mariana Godoy, she revealed that, even after the victory, occupying this position was not easy. In fact, Alcântara revealed that she wasn’t even going to participate in Miss Piauí contest but an episode of racism, two weeks before the state stage, made her change her mind.
The model was going to participate in a fashion show when she was prevented by the owner of the store, with the justification that the color of her skin didn’t enhance the brand’s clothes. “There were ten girls who were going to parade, four of them black, and all four were prevented from wearing the clothes. This episode could have had another effect on my life, made me give up, but in fact it was what made me participate in Miss Piauí. I thought that I really didn’t deserve to wear those clothes, I deserved to wear the sash of my state on my chest,” she revealed, during the Amcham Diversity Forum – São Paulo.
In several contests, Alcântara had already heard comments that she didn’t have the ‘profile’ or that her curly hair ‘wouldn’t work’ for a miss. That’s why she wasn’t surprised when, after her victory in the national beauty pageant, she received a rain of offensive and racist comments on social networks. “I already imagined that this would happen, because I’m black, I’m from Piauí, from the Northeast of Brazil. I knew it was going to bother me a lot, and that was my intention, because if it’s bothering you, it means that there is a problem and we need to solve it,” warns the young woman.
After Deise Nunes, the first black Miss Brasil, in 1986, the second was Raissa Santana, in 2016. The following year it was Monalysa’s turn. “That was already too much for many people. Three black misses. I suffered a lot. It didn’t go down well for people to have a black Miss, representing Brazilians and being from Piauí,” she recalls.
During adolescence, the lack of representation in the contest, on magazine covers and also on TV bothered Monalysa. “I was the kind of person who complained a lot about seeing several models and not finding black women. And for those who don’t see themselves represented, it’s very visible. I complained about it, but I didn’t do much. Then I got out of my comfort zone,” she recalls.
The student has not always faced her own identity with tranquility. Before the age of thirteen, she straightened her hair and realized that the chemical was making her hair fall out.
“I almost ended with my health because of it. And there was no one to help me understand what was happening to me, why I felt different, why people treated me differently,” she explains. From the moment she started researching alone on the internet, Alcântara began to understand her own identity as a black woman – a process she considers painful and lonely. Something that helped her was seeing actress Taís Araújo starring in a soap opera with curly hair. “It was enough for a black woman to be there for me to grab onto that,” she highlights, reiterating the importance of representation.
At the time, she heard many prejudiced things about her modeling career, but she went ahead and today she is an example for many girls who want to follow the same path.
Diversity not only has an important impact within the organization, promoting a positive and more innovative organizational environment. It also opens doors to develop products and services for previously marginalized groups and to conquer new segments of the consumer market. Monalysa Alcântara recalls that finding a makeup product in her skin tone is still difficult: “When I see a brand launching a product that pays attention to our skin, I find it incredible.