Note from BBT: If one wants to know how it is that racist attitudes are thoroughly engrained in Brazilian society, you need look no further than the world of beauty contests and the fashion industry. Of course, some people would argue that there have been black winners and women who have made a name for themselves in these industries, but this opinion falls flat when you look at the sheer numbers as well as the things that are said behind the scenes.
First, when we look at the history of the Miss Brasil competition, the first black winner was crowned only 32 years after the competition started. After that, it took another thirty years before another black woman was crowned. In all, there have been three black Miss Brasil winners in the contest’s 66 plus year history. Not exactly a ‘racial democracy’.
But that’s still not even the whole story. Along the way, we’ve also heard the whispers, comments stories and controversies involving black women even competing in such competitions, much less winning. The first black Miss Brasil, Deise Nunes, has spoken out such disparaging comments during her participation and victory in 1986.
This was also the case with the 2017 winner Monalysa Alcântara. The other thing that is very revealing is, often times, when black women manage to win these contests, they are often fair skinned beauties, which speaks to the issue of colorism in Brazil.
This issue is one of the reasons that the famed Carnaval bloco afro Ilê Aiyê created the yearly Ebony Goddess competition to honor darker-skinned black women. The group’s very formation was symbolic of the black Brazilian struggle, emerging at a time when blacks were mostly excluded from carnaval. Considering the state of Bahia’s enormous black population, it isn’t a coincidence that the term “Bahian Apartheid” is often used to describe racial politics in Bahia.
We saw a great of example of racial politics and colorism in the beauty industry in Bahia back in 2014 when 75% of beauty contestants were either white or what one would call “Brazilian white”. Looking back at that contest, even the black women who competed were on the lighter side of the skin color scale. This in a region of the country that has a larger percentage of dark-skinned people. If this is the case in a mostly black and brown region, we can imagine what happens in the south, known for being Brazil’s most European-looking area.
The state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, for example, only crowned its first black Miss state representative in 2014. Only in 2013 did that state’s capital city, Florianópolis, crown its first black representative. The idea here is that, black women should not represent beauty for states with predominantly white populations. This became very clear in 2018 when Samen dos Santos, a black woman, heard comments rejecting her being a finalist in the Miss competition of Rio Grande Do Sul, another southern state. This remains the case in 2021 as we saw recently in another contest held in the state of Minas Gerais.
These are just a few examples of why these contests go far beyond being just meaningless contests that judge women based on beauty standards. They exemplify the black struggle for an equality that has always been denied in a country that has always proclaimed itself free of color or racial prejudice.
Bruna Valim becomes the first black woman to win the Miss Universe Santa Catarina contest
With information courtesy of Aconteceu Em Joinville and Jornal NH
On the night of Sunday, October 10th, the southern state of Santa Catarina elected the first black woman in the regional Miss Universe contest. Bruna da Silva Valim, 27, represented the municipality of Otacilio Costa. Although she has lived in the city since she was almost two years old, the model is originally from Santana do Araguaia, in Pará state.
Now, she will participate in the final of the national stage of the contest, in November, when she will compete for a spot in the Miss Universe 2021 competition, which will take place between November 2nd and 14th
“The journey to Miss Universe Santa Catarina had lonely moments, in which I found myself far from those who were always close at such important moments. The day before, packing up everything by myself, I cried a lot, feeling the weight of the lonely moments and other difficulties,” she declared.
In a post she published on Instagram, Bruna showed the Miss Universe Santa Catarina sash next to some religious images, such as of Our Lady of Aparecida, Jesus Christ, and St. Francis of Assisi.
“I prayed: If it is to win and not love the trajectory, to do my best, that another Miss can represent the state in the MUB. But if God gifts me with this blessing of being Miss Universe Santa Catarina, it’s because I am ready to do a good job and I will embrace it with all my heart. This is how God announced it, and His will was done,” she said.
But even with her success and the ascension of black Brazilians in recent years, her participation and victory were marred by a culture that doesn’t accept black beauty as representative of a southern state.
“I heard a comment that I didn’t have the profile of someone from Santa Catarina. That I couldn’t be Miss Santa Catarina. I knew that if I won I would have to be very strong because the contrary comments would come. Why isn’t a lighter girl questioned? We have to fight three times as hard to be heard,” she said.
Bruna is a model, actress, and currently works at a financial education startup in Itapema, in Vale do Itajaí. She had already participated in other beauty pageants and placed second in the Miss Universe Santa Catarina 2020, held in August 2019, in Balneário Camboriú.