In Brasil, Blond is Still The New Black

In today’s New York Times, Alexei Barrionuevo introduces us to Allisson Chomak, a model scout in Brazil who is one of the many charged with finding the country’s next Gisele Bundchen. You know, the Brasilian supermodel who doesn’t look like a majority of the women in Brasil:

“The goal, he and other model scouts say, is to find the right genetic cocktail of German and Italian ancestry, perhaps with some Russian or other Slavic blood thrown in. Such a mix, they say, helps produce the tall, thin girls with straight hair, fair skin and light eyes that Brazil exports to the runways of New York, Milan and Paris with stunning success.

Yet Brazil is not the same country it was in 1994, when Gisele Bündchen, the world’s top earning model, was discovered in a tiny town not far from here. Darker-skinned women have become more prominent in Brazilian society, challenging the notions of Brazilian beauty and success that Ms. Bündchen has come to represent here and abroad.”

This is puzzling since the internal Brasilian fashion, entertainment and television industry is now starting to become more racially balanced with more Blacks in principal roles, like our Parlourista model/actress, Patricia DeJesus, yet Brasil’s modeling industry is still focusing on recruiting and exporting women who represent the minority of Brasilian society, speaking to not only how it looks at itself, but how it wants to be seen by the rest of the world. Even more troubling is the deliberate nature of the entire process, as these young girls are found when scouts have genetically mapped the country to find where this “desired mix” may reside and then descend on their schools, a great way to mind-fuck the “other” young girls who don’t fit the mold in the area. A great way to foster national pride, eh?

Off Runway, Brazilian Beauty Goes Beyond Blond

image: João Pina for The New York Times

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington

  • RC

    OMG, How Racist and condescending is your comment? Very much so. I am Brazilian, in fact, I am South Brazilian with the right amount of European and African blood giving the look that North-Americans like so much to stereotype… However to your surprise, my family was the only dark skin (brunet) in the whole neighbourhood of over 10 thousand families. It was very much a Scandinavia effect in South Brazil. There are thousands of Gisele’s (if not better looking)around my city. I Guess a little more research is required to make such incorrect opinion about the generalisation of Brazilians as a nation. Brazil still has far more Europeans than African descendent for your knowledge. The gift of Gisele is the miscegenation that happens in Brazil among cultures and unlike US, we mix instead of creating racist groups… Get your facts right, please.

  • RC–I would like to know why you think this post was racist in any way. Please provide more background before making such a strong statement.

  • RC, You must be joking right?? Brasil has more ‘European descendents than they do African’? What planet are ‘you’ living on, as next to Africa Brasil has the second largest number of African descendents “on the planet”. Racism is “everywhere” but “most” refuse to acknowledge that it even exists, and some of your comment is proof of that.

    Why go after the black models (over 72 skin shades mind you) who make up the ‘largest’ percentage in Brasil, when you can cow-tow and cater to the ones who are nearest to ‘white’? Just so you should know, Tais Araujo has made the novela ‘Da Cor Do Pecado’ the “most watched” novela OF ALL TIME, and it’s still going to regions around the world, because the storyline touched the hearts of ALL who saw it. I’m not sure if she nor people like you realize what an impact that’s had on society as a whole.

    P.S. Just so ‘you’ should know, we here in America (and the rest of the world, even if ‘you’ don’t see or hear about it) also “mix”, but once again ‘racism’ is a GLOBAL ISSUE, and that includes BRASIL too.

  • Vicious Delicious

    True, southern Brazil is very much European.  But, Brazil DOES have the highest population of Blacks outside of Africa, also Japanese, Germans, and Portuguese.  Where the confusion lies, is that North Americans typically include anyone with any visible African descent to be Black.  If you are going to be completely honest, or knowlegeable, Brazil has more mixed people than any other group.  The largest group of people in Brazil are people of African and European descent, or tri-racial.  If designers truly wanted to represent Brazil on their runways, the models would have a variety of skin tones, regardless of what racial classification they used.  If you study the history of Latin America and even other regions you will see the same pattern repeated.  Practically every country in Latin America has a greatly overstated white population, and I know this from personal experiences as well as research.  It’s interesting that mixed people can’t be black, but they can be white.  Sure there are a lot of white people, but you were raised in an area that recruited Nazis to whiten the country, this scenario was repeated all over Latin America.  These people were given land as an incentive to come over, as if they were m.v.p.s  The only catch, was that they had to clear the land of anyone living on it, typically Natives.   And the Natives weren’t asked to leave.  If you had been raised in another region you might see Brazil differently.  Many Latin Americans are obssesed with Nordics (light skin, hair, and eyes) because it is not as common as dark hair, dark eyes, and tan to dark skin.  Yet, many people who have this obssession with Nordicism would like people to believe that is very common in Latin America and Mediterranean countries, but it simply is not.  There are a lot of Germans in Brazil, but there are way more Portuguese, Blacks and Natives, and light hair, light skin, and light eyes is not typical for any of these groups except maybe for SOME Portuguese.  Hell, it isn’t even that typical of Scandinavian countries or Germany.  

    How do North Americans stereotype your look? 

    In case you were wondering, I was born in North Germany.  I consider myself to be black, but I am multi-racial.

  • Vicious Delicious

    Brazil does have the largest number of African descendents outside Africa.  And that isn’t even considering mixed people who call themselves white or other. So, it’s far larger than anyone knows.  However, there are also a lot of mixed people.  There are lots of whites too, namely from Portugal, Germany, and Italy.  The thing is people get so used to calling blacks minorities that they confuse black and Afro-descendant.  Afro-descendants are not a minority in Brazil, because they encompass every category on the Brazilian census.  Worldwide, whites are the minority, they may even be a minority within the caucasian group, and blondes are an even smaller minority within that group.

    The thing about this that I hate is that they are going to Brazil for Germans or the Nordic look, they can be found anywhere.  When Gisele started modeling they pitched her as an Amazonian queen, tall, Latina?!, dark?!, and curvy?!  Only in a room full of starving Scandinavians could she be both dark and curvy!  However, blondes are concentrated in Southern Brazil because the Brazilian government actually recruited Nazis, as did Argentina.  But Argentina also recruited the Jews too.  Yes, I said recruited.  They were given incentive to come with the only reason being to whiten Latin America.  This went on through the early 1900’s I believe.  And it took place in all of Latin America and the world I’m sure.  They were trying to re-create Europe. 

    So since there are so many mixed people, there is overlapping of African descendants and European descendants.  As Black conciousness rises, so too does the number of blacks.  But Latin America is known for not counting all Blacks and Natives.  So we just don’t know the real numbers.