Describing the Brasileira

There’s a phrase in Brazilian Portuguese that a man might say about a woman with a nice Brazilian body and that’s “que saúde!” (literally, ‘what health!’). I’ve always found it interesting how a Brazilian woman describes herself physically and how health plays a role in that description.

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or beer holder, as the joke goes), the Brazilian concept for what is beautiful is quite different than our own here in the US. For instance, a Brazilian woman isn’t considered healthy if she isn’t forte (strong) and conversely, a normally thin woman (I’m not talking about model thin) is considered unhealthy, weak or possibly even sick. A thin woman, or one who has lost some weight, will receive comments from other women in her life about how she looked better when she was ‘strong’ and they’ll probably ask if she’s been feeling alright lately.

When Brazilian women speak of being forte, they aren’t speaking of raw strength as we would initially think when thinking of the word ‘strong’ in English. To Brazilians, the kind of strong they are talking about would be bordering what we might call ‘thick’ (grosso, in Portuguese) in the US, except that the Brazilian woman who is forte is supposed to be forte in all the right places, so to speak. So forte is a more general term for a woman who is healthy (or ‘with some meat on the bones’ as we also say) while grosso is more used for speaking about one’s thighs (coxas, in Portuguese) or perhaps lips.

If we were to look for a Portuguese term that was similar to ‘hour-glass figure’, the best bet would be corpo violão (or ‘guitar body’ when directly translated) which emulates the shape of the base of a guitar and in real terms correlates with the ‘perfect’ shape of a 0.7 hip/waist ratio. In Brazil, the typically thought of female body (corpo padrão) is a small ‘upper body’ with a large ‘lower body’ while most American men consider a woman with a large upper body to be ideal (or perhaps it’s just the media putting thoughts in their heads). Hip-hop culture, for one, suggests that a beautiful woman is a combination of both the American and Brazilian concepts.

As far as hair (cabelo) goes, it can get complicated so I’ll try to stick with some basic terms. In Brazil, it seems that most women who don’t naturally have straight hair seek out ways they can straighten it, which probably has to do with how beauty is portrayed in the Brazilian media. In terms of the different types, there’s liso (straight), cacheado (wavy/curly) and crespo (frizzy/really curly). Tell me if I’m wrong, but an afro hairstyle (afro/’black power’ in ‘Portuguese’) is basically the same as crespo. Lastly, highlights are luzes.

If there’s anything I missed in terms of differences in our concepts of beauty, let me know. My main point was the whole forte thing and how being healthy is seen differently, nonetheless it’s important to remember that research says that only 4% of real women have a body that reflects the idealized bodies in the media.

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7 thoughts on “Describing the Brasileira

  1. Where do you live in Brazil, Adam? I’m from the south, Rio Grande do Sul, and in general thin girls are preferred around here (not *too* thin, though).

    Or maybe the beer is different in the south. :-)

    • Oi Leonadro,

      Atualmente moro nos EUA. Nunca morei nem visitei o sul mas como há bastantes coisas diferentes aí no sul, não me supreende que as sulistas seriam diferentes também. Sim, pode ser que a cerveja seja ‘light’, rs.

  2. Cool perspective Adam. This concept exists for other parts of the world too and it’s good to make sure Americans in particular are aware of cultural differences like that.

    • Thanks, Kalani. Do you know which parts of the world this happens in, too? I would guess that it is a trait of developing nations where the more you (had to) eat, the better off you (were) are. In fact, the American way that is in fashion (being skinny) is a total 180, where showing off the fact that you *choose* not to eat more, even though you can, is a sign of power/wealth/etc.

  3. Hey Adam,
    Is it a regional phrase? I’ve never heard it here in the southeast. It sounds a little weird actually because women in general are always complaining about their weight, even if they are not fat or overweight. So being thin is the desired type of body. I believe this would be in most of Brazil, at least in the cities and mostly because of the media.
    You can say a person is “fortinho/a” when he or she is a little overweight and that is used as an euphemism, because you don’t want to say that the person is fat.

    • Hey Fábio,

      Well, what I do know is that with just a quick look at any TV show or magazine (or on any beach), one can see how this type of ‘forte’ is preferred. It’s not overweight at all but it is closer to full-figured than thin. In recent times, I would think that the American view of beauty has been encroaching on the traditional Brazilian view so both views have merit, so to speak.

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