Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What Do Brazilian Women Actually Look Like?

A few weeks ago I blogged about the stereotypes commonly surrounding crime in Brazil; and in keeping with the theme of Brazilian stereotypes, I plan to spend the next few blog posts focusing on another of Brazil's enigmas...its women.

(Takes a deep breath, cracks knuckles and stretches)

Right, let's do this!

My inspiration for wanting to write about Brazilian women came from a party I was at recently, where I was introduced to a friend of a friend. After she'd discovered I was from the UK, this woman was quite keen to tell me about her time studying in London. The conversation progressed from places she'd visited, to British indie bands she liked.….where she reeled off a list of bands that, unfortunately, I’d never heard of.

“I love Alt-J” she said with such a contagious enthusiasm that I found myself declaring my love for them too, despite having never heard of them. “Imagine naming yourself after two keys on a keyboard” I thought, as she then told me about other British bands she liked, many of whom again I'd never heard of. 

The mood then became a little more serious when she explained that there was one thing she thought was strange about the time she'd spent living in the UK. “People were often surprised when I told them that I was Brazilian. ‘But you’re so pale!’ they used to say. One guy even made me show him my passport to prove I really was from here. He thought I looked too white to be Brazilian”.

I'm gonna hold my hands up now and admit that I can understand why someone from the UK might have wondered this. As I looked at her again, one thing that struck me was that she really didn't look like those images of the Brazilian woman we are offered in the media back home. In fact, her dyed black hair really seemed to accentuate the marble whiteness of her skin to such an extent, that she looked more Morticia Adams than she did carnival queen.

After sighing, I asked “they really didn't believe you?”

“That's right” she confirmed, “it’s true”. Finding I’d done right with my first sigh, I did it again, which encouraged her to continue. “I suppose I just don’t look look Brazilian to some people abroad”.

Before coming here, I too assumed women would adhere to the stereotypical image the world is offered around carnival time. This is when the media bombards us with images of sun kissed, curvy women walking along the beaches in Rio; and these images are often posted alongside near-naked carnival queens dancing on top of floats. Do many other types of Brazilian women filter through into our media during the rest of the year, like pale Brazilian girls in their sweaters in the middle of winter? Well none that I remember, but of course...these women still exist here.

"I wish they'd just put some samba on already!"
And this conversation got me thinking; what a shame some people had challenged her on whether she was Brazilian or not.

One thing I appreciate about living here is that the country is so multicultural. It doesn't really have a single ethnic identity because it is made up of a mixture of so many different races and cultures. So for my fellow Brits not to have realised this when talking to this woman is quite disappointing. But is it entirely our fault?

No. I really don't think it is. Especially when you consider that sometimes even Brazilians have trouble picking out other Brazilians from a crowd.

According to one of my Brazilian students of Japanese heritage, down the road in Rio she often encounters locals who assume she’s not Brazilian. “Andrew, whenever I go there so many Cariocas (people from Rio) assume I’m not from Brazil, they speak to me in English and try to charge me extra for things because they think I’m foreign. But then to them I guess I don’t look Brazilian, I look Japanese. But not so many Brazilians of Japanese descent live in Rio”.

This really baffles me because the city of Sao Paulo is home to the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan and is just 220 miles away from Rio.
Liberdade, known as the Japanese district in Sao Paulo.
But then when you look at where immigrants have settled throughout Brazil, they haven't spread evenly throughout the country. For example large communities of Brazilians of African descent can be found towards the north of the country, Brazilians of German descent tend to gravitate towards the south and  there are also (to name just a few) pockets of Italians, Portuguese and Bolivians scattered around Brazil too.

So with such an array of ethnicities then, it goes without saying that women in this country are going to look different depending on where you are.

A few weeks ago I heard about another difference between the Brazilians in different regions. It was one that I'd not really given any thought to...their height.

Tall Brazilian Women

So I was at my friend’s wedding where I got talking to a tall, beautiful woman, with long, dyed-blonde locks. After asking her where she worked, she told me that she spent most of her time in Manaus (a city in the north of Brazil). “ I've been single for so long, and I’m not really in Sao Paulo for long enough to be involved with anyone here. But of course, there’s little chance of me meeting a guy in Manaus…I’m seen as a bit of a freak over there”. At this she tossed her hair over her left shoulder and looked down at the floor, obviously waiting for me to enquire a little further. 

I didn't get it, why would this attractive, tall Brazilian woman find it difficult to find a man to date in the north of the country? Was she looking down at her webbed feet? Was she about to tell me that she was actually a man? Intrigued, I naturally dug a little deeper….in the most subtle way I could think of.

“Eeeeeer….what do you mean?”

“Well” she began without a seconds hesitation, “it’s because I’m so much taller than the majority of the women up there. In fact, the guys in the office have a nickname for me because of my height”. She then paused to look at me with eyes I’d seen once before…on a wounded puppy on the TV show Animal Hospital.

Her voice lowered as she continued, “they call me…the Avatar”.

Fast forward a few seconds later and I really felt bad for laughing. In an attempt to redeem myself though, I immediately managed a serious expression which I felt helped me to look a little more sympathetic.

"Hiya lads, anybody want to take me out
 this Saturday night!?! I'm still free!"
“They don’t do they?” I asked sounding quite concerned, with only a hint of amusement still audible in my voice.

“Yes, 'the big Avatar from Sao Paulo' is my nickname over there. So it’s easier for me to find someone down here, where I’m not so tall”. 

I've not had many dealings with people from the north of Brazil, so I’d not really thought of them as being any smaller than people from the rest of the country. 

So next time you hear about a ‘Brazilian woman’ and the image of a certain type of lady pops into your head…stop for a moment. Brazil is such a huge country with such a rich and diverse ethnic tapestry that although that woman you've just thought of probably lives here; she is likely to be just one of a very large number of women calling Brazil their home. 


  1. When I was preparing to go to Rio last year. I asked my friend if I needed to go to a tanning shop or bring down sunscreen so I didn't get burned. He assured me they sell sunscreen down there, they were pretty modern. I then said that he, his brother and sister were so tan, and reiterated that I didn't want a sun burn. He told me that I would find all kinds of skin types when I was down there, and sure enough I did. The only time I got a sunburn was an area I forgot to put sunscreen on, but it didn't last long.

    1. I'm glad to hear it didn't last too long...I've had sunburn a few times since I've been here. Not nice!

  2. A fascinating article. I still can't get the image of the Rio Carnival dancers in my head for Brazilian women!

    Love the blog, Kind Regards, Si

    ps. We would love to invite you to TheDepartureboard’s Most Travelled Club it's FREE and fun! Details here: A great opportunity to promote your site as well!

  3. hahaha, nice post!

    I'm a German-Brazilian living in US, it's funny how some people don't see German-Brazilians as "real Brazilians". o.O


    1. Hey Nana, thanks for the comment. I have a student of Japanese heritage who told me that when she goes to Rio she feels like a foreigner there and everyone talks to her in English.

      But when she went to Japan the people there knew she wasn't Japanese. Then she said this to me, that made me want to hug her....."Andrew, I feel like I don't belong anywhere else outside of Sao Paulo".

  4. Oh, I forgot to mention:

    Speaking of UK stuff people love... I love Douglas Adams, Doctor Who, Marina and the Diamonds, and Diamond Head. :D

  5. I understand what you're saying but we're mainly talking about Brits I guess. The view of Brazilians in America similar as Nana said, I call it stupid Anglo disease.

    People mainly go to Rio which isn't nearly as diverse as Sao Paulo (SP). Men ask you about Brazilian women because they believe Rio is a Hedonistic paradise.

    If I showed them short dark women from Manaus, they wouldn't think they were Brazilian either. I think people picture a Olive skinned woman, medium to short.

    There plenty of those two...

    I'll be coming to Brazil for the first time after much thought and research.

    Its where I want to be long term, despite being one of the most expensive of the South American countries.

    1. Hey Anthony, thanks for the comment.

      I absolutely love Rio, the beaches, the weather and the views of the city are for me, paradise. But this paradise is not a hedonistic one!

      Good luck in your move over here, I'm sure you will enjoy Brazil, even if it's pretty expensive!

  6. I live in London and really appreciate your post and knowledge. Here is a video I made about how I'm treated here for being Brazilian, hope you enjoy

    1. "Carnival is not what happens every day in Brazil after work!" I enjoyed this line, and I'm sure so many people think otherwise! Great video, and you have that 'REALLY!?!' look down!

      I hope you're enjoying my country as much as I'm enjoying yours, and thanks for the comment and for sharing your video!

    2. Nice post!
      It's always funny to check what are foreigners impressions about us.

      I live in São Paulo and all my female friends look as if they were from a different part of the world (because, in the end, they really are).

      People from Brazil, specially from SP, are descended from totally different ethnics. We are all mixed. In my case, my mother and her parents were born in Madeira Island, in Portugal. My dad's mom was a native Brazilian and his father is Spanish. All my friends could easily be thought to be from any other country as we do not have a certain look. When I'm abroad, people frequently think I'm from Spain or Italy, because I'm a brunette but I do not have black skin nor curly hair.

      It is the most beautiful thing about Brazil, in my opinion. We are a little part of everywhere. (:

      (I'm sorry about any possible English grammar mistakes!)

    3. Hey Gabriela, as a country you should definitely be very proud of how ethnically diverse you are (Particularly in Sao Paulo, which is one big melting pot of races).

      And thanks for stopping by to comment too, your English is great!

  7. I agree with everything except perhaps when you said Brazil is so culturally mixed. Don't get me wrong, once upon a time a great number of cultures and different races arrived in Brazil. The northeast is totally different from areas of the south etc...yes yes, but Brazil ultimately comes under one culture today. Although it has all these different traditions from region to region, everyone sees themselves as Brazilian. If a muslim woman were to walk down the street with a burka on, Brazilians would stare like there's no tomorrow. Whereas in a truly multicultural society like New York or London, that simply wouldn't happen.

    People often wonder why Brazilians are so tolerant, and BR politicians often like to talk of their country's tolerant nature as an asset...and it's true, I think Brazilians are very warm people. But let me present this to you; has Brazil REALLY been tested in this sense?

    It may well be soon, but has a mass influx of immigrants who want to keep their own culture really arrived in Brazil yet? Like I said, in BR, everyone feels Brazilian if they were born there (not the case in American or the UK or France, where the sons and daughters of immigrants hold on to their parents' nationality and aspects to their culture). They assimilate quickly. But what happens when, like in NY or London, for example, Indian immigrants come and want to continue wearing their traditional clothes, continue worshipping their God/s, and living their lives in completely un-Brazilian ways? What happens when there are culture clashes? What happens when Brazilians feel as though an aspect to their native culture or a part of their city is becoming something alien to them?
    Much of the past integration in Brazil was forced. After all, when everyone is an immigrant (other than the indigenous indians) it's not likely you can outcast one specific group for being different.

    1. You raise an interesting point here, but I am not sure that it is completely valid.

      Families who settled here all those years ago might now have children and grandchildren who consider themselves to be predominantly Brazilian; but nowadays a lot of young people still identify themselves with the culture they're originally from too. Brazil is not one big homogeneous group of people, but a patchwork of many different cultures living together. I don't think you can argue that Brazilians of immigrant descent have now simply conformed to a 'Brazilian' lifestyle.

      I don't see why someone choosing to live here and have a family would want to cease practicing their religion or other cultural elements of importance, nor do I see why they would not want to integrate into their new society in some way too.

      Sao Paulo, and indeed Brazil, is certainly big enough for people to live an un-Brazilian lifestyle (whatever that is) and from my impression Brazilians are certainly tolerant enough to allow for this to happen.

      Thanks for dropping by to comment, I might respectfully disagree with you but I appreciated what you had to say.

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