Black Brazilians Are Abandoning Hair Straighteners and White Standards of Beauty

Ariane Carlos, 36, a receptionist at Retro Hair, a salon in downtown São Paulo, used to straighten her hair and now keeps it natural. (Petala Lopes/For The Washington Post)
Ariane Carlos, 36, a receptionist at Retro Hair, a salon in downtown São Paulo, used to straighten her hair and now keeps it natural. (Petala Lopes/For The Washington Post)

Bruna Aparecida smiled cautiously at her reflection as a hairdresser snipped the last strands of her straight hair. Her head was crowned with curls. 

“I didn’t know myself without straight hair,” said Aparecida, 27, who used chemical relaxers for nearly a decade before deciding to go natural. She used to be the only black woman at the bank where she works who had kinky hair. Today, she is one of six.

“It’s all the rage this year. Many of my friends are doing it,” she said.

Black and brown Brazilians make up over half of the country’s population, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the beauty industry. Brazil’s innovative hair straightening treatments — sold around the world — have long chased white standards of beauty. Ten years ago, it was not unusual to find robed women packed into a room at a salon, covering their mouths with rags to avoid inhaling fumes while hairdressers doused their locks in formaldehyde for a pin-straight look. Now, a growing number of black Brazilians are ditching the hair straighteners and embracing their curls.

The resurgence of natural hair has mirrored a rise in black empowerment in Brazil. The number of Brazilians identifying as black grew 15 percent in four years, according to the 2016 census. Meanwhile, inspired by the movie “Black Panther,” Afrofuturism — a movement that explores a futuristic vision of Africa and the African diaspora — has taken off, with movies, plays and music featuring black protagonists.

Yet racial inequality here remains stark. The average salary for a white citizen is nearly 50 percent higher than for a black citizen. Black and brown Brazilians made up 70 percent of the country’s murder victims in 2016, according to the most recent government data made public. Earlier this year, the assassination of black Rio councilwoman Marielle Franco sparked a debate about racism and police brutality.

In this context, the Afro has emerged as a symbol of resistance.

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SOURCE: Marina Lopes
The Washington Post