Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Does Brazilian TV’s Obsession with Female Flesh Verge on the Sinister?

About a month ago I was reading an online interview in which the British TV presenter, Daisy Donovan, reflected on her time in Brazil . She was over here for a documentary series to investigate the weird and wonderful world of the country's extreme TV shows, and not too far into this interview it became clear that she wasn't shying away from controversy. When discussing one of the more unique TV shows the country has to offer, Miss Bum Bum (a nationwide search to find the best backside in the country...yes, you read that correctly!) she warned that ‘Brazilian TV’s obsession with female flesh verges on the sinister’.

Why don't you get yourself off that fence Daisy!

Although this generalised statement was clearly being used to drum up interest for potential viewers and not really a reflection on what TV is like here, I could kind of see where she was coming from....kind of. Let me give you just one example of something that happened on one show I saw that left me stunned when I saw it about a year ago. One Sunday afternoon I was over at my friends house watching TV. Out of nowhere my favourite Brazilian celebrity, Watermelon Woman, was brought out on stage in her bikini (which was tiny, obviously!) where she talked to the presenters for a few minutes, and was then asked to pick a piece of paper up from the floor. She was wearing stiletto heels and instead of the crowd responding with gasps as turned her back to them, locked her knees and then bent down to pick this paper up (her ass was within touching distance of the camera, giving the viewer an extreme close up of her ….erm, watermelon), the audience actually sat there and applauded. That's right, this mostly female audience actually sat there and clapped at her arse! 
"It's me, the Watermelon Woman....
me and the Watermelon are BAAAAAAAACCKKKKK!"

Can you even begin to imagine having your arse clapped? I had never seen people applaud a backside before, and I definitely hadn't expected to see it for the first time during a Sunday afternoon talk show.

I pointed at the screen in the hope that someone would give me confirmation that they too could see what I was seeing, and that's when my friends began mocking my reaction. “But this is Brazil, this is not strange for us! Don’t you have shows like this too?”

“Well…no! Don’t women mind being degraded like this?” I asked sounding like an old lady. My friend received my question with a pretty deadpan expression on his face. “What are you talking about, this is not degrading. Watermelon Woman has a very big bum, and many people want to see it. And she makes money from going on the show, so it's really not that bad!”

I looked at my friend in confusion. He looked at me like a prude. We held this look for a few seconds before he broke off the stare to look at our other friend. “Foreigners!” he simply said whilst rolling his eyes. 
So that was one example of a show I found to be, well....a little too much for me to get my British head around at first. However instead of being as judgmental as Daisy and deeming this as 'sinister', I've often wondered if my surprised reaction says more about me as a Brit than it does about our Brazilian counterparts…are Brits not just a whole lot more prudish than we care to admit?

Well I was intrigued to see if this sort of thing would feature heavily in this documentary.

The Documentary

The Winner Of Miss Bum Bum 2012
Not too long into the show Daisy found herself sat in a popular bar area of Sao Paulo, Vila Madalena, where she asked the waiter for a beer. As he went off to get this for her, quite by chance I’m sure, Daisy immediately found herself watching Miss Bum Bum. I’d not actually heard anything about this show until recently, but Daisy's documentary seemed to insinuate that shows like this were on every day after work over here. 

“Before I even get my drink, I’m exposed to a spectacular feast of the flesh” she stated as the camera then focused on the show playing out across the bar. 

Daisy instantly took issue with the show...and who can blame her. She’d gone in to the bar for a beer and found herself watching a program about arses, at a time of the evening back home she’d have probably been watching Emmerdale.

To make matters worse, nobody else in this bar seemed to care that this show was on. Although to be fair, they seemed much more interested in the conversations they were having with their friends than what was being screened in the corner of the bar. Daisy looked like she was the only one in there who’d gone out for a beer to sit and watch TV.

Of course, she felt obliged to share her surprised reaction with the guy on the next table. “Would you watch this type of show with your wife?” she asked whilst gesturing over to the TV screen. From the disgusted look on her face, you’d have thought that it was pornography she was asking him about.

“Yes. No problem” replied this middle aged business man instinctively.

Unfortunately, Daisy brought a small
camera man over to Brazil with her
Daisy sighed and then reverted her gaze back over to the screen. “Well, it just wouldn't be like that in England” she said quite loudly, clearly not to elicit a response from the guy but for the benefit of the camera.

The guy on the next table then felt the need to defend his viewing habits. “I imagine it wouldn't happen in the UK” he argued, seemingly unable to understand what Daisy was getting at, “because women there don’t have bums like this, do they?”

“Erm….” responded Daisy, who’d been caught off guard by his comment. It obviously hadn't registered with this guy that he should have been embarrassed or uncomfortable with what he was watching.

“100% not, no” she conceded.

Culture Clash

And right there was an interesting clash of British and Brazilian culture that really struck a chord with me. Like Daisy, as a foreigner over here who has had my own views and beliefs challenged by my surroundings in a way that I hadn't expected, I could relate to what she'd just seen. Having what you've always considered normal suddenly becoming weird to the people around you can feel quite unnerving.

Bring your kids!
Actually I remember once trying to explain to a student in Japan that British people love nothing more on November 5th than building a fire, standing around it with their children and then cheering as an effigy goes up in flames; all against the backdrop of fireworks. “Do children really watch the body burn?” my Japanese high school student asked with concern. “Well yes” I responded, before considering for the first time in my life just how SAVAGE Bonfire Night must sound to someone who isn't accustomed to it. “But its tradition” I interjected, as if this went some way to justify us still celebrating it this side of the 21st century.


So it wasn't long before Daisy was given the opportunity to talk to a journalist at the Bum Bum show and challenge him on his views on decency. “Do you feel like this show is objectifying women in some way?”

'Brazilian woman like to be, not exactly objectified" he began, "but they like to be admired. Brazilian women have the highest self esteem in the world. If you ask any Brazilian woman, especially in the lower classes you will find that this is true…”

"These bikini bottoms are bloody killing me!"
However just as the show looked set to explore this issue in more depth, it changed its focus from backsides to live crime shows, leaving me with a few questions of my own to ask my Brazilian friends.

As it turns out, the more Brazilians I've asked about women being 'degraded' the more I've noticed that this issue elicits differing responses. On the one hand people appreciate that showing scantily clad women in their bikinis feels slightly outdated, yet on the other many are indifferent to seeing women like this. Which begs the question, why do some feel like this?

Although  the women in bikinis on TV shows might, to the unaccustomed eye, look like they're appealing exclusively to a male audience, over here if you go down to any given beach you’re likely to find the women wearing exactly the same thing. Women here don’t wear bikini’s that modestly hide flesh, they favour tiny bikinis that many back home would never dream of wearing. Seeing women dressed in so little on your first trip to the beach might be a real eye opener at first, but summer months here are HOT and people enjoy spending time at the beach wearing as little as possible. It's a cultural thing.

So really what the women wear on the Miss Bum Bum show is arguably just an extension of what you’re likely to find on any given Brazilian beach, something Brazilian women wouldn't find all that 'sinister' when watching on TV. 

Reading between the lines I guess what Daisy had a problem with not that the scantily clad women were being admired for their beauty, but that perhaps because in the UK at least, shows like this are arguably made to suit more of a masochistic agenda.

Jordan, a former page 3 girl and one of the UK's most
prominent pointless clelbrities started her career thanks to our media's
obsession with her 'female flesh' 
So is Brazilian TV showcasing beautiful women to be admired, or does it represent objectification that should be frowned upon? Or both?

The answer to that is one I'm still fairly unsure about, but even considering this ultimately invites comparisons with how the British media portrays its own women.

Isn't Our Own Media Equally As Obsesssed With Female Flesh Too?

And interestingly one aspect of our media that Brazilians find low class is the way it is so comfortable with showing naked breasts.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our Page 3 girl tradition, this is where on the third page of one of the most famous tabloids in the country, The Sun, an attractive woman poses topless for the reader to...erm, admire. And the tradition of having topless women do this isn't exclusive to this tabloid newspaper either. The advice from our own prime minister is that if you find this degrading, you should simply ’just turn the page’.

As a nation the relaxed attitude our media has towards breasts is arguably then extended to how women behave when at the beach, as many women think nothing of sunbathing topless when abroad; and even Royalty got in on the act last year.

“I can’t believe Kate Middleton relaxed outside her hotel room without a bikini on when someone took her picture” said one of my students. “She is a Princess; she shouldn't be walking round showing her naked breasts. I understand that doing that on the beach is European culture, but to me, it seems so…trashy”.

What I wear to work is a lot more conservative!
So this is one form of ‘female flesh’ you're unlikely to see on TV over here. Yes, you might have seen women showing their breasts in pictures during carnival here, but actually you're only likely to see these during the five day carnival event. Even then it's often dismissed as a 'carnival thing'. Outside of this celebration topless women don't really play any part in the Brazilian media, and certainly don't feature on any of the beaches here (except of course the nudist ones).

So whilst Daisy might have rolled her eyes at what she was seeing on Miss Bum Bum, equally Brazilian’s could argue that the UK's ‘obsession’ with the ‘female flesh’ verges on being uncomfortable for them too. 

But does this obsession with female flesh verge on the sinister? Well let me clarify one thing, shows containing a ridiculous amount of female flesh aren't nearly all that common here. In fact, they represent a very small percentage of a TV channels output. So I think labeling the showing of female flesh as an 'obsession' is definitely a step too far. What constitutes as 'sinful' is also pretty subjective too, dependent not only on your cultural understanding of what 'female flesh' represents, but also on your personal perspective.

And from what I've noticed over here, attitudes to sexuality and female flesh in general aren't nearly as ‘sinful’ as they are back home. Perhaps then what Daisy should have said is that 'when projecting British values onto Brazilian culture, at a push, the way female flesh is shown on TV will verge on the uncomfortable for some viewers'.

What do you think? Is there such thing as a 'sinful' amount of skin on Brazilian TV? Are Brits not just a whole lot more prudish than they care to admit? Isn't there an 'obsession' with female flesh in the majority of media channels around the world, not just Brazil's? 


  1. I think Brasil is just fine. Yes there is a culture of sex and beauty there. It is insulting for you to press your British Values onto Brasil. When your Daily Sun newspaper (if it can be called that) features a daily or weekly foto of a scantily clad woman. Another thing is that the women of Britain wouldnt know femininity if it slapped them in the face.

    1. Hi Edward, I was wondering if you read the whole blog? I actually mentioned The Sun newspapers Page 3 tradition and questioned if it was really appropriate (I'll use your words here)for us 'to press our British values onto Brazil'. So really, we actually agree on this point.

      However your comment about the femininity of British women made you sound just plain stoooopid...although having said that, I do appreciate a bit of controversy on my blog from time to time, so thanks for stopping by to comment!

  2. i hear you Andrew. I think it depends on the show. if there is a show about the best bottom (or even like Miss America) you know what you are going to get---a bunch of bottoms in your face. choose to watch it or not. What i find really offensive as a woman regarding Brazilian TV is when a family show that has nothing to do with best ass competitions or carnaval objectifies women. For example, that terrible Sunday show, "Domingao do Faulstao" that airs before Fantastico always has scantily clad dancing women just for the sake of it--as pretty things to look at in the background. i find that offensive and extremely old fashion. so i don't watch it. Also, i can't stand the weekend sports show on Globo that features a woman sports reporter standing in stilettos and a mini skirt while the male reporters are seated and wearing sneakers. it kills me every time i see it. WI could care less if people call me a prude american--- anyway you look at it, when women are singled out to play a sexy roll when they are performing the same task as a male it is sexist and wrong. that's what i dislike about certain Brazilian television shows. the bunda show---slightly pathetic but oh well, if they're willing to do it then sure. but if people let their kids watch this kind of stuff that's where it's crossing the line. I find it odd that it was a man who answered the question, "women like to be sort-of objectified" what bull shit. In Brazil, more than any other country i've lived in, the amount of men who will stare, whistle, make comments as you walk by is extremely appalling and i highly doubt many women enjoy it. Why do they do this? perhaps because these shows? who knows. but it's wrong in any culture.

    1. Hey Mallory, I find those shows with women dancing in their bikinis and heels to music that isn't really there odd too. You see it every week on Panico, and I've often wondered how the people making thses shows can get away with it!

      After all, the country has a female president and the CEO of Petrobras is female, so women are clearly in positions of power and respect here, so far removed from these dancing Barbies...but then on the flip side I look at the UK, which is now talking about introducing 'modesty bags' to cover up women in bikinis on the front of lads mags. The UK has the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe, and I can't help but wonder if an attitude as open and honest as Brazil's on sexuality would go some way to reducing that.

      But I hear what you say about the men who stare, whistle and make comments at women over here. People just accept it as cultural, and although I've talked to some women who say that they enjoy this attention, it must be uncomfortable for those who don't.

      Well thanks for the comment, it's interesting to get an American, female perspective on this!

  3. Yo, I love big butts, and I love the Brasil has embraced my big jiggly booty with arms wide open. It's probably one of the main reasons i live here.


    love, Mika

    1. Mika! I love that you've left a comment on my blog, and one that really made me smile too!

  4. I can't decide if I think it's degrading. I'd probably anger a lot of feminists, but I think that women should be able to choose how they want to present themselves - if they choose to be overtly sexual and it empowers them/makes them feel good then great (more power, and all that) It's always more complex than that, I suppose though. For me to say that something is just the norm/the culture and therefore ok is probably a little short sighted too.
    Great entry! Food for thought!

    Also, love the comment about women in the UK knowing nothing about femininity. If femininity is flashing boobs and bum then I've been doing it wrong for a long time!

    1. Hey Amy, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. What you said about British femininity also really made me smile!

      Like you, I too am still unsure of what to make of it all. I studied feminism for a time at University and can definitely see why this sort of objectification might offend some women outside of Brazil, but guess I am inclined to agree with that it could also be seen as empowering for some women too.

  5. Great post. I think you are spot on. "'when projecting (insert country A) values onto (country B) culture... T.V. (film, magazines, music, ect.) will verge on the uncomfortable for some viewers."

    It's ridiculous to go to a country you didn't grow-up in and start passing judgement. It's an imperial mindset (if that makes any sense).

    1. Total sense, I don't think many expats would survive too long living in another country if they passed judgement like they did on this TV show (Even though projecting you own values is almost unavoidable at first).

  6. Hum! A good read, as usual. I wonder if I would've enjoyed reading it so much if there were less images of those beautiful women. I think yes.

    A couple of things that irk me about this casual sexuality:

    1. I really hope to be Miss Bumbum is not the thing to which young meninas Brasileiras aspire. Brazil will suffer as long as its girls chase beauty and not the arts and sciences. Maybe this anseio Brasiliero (Brazilian aspiration—I don't know if my Português is correct here) is comparable to the Middle East's subjugation of women; i.e., women are prevented or directed away from learning, thereby keeping them out of power, second-class citizens.

    2. See http://youtu.be/7raxxqP6DSU. Those girls are YOUNG, and yet they dance very provocatively. As a straight male, this confuses the life out of me. Legally and socially, they are NOT "sexually mature women" but they are presented as though they ARE! To look at these girls with sexual desire is likely to get you thrown in jail, but how can anyone say that is not their purpose (to be "sexy")?

    Point 2. needs more exploration. I can't explain it very well.

    1. I guess a certain class of women over here may well feel that being on TV is their meal ticket out of poor living conditions. So these women may well do whatever it takes to become the next Panicat or Watermelon Woman.

      However I guess this is true of most cultures, for example many people in the UK aspired to make a name for themselves by being famous for being famous on shows like Big Brother a few years ago.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate the complement too.

  7. oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwww I am gringo.

  8. In Italy it's the same (or at least it was when I left). I was completely used to turning on the tv and seeing half naked girls shaking their lower parts in unrequited ways and circumstances. After years of living abroad I find it pretty disturbing, I must say...

    1. Hey Federico, thanks for checking out my blog and commenting. I wonder if the reverse will happen to me, I'll go back to England and find myself wondering why there can't be a bit more ass on TV!

  9. "But does this obsession with female flesh verge on the sinister? Well let me clarify one thing, shows containing a ridiculous amount of female flesh aren't nearly all that common here. In fact, they represent a very small percentage of a TV channels output.". Hey, in which Brazil do you live? Are you sure it is the same disclosed worldwide with images of women and butt on brochures of tourism agencies? As far as I know, and as a Brazilian woman I am, these sort of programs portraying scantily clad women do not represent a small percentage of the TV shows in Brazil as you wrote. First of all, the so called open TV is compounded by only 5 majors TV channels: Globo, Record, SBT, Rede TV and Band, and all of them has ridiculous attraction portraying women as an object 90% of its time. So, what kind of message these programs relay to women from different social class? "Let's achieve empowerment with our bottoms and bodies?" There are lots of of Brazilian women who run away from this perverse concept and that really believe the portrayal of Brazilian women on TV elicit a kind of violence disguised as humour that for a short or long term produce feelings of disempowerment and enlarge gender inequalities in one of the most patriarchal and sexist society like Brazil, that you must know very well.
    It is well true that Donovan was quite impressed with what she saw based upon her British gaze. But on the other hand, if you ask any well-educated Brazilian woman who had seen this show (as I did), you will learn that we'd have the same impression as Daisy. Brazilian women want beauty, femininity and above all, respect and intelligence without appealing for butts or scantily clad bodies. Anyway, great blog, congrats:-)

    1. Hi noemiacol, thanks for the complement on my blog and also for your comment, very much appreciated! This post certainly seems to have touched a nerve with a number of my readers, however I would have to stand by what I said and respectfully disagree with you. TV shows containing a ridiculous amount of flesh are not nearly as common here as Daisy's TV show suggested.

      Let me go through some of the points you mentioned. I'm sure there are travel magazines and brochures advertising beaches with Brazilian women in bikinis. But is the amount of flesh seen on a Brazilian beach 'obscene'? Well to the untrained foreign eye perhaps, but as a Brazilian woman you will be more than skimpy clothing is simply how women dress to go to the beach here. And also I'd argue that travel brochures don't have a huge relationship with quality of the output of Brazilian TV anyway.

      Perhaps you have a point that women are treated as 'objects' on TV, but most of the time the women on TV are clothed 'objects' (and that figure you gave of 90% seems to be incredibly high)!

      When you talked about women of a certain social class being influenced by women who 'get their bottoms and bodies out', I feel I should point out this is not exclusive to Brazilian women at all. All over the world there are women of a certain social standing who look up to women whose path to fame and fortune involved promoting themselves sexually (Step forward Kim Kardashian, Jordan, Paris Hilton etc). It's unfortunate, but not something you can claim full responsibility for!

      As you have stated, there is much more to Brazilian women than the clips used during Daisy's TV show, And for this reason I wanted to use this blog post to point out the reality....that near naked women on TV are not nearly as prevalent as Daisy's show suggested, and on the whole Brazilian TVs obsession with female flesh certainly doesn't verge on the sinister.

  10. Hi Andrew, I must agree your arguments are reasonable and, yes, definitely there is much more to Brazilian women than the clips on the Daisy's TV show. But It just seems to me that you are already well accustomed to the Brazilian society and do not see this big amount of degrading portrayal of flesh on TV as "an obsession that verge on the sinister" as I still see as a Brazilian and sadly agree with Daisy's show:-( It turns out that unfortunately, there are still so many men (and women!) in our culture that judge us by our body or by the size of our bottom and not by our character. No doubt the massive brainwashing amount of TV programs in Brazil featuring butts and superficiality influences a lot this still old fashion and super sexist behaviour in my society. I already gave up and turned off my TV a long time ago!

    1. Thanks for responding, perhaps you have a point when you say I might have become too accustomed to your culture! I remember being surprised when my friend reposted this blog on Facebook, and wrote that the pictures in it were not safe to look at during work time. I'd never considered that other people outside Brazil might think they are inappropriate!

      I do think that you might also be quite harsh on your culture though. Brazil is not nearly as sexist as the last country I lived in, Japan. And sex sells all over the world, it is not unique just to Brazil.

      I absolutely love your country...but do you know what, not so much your TV shows, sexist or not! So I really don't blame you for turning off the box!

      Thanks again for adding to the discussion!

  11. “Well…no! Don’t women mind being degraded like this?” I asked sounding like an old lady. My friend received my question with a pretty deadpan expression on his face. “What are you talking about, this is not degrading. Watermelon Woman has a very big bum, and many people want to see it. And she makes money from going on the show, so it's really not that bad!”

    Well, I think you're hanging out with the wrong people. This friend of yours is clearly stupid and ignorant, sorry to say that. It is full of people like this in Brazil, and I can say that because I am Brazilian. They can't have a critical eye towards their own culture because they know nothing different. So telling them Brazil is misogynistic and hypersexualised will just surprise them…they are so narrow minded and incapable of being critical that you'll sound like a weird foreign. So sad…I just do not turn on the tv when I'm back home because it disgusts me…it disgusts me how Brazil treat its women, and how they treat themselves…NO, these women are not fine because they are making money. They will grow old and they will "lose their value"…I can't start to describe how depressing Brazilian mentality is…and I am Brazilian…. I know though that you can find better people to hang out! Good luck and thanks for the article!

    1. Actually I think my friend has a point. If the woman has no problem with being paid to do what she wants with her body, then good luck to her. My friend knows that I was judging this woman against my own set of cultural values...and in doing so exposed MY narrow mind. So your argument works both ways and can be applied to me too.

      My country had a very different attitude to sexuality, we are very prudish. We also have the highest rate of teen pregnancies in Europe...make of that what you will.

      Thanks for the complement on the post, much appreciated!

  12. As a gringa engaged to a brasiliero, I think about this very topic often and here's the conclusion I've come to: Brazilians are comfortable in their skin in a way that the rest of us aren't - yes, they admire beauty but not in that creepy "oh my God, this is so WRONG because, obviously, if you're showing skin, you're a whore and people won't waste their time thinking you have a shred of intelligence" way we northerners tend to do. Even sadder, our attitudes about bodies simply perpetuate the stereotype so that it becomes a cycle.

    I struggle with this and I should mention it has absolutely nothing to do with my fiance. He's wonderful and has been very respectful of my weirding out about it all. And that's the thing: watching how he and his Brazilian friends (male and female) are about bodies, almost makes me a little sad about how we northerners have made something beautiful and normal into something perverted.