Note from BW of Brazil: Let’s be clear about something. Brazil doesn’t have a shortage of black models. And, according to the comments this blog receives, the country is also not lacking beautiful black women. What is lacking though is equal opportunity for black models. If you haven’t heard, Brazil’s major fashion events have a routine habit of presenting Brazilian women to the world as if the country were somewhere in Europe. This despite the fact that the census shows that 51% of Brazilians define themselves as non-white. Samira Carvalho is a one of the few black Brazilian models (along with Emanuela de Paula and Laís Ribeiro) who has managed to find success in the fashion world. But don’t mistake it; this doesn’t mean she isn’t aware of how black women are perceived and treated in society, particularly in the fashion industry. Below are just a few of her thoughts on the issue of race, beauty and the modeling world.
Samira Carvalho has become an internationally recognized model but questions the “ethnic” label that they insist on putting on black women
by Samira Carvalho as told to Nina Lemos
“It’s funny, when I get a casting, everyone thinks that my afro hair is beautiful, but it’s only when coming to the fashion show that they straighten it. It is a problem for self-esteem, a difficult thing to face, because since ever a black person has been raised to be quiet in the corner, invisible, if possible (with their) head down. To combat this and help other girls who suffer from prejudice, some friends and I created a collective, the Clã das Amoras (Clan of Blackberries).
The idea came one day while we were at my house, me and other friends who are black models, whining all the time. We spent the day talking about those annoying situations that we go through in the day to day, of strange looks when we enter the elevator, little things, but that hurt. But we were getting very depressed and whining, and we didn’t want to maintain that tone of victims. Ours is more: ‘We’re here and we’re moving forward.’
I’ve always been one of the only blacks in my daily life. In my school, it was myself and two other girls. I suffered a lot of bullying there. Really alot. I was called all of the worst names that they use for blacks, I was considered horrific. How could think I’m pretty? At that time, the modeling profession was something that didn’t exist in my life. Every time I saw a show or read a magazine, it only had white and blonde women. It wasn’t for me. But as I’ve always been tall and thin, my mother encouraged me to participate in contests, until they discovered me. She always believed in me and made sacrifices to keep me in São Paulo in the beginning of my career.
When I came to my agency, it was one of the only ones that had black models – me and Carmelita Mendes. Most had none. It’s funny, because Carmelita and I immediately became friends. This always happens; when a new black model comes to the agency I soon start to give her tips. And there is no rivalry between us, we are a united group that converses and helps each other (1). Today the situation is better, I see some new girls. It’s no use to solicit brand names to put these girls in the shows; the agencies have to go after black models.
It’s funny to get many jobs with the ‘ethnic’ profile. In Brazil it’s difficult to walk the runway as a normal woman, in general it’s this ridiculous thing, within a theme like Africa, for example. In the United States and Europe it’s completely different: you parade like a normal woman with normal clothes because the black population wants to see themselves represented in a parade or in a campaign, not to simply buy. Here, we are so used to not seeing ourselves that we buy it anyway.”
1. Interesting to note here how Samira speaks of a certain solidarity among black models in comparison to another model, Patrícia Dejesus, whose experiences among other black models amounted to a certain rivalry.