Brazil is a colorful nation! Everyone knows that many beauty trends originated in Brazil. We have all heard of The Brazilian Blowout, The Brazilian Wax and the infamous Brazilian Butt Lift.. have some of the most well-known supermodels in the world, such as Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Barbara Fialho and, of course, Gisele Bündchen’s. If you only think of these women as representatives of what Brazilian women look like, you miss a much bigger picture.

Brazilians can trace their origins from three sources: Africa, Amerindians, and Europeans. Brazil imported more than 4 million slaves from Africa. The United States and Canada only imported 400,000 slaves total. Brazil was also the last country in the world to stop the import of slaves. This complicated history makes it common for colorism and racism to be problematic. Brazil currently has the biggest black population outside of Africa.

The Globe and Mail Shared a true story of a Brazilian woman named Daniele de Araujo. When she found out she was pregnant with a girl like most mothers wanted a healthy baby. She also told God that the one thing that mattered most of all was that the baby was white. Ms. de Araujo considers herself and her brother to be “really black” She has a white mother, a black father and two sisters that can pass for white. Her husband has one black parent and one white parent, but is light skinned enough to check “white” as his race on forms. Daniele feels that in her country Black is beautiful, but white - white is just easier.

There was another reported incident of a college student, Ana Carolina Bastos Soares, who claims she was the victim of racism at her school, where she was not allowed to enter because of her hair. The director told her that she would not be allowed to attend with her ‘Black Power’ hair. At this year’s 2016 Summer Olympics, some people were more impressed by Gisele Bündchen’s mile-long catwalk than when Rafaela Silva won Brazil’s first gold medal summer. Rafaela has shared on several news outlets that she grew up enduring racial abuse.

The good news is we are seeing a positive change towards women in Brazil embracing their natural hair and moving away from chemicals. In an interview with The GuardianCassia Marinho, owner of the Iporinché salon in Rio de Janeiro, shared this: “In our salon, there has always been a mission to strengthen self-esteem and the idea of black beauty,” she said. “The first thing I say to my clients is: your hair is pretty. You don’t need to use a chemical process.”

Luana da Costa Fonseca, a student in Rio, shared this with The Guardian : “ I started questioning straightening my hair after joining a student group for black Brazilians, who have natural hair, and who have gone through a transition, who have stopped straightening, I think this is the first step for facing racism.

Wanda Malhotra co-founder of Surya Brasil (a sustainable Brazilian beauty company) shared this with me:

One thing I want to tell you about Brazilians is that despite some racism that still exists the African culture is strong in our country. Everyone loves Lemanja Goddess of the ocean. All races and religions throw roses to her and make wishes on New Year’s Eve at the beach. The tradition is to jump seven waves and for each wave you jump you make a wish. Also, the darker women are considered the best dancers and sexiest! Brazilians who don’t have a dark skin tone spend hours tanning to get as dark as possible. I grew up worshiping the dark skin tone and the African culture, and my group of friends felt the same. There is so much diversity in Brazil and I believe the more mix there is, the richer the culture gets.

So what’s the answer for Brazil and beauty equality for all? It’s in the beauty of the land that is appreciated by all. Stay tuned for part two, where we visit sustainability and the natural beauty ingredients that Brazil produces.

The photos in this story are courtesy of Russian photographer Alyona Gamm. When she arrived in Brazil she didn’t understand racism. The more time she spent in the country, and as she began dating a black man she realized how difficult it was to deal with this issue. She used this opportunity to capture the beauty of black women in Brazil. Follow her on Instagram.

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