Brazil has been trending in the international news and blogosphere lately, thanks to the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. One thing I’ve noticed is that people tend to have a very narrow yet pronounced view of what Brazil is about. Click on any news article about Brazil or bring up the topic in conversation, and inevitably one or more of the following words will come up: Sexy, exotic, sensual, beaches, beautiful women, colorful, samba, Carnaval. These are mostly positive words, but they’re still lazy and reductive clichés. Let’s look at a few.
Truth: There are many Brazilian women that are beautiful, but there are also many that are ugly and many that are average. In other words, Brazilian women are normal human beings. It’s disconcerting to see how many people automatically assume this stereotype to be factual, even when they’ve never set foot in the country. When I first went to Brazil on a study abroad trip, one of my fellow American students commented, “The women here aren’t that beautiful. There’s no one that takes my breath away.” I rolled my eyes and thought I’d really hate for someone to visit the U.S. and judge American women by what they see in Hollywood films. Not to mention I sensed a bit of racist undertones, considering we were in Salvador, a city that is largely black, while the majority of Brazilian women glorified in the media are white or light skinned. It’s dehumanizing to treat Brazilian women as if they’re some sort of birds of paradise to scrutinize or marvel at. This stereotype leads to the oversexualization of Brazilian women, which has its own problems. (Braless in Brazil breaks it down quite well.)
Unfortunately, not all of Brazil is a beach. If you look at a map, there is a huge mass of territory inland where millions of people live, including yours truly.
I hate this word because it’s so subjective. Exotic essentially means different, so different to whom? If I’m going to compare Brazil to the U.S. though, it’s in a tropical setting, but it’s still a Westernized, former European colony. It’s not a different planet. I’ve had a number of people ask me about the food here which they assume to be full of different spices, because exotic, right? Not really. If you look at the basic Brazilian meal, it’s rice, beans and meat, with very few spices other than a lot of salt. Admittedly, farofa is pretty different than anything in the U.S., and it takes me awhile to explain to people what it is.
I’ve seen in the past months a number of companies such as Puma and Adidas release “Brazil-inspired” collections which are basically their regular products but in bright colors, occasionally with some palm tree or flower design slapped on. Don’t get me wrong, with Brazil’s diverse flora and fauna, there are bright colors here, but it’s not like the whole country is jungle — there are also regular buildings and concrete. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Francisco Costa, head designer for Calvin Klein, created a Brazil-inspired collection for Macy’s a couple of years ago that was based on Brazilian architecture. The collection’s too minimal for my taste, but it’s refreshing to see someone do some research and come up with something different.
Samba is uniquely Brazilian, but it is not the only music in Brazil. In fact depending on where you are, samba may take a backseat to other genres such as sertanejo, MPB, funk and axé. I once saw an article referring to Michel Teló’s hit “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” as samba. Nope.
A few examples of popular Brazilian music that are not samba:
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a wonderful TED talk a few years ago called The Danger of a Single Story where she claims, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Most of the clichés above I addressed with a “Yes, but…” There is so much more.
Here is an incomplete list of other things in Brazil: cattle ranchers, square dancing, hot dogs, Formula 1, second largest Japanese population in the world, the father of aviation, pressure cookers, and armadillos. My hope is that with the country’s increased exposure, media outlets will highlight different stories and images to tell a more three-dimensional, more complete story about Brazil.