Where are the black women in Brazil’s teen magazines?

black women Brazil

by Lola Aronovich* and Carolina dos Santos de Oliveira

(Taken from the blog Escreva Lola Escreva)

It’s been awhile since I received from a reader a beautiful book about how teen magazines in Brazil see and portray the black woman. I used one of the chapters in extension coursework about analysis of prejudice in the media, and it was very productive.

Today I want to publish a post from this author talking a little bit about her project. Carolina dos Santos de Oliveira is an historian, with a master’s degree in education, participant of the affirmative action group at UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais), and since 2007 has worked with the implementation of Law10.639/03, which deals with the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture. She also works with studies linking race, gender and media. The book Adolescentes negras: relações raciais, discurso e mídia impressa feminina na contemporaneidade brasileira (Black adolescents: Racial Relations, discourse and feminine print media in contemporary Brazil)), the result of her dissertation, is available at the publisher’s bookstore in the city of Belo Horizonte (largest city and capital of Minas Gerais), but you can buy it by directly emailing the author: carolliva@ig.com.br. And, believe me, it is very worthwhile.

Today, when I wash my kinky/curly hair and let them (hang) free, I see around me many kinds of looks, from rejection to admiration (“What courage!”). But for today, already in my 30s, I can feel good about this image, which reinforces that I am a black woman, the path has been long.

Carolina dos Santos de Oliveira, author of Adolescentes negras
Reading women’s magazines since my pre-teen (years), I discovered that I was not suited for the aesthetic standards of the magazine, or the TV, or anything…
A concern that arose during this time followed me through my life. Later, as a history teacher, I saw the anguish of not seeing one’s self represented repeating itself in my students. I also saw that the magazines were changing: from the total absence of black teenagers (1), there was an incipient presence in the pages. There emerged in this moment a research question: how is this presence presented? What does it mean?
It was in this context that I started my master’s research in education. Considering the “educational” power of the media and that it didn’t constitute itself as “nothing” – it feeds itself from what society provides and accepts receiving, in a cyclic feeding process – I considered that I could “read” how racial relations and racism were presented at the beginning of the XXI century.
The cordial racism that prevails in Brazil makes it difficult for us and sometimes impedes us from perceiving it, and therein lies its cruelty. Without realizing it, it doesn’t exist; without existing we cannot fight it. Through the analysis of women’s magazines in general and (those) specifically aimed at teenagers, it was possible to see this cordiality.
Article “Pérola Negra” (Black Pearl)  from Atrevida magazine
I worked mainly with the magazine Atrevida, one of the largest in Brazil for teenagers. In principle, the magazine does not “racialize” its readers, ie, it doesn’t mark the racial belonging of its target audience. However, this lack of marking reveals that, following the model of racism in Brazil, speaking of white subjects is not necessary to mention its ethnic origins, since they are considered the natural representatives of the species (2).

The black teenagers appear occasionally in episodes in which they are invited to “correct” and “educate” their bodies in the name of, according to the magazine, not only beauty but the “health” (3). Women’s magazines are publications based on entertainment and not on information; the novelty is what interests, not current events. Because of this, its discourse is that of being something or someone for consumption. With the image of black women it’s no different. This black adolescent is invited to manipulate and modify her body. She is always advised that she can improve, but always with a lot of work. Work expressed in terms using common expressions associated with curly/kinky hair and black bodies: deal withtamerebelliousunruly.
Image from Atrevida magazine
Given the criminalization of racism, the formation of a black middle class that pushes for products and services that tend to their needs, several decades of struggles waged by black movements (which resulted in several political achievements such as the 10.639/03 law and the creation of SEPPIR among others), the dominant groups appropriate themselves from the discourse of these movements and re-elaborate to delude an inclusion while emptying the original discourse.
Atrevida article from June ’05 dealing with curly/kinky hair: “Volumosos, porém tratados” (4)

Contrary to studies in various areas in which we know that racial hierarchies (5) are socially – not biologically – produced, the magazine insists on “biologizing” differences and bringing solutions for the correction of the problems with “scientific neutrality”.
There are many examples in various editions of the magazine that were analyzed as well as others, be they with the presence of black women, or in their absence. We must be attentive so that this emerging inclusive discourse doesn’t entice and deceive us, as if racism was overcome.
The inclusion of images and discourses about black women and adolescents does represent an advance with regard to race relations in Brazil, but is a process similar to what occurs in society itself when the magazine is inserted; a process full of advances and retreats, carrying the ambiguities of Brazilian racism and the myth of racial democracy. A process which, by the size of its steps, will still be long.
During my research I realized that beyond the racial question we are faced with the question of gender, since the publications determine aesthetic standards and behavior that women in general should follow. The ​​result of this analysis is my book Adolescentes Negras (Black Teens), in which I intend to take readers in order to spark a look into determined places for black women in our society. In this way, we can start thinking about how to change these perspectives.
I can say that today I have the privilege of having black dolls, positive references to black women to present to my daughter and my son also. But we are not an island. I know that despite all my effort in their racial formation, we are not shielded from being victims of racism. We still need to make many advances, all of us.

* – Professor at Federal University of Ceará, Ph.D in English Literature 

(All notes below taken from de Oliveira’s work Adolescentes Negras)

In her analysis of Atrevida magazine, on page 133 of her dissertation, de Oliveira states that “The almost absence of black models in Atrevida magazine is not a characteristic of only this publication. It’s a result of the small presence of black models in the world of fashion in general.” This is a topic we have highlighted throughout Brazilian society in politics, on televisionmodeling runwayswomen’s magazines, babies’ magazines and even men’s adult entertainment magazines.

2. The conception of reader that the publication presents, in principle, can be perceived as a non “racialized” reader since it does not mention anything about the subject explicitly. This positioning of invisibility of the black race is related to the characteristics of race relations in Brazil: white, as a ethnic-racial group, need not be mentioned. It is the natural representative of the species; it is only highlighted when the “other”, be it black, Indian, or Asian, is called to the scene. Thus, when analyzing the discourses on race relation and adolescence produced by the magazine, we observed that the privileged target reader is a white teenager.

3. Reading between lines of the magazine’s language, de Oliveira concludes that that magazine’s message is that…“ ‘being beautiful’ is not easy for the black teenager. She is the owner of a ‘problematic’ corporeality. Her skin does not accept certain aesthetic procedures, which are not recommended for this teenager. The ‘problem’ is presented as being of the black body itself (‘skin that needs more care than the other’, ‘hair that needs more care to stop being rebellious and have movement’, ‘skin prone to scarring, although have the advantage of being less flaccid’, etc.). Once again, it is considered that the ‘problem’ is in the black body, and not the cosmetic procedures available in the market, those which are generally thought of and developed with the white body and straight hair as reference.”

4. This June 2005 article decrees that curly/kinky hair can be beautiful: “Volumosos, porém tratados (Voluminous, but treated)”. The image is of a young black woman with curly/kinky hair, with the adversative “but” present in the sentence. This allows us to perform a textual analysis that expresses some suspicion that the hair of black women, with features that they have – one being volume – can achieve a desirable aesthetic standard that fits into the world of beauty. The tip inserted into the matter says the curly/kinky hair, classified as rebellious, is not the favorite of teenagers: “The full and rebellious hair is the record holder of complaints among girls,” but the textual discourse emphasizes that caution is needed: “The secret is to know how to take care of it so it looks natural.” The advertisement next to the piece refers to a cream for hair straightening.

5. From the standpoint of the understanding of power relations inscribed in the discourse of the magazine, we found that the place occupied by curly/kinky hair, considered “alternative”, refers to “normative whiteness”, a term coined by Joel Zito Araújo (2000), to designate that human beings classified as white are considered the general representatives of the human species. In this case the other racial groups were “the others.” This place is repeated in other editions of the magazine, not only in the two selected for analysis.

Source: Escreva Lola Escreva, Oliveira, Carolina Dos Santos de. Adolescentes Negras: Relações Raciais, Discurso E Mídia Impressa Feminina Na Contemporaneidade Brasileira. Nandyala Livros E Serviços Ltda, 2010. Araújo, Joel Zito Almeida de. A negação do Brasil: o negro na telenovela brasileira. São Paulo: SENAC, 2000.

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

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