This blog post represents my perspective of Brazilian beauty culture as a foreigner. If you have something to add or want to share your own point-of-view, do leave a comment below and join the conversation!
I’ve long been fascinated by the beauty culture of Brazil. And I’m not just talking about Adriana Lima, Gisele, or the other long-legged Brazilian supermodels that dominate international media. Instead, my interest is in the habits of “normal” Brazilian women and the role of beauty in Brazilian society at large.
When I started dating my Brazilian husband and became more exposed to Brazilian people and culture, I began noticing that Brazilian women are incredibly well put-together. From consistently manicured nails and flowing locks to arched eyebrows and thoughtful outfits that complement their physiques, Brazilian women are unapologetic about their femininity. Plastic surgery is also much more common — both in practice and as a topic of discussion — even among young women in their early twenties.
It’s clear that many Brazilians put time and effort into their appearance. In my opinion, noticeably more than their American counterparts.
The Role of Beauty in Brazilian Culture
Beauty is valued in every culture, but Brazilians seem to be more open about it than most. A striking thing I noticed on my latest trip to Brazil is how parents are openly proud when their daughters are beautiful, going out of their way to point it out to new people they meet. Daughters learn early on that their beauty gives them an advantage and begin honing it through beauty treatments and fashion. Due to the prevalence of social media, many begin showcasing their beauty at younger and younger ages. I’ve seen girls as young as 6 or 7 expertly striking poses for the camera like they are far beyond their years.
Not all Brazilians look like models, but it seems that most understand that beauty can empower you and aren’t afraid to embrace and work on their own. And it is a commonly accepted notion that beauty takes work — hair treatments and manicures every week, body-sculpting massages, eyebrow microblading, waxing, and, increasingly, Botox, filler, and other non-surgical procedures.
Where do they find the time? When something is a priority, you make room for it, and Brazilians very intentionally integrate beauty into their daily routines. My mother-in-law and her friend, for example, have a ritual where they exchange beauty services with one another every week. My mother-in-law — a hairdresser with her own salon — will moisturize or dye her friend’s hair, while her friend will paint her nails.
Pain is another price to pay in the pursuit of beauty. As I endured hundreds of tiny cuts in my eyebrows during my first microblading appointment in Brasilia, I began to realize the truth of this notion. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many Brazilian women begin waxing at a young age, like our friends who all started before the age of 13 (it’s called a Brazilian wax for a reason). Then, of course, there’s plastic surgery. Brazil is now an international hub for plastic surgery, the country with the second-highest number of surgeries being performed in the world and a hotbed of innovation in the field.
Some have said that Brazil’s obsession with beauty altering their bodies has to do with eugenic scientists popularizing plastic surgery in an effort to “fix the errors” of “too much racial mixture in Brazil.” Others say that being beautiful gives you a massive advantage in Brazilian society, opening doors to jobs and opportunities that might otherwise not be available. It has even been argued that beauty is so important in Brazil that access to plastic surgery for all is a human right.
My observation in my trips to Brazil is that Brazilians believe that if they can make themselves more beautiful, then why wouldn’t they? In the US, there seems to be a mindset where you must be insecure if you embark on a mission to intentionally make yourself more beautiful. There can even be shame in it, leading to people hiding their decisions from friends and family (this manifests itself most clearly in the hush-hush culture we have around revealing plastic surgeries). Can this be the case in Brazil? Of course, sometimes. But more often it seems to be more about feeling happy and confident with yourself. If a manicure can do that, or some liposuction, then why the hell not?
Interesting Observations About Brazilian Beauty Culture
Plastic Surgery is Common, and Not At All Taboo
Plastic surgery is incredibly common in Brazil, and it is not at all taboo to talk about your procedures with friends and strangers alike. Anecdotally, it seems like most Brazilians I meet have had something done and are eager to tell you exactly what. There is no such thing as the hush-hush culture we see in Hollywood with celebrities keeping their surgeries a secret.
My husband’s aunts routinely share stories about their rounds of liposuction and Brazilian butt lifts. A young dental assistant pulled out her phone during a teeth cleaning to show us a before and after of her Botox injections and a surgery to remove cheek fat. No shame in the game. When you remove the stigma that is often associated with cosmetic procedures in the United States, the baggage and judgment that follows people who choose to pursue them cease to carry as much weight. It becomes a normalized part of everyday life, for better or for worse.
The statistics back up how much plastic surgery comes up in conversation. Brazil is the second-largest consumer of plastic surgery in the world, with 1.2 million procedures completed in 2018. More recently, Brazilian plastic surgeons are seeing a boom in business during lockdown as Brazilians take advantage of staying at home to “invest in themselves.”
Plastic surgeries in Brazil aren’t just accessible to the rich. Public hospitals provide free or low-cost procedures to lower-income patients. Over half a million surgeries are subsidized by the government each year. As Ivo Pitanguy, Brazil’s “godfather” of plastic surgery, puts it, “the poor have a right to be beautiful too.”
Everyday Folk Participate in the Beauty Economy
It should come as no surprise after getting this far down the post that the beauty economy is thriving in Brazil. And everyone participates. Many Brazilian women set up informal beauty businesses, operating right out of their homes or making house calls. It gives many who did not have the opportunity to pursue education a viable and sustainable way to make a living. Walking through lower-income neighborhoods, it seems like every few houses there is a sign advertising some form of beauty service or another.
My last trip to Brazil, a woman gave me a Brazilian wax in her bedroom. This is very normal. Numerous women run fully functioning nail salons out of their homes and do very well for themselves. My mother-in-law runs a hair salon at home doing cuts, dye-jobs, and other treatments for clients who have been with her for years. It’s how she was able to pull herself and my husband out of extreme poverty. Her sisters are all in the same line of work.
Beauty Treatments Are Extremely High Quality
Beauty treatments in the US ain’t got nothing on Brazilian beauty treatments. Hair, nails, waxing, semipermanent makeup — in Brazil you pay a lot less for significantly higher quality results.
Take the simple manicure. I’ll never forget coming home after a gel manicure at a salon in San Francisco, showing my husband, and having him wonder aloud why the manicurist left a significant space above the cuticle unpainted (this probably sounds esoteric to those not familiar with manicures, but in Brazil they cut off your entire cuticle and the polish looks like it’s coming right out of your skin — it’s nice 😂).
To get the same type of result in the States is out-of-reach financially for most people, including myself. It’s why my Brazilian girlfriends living in the States go out of our way to get everything done during visits back to Brazil. This trip, I got my eyebrows microbladed, fiberglass manicures, and laser skin resurfacing. It. Was. Awesome.
Pursuit of a “Perfect” Body
It’s hot in Brazil, and people here show off their bodies a lot more than those in colder climates. So, needless to say, a good-looking body is an important part of the beauty equation here.
I’ve noticed a couple body types that are popular in the media here. One is uniquely Brazilian, with a tiny waist, curvy behind, and thick, thick, thick thighs. Another is more Euro-centric. Think tall, slim, Gisele-esqe.
Many Brazilians — both men and women — have embraced gym culture with a passion and aim to get a sculpted, muscular look. I love going to the gym here because there is a good balance of both genders in the weight room. Even when gyms are closed during lockdown, Brazilians stay active at public outdoor gyms that seem to be around every corner. I’ve seen some of the fittest, strongest people in my life in Brazil.
Other Brazilians who don’t necessarily want to put in the work but also want to look good turn to plastic surgery instead of the gym. Breast implants, Brazilian butt lifts, liposuction — they achieve Brazilian body standards by going under the knife. Multiple times if necessary.
I’m always curious to learn other perspectives about this fascinating topic. Like I said above, if you have any thoughts or something to add, do leave a comment below!