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.