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.

According to Reuters, Women are fat and Men are drunks

“BRASILIA (Reuters) – Women in Brazil are not as slim as their internationally famed models may suggest and up to one-third of men drink too much, a survey showed on Wednesday.

More than 44 percent of women are overweight in Rio de Janeiro, where scantily clad females parade during Carnival and on beaches, a national survey by the health ministry showed.

Women in Sao Paulo, the capital of a fashion industry that gave rise to big-name models like Giselle Bundchen, are also more heavy-set than elsewhere in Latin America’s largest country. Almost 43 percent of women in Sao Paulo are overweight, the third-highest rate among 27 state capitals surveyed.

Brazilian health officials say that the rate still falls short of levels in the United States but that they are concerned. “It is higher than we would like,” said Deborah Malta, one of the survey’s coordinators.

Researchers blamed traditional eating habits as well as a lack of exercise. Many of Brazil’s foods, such as the typical bean and meat stew called feijoada, are rich in fats. Average consumption of fruits and vegetables was “far below” the minimum daily recommendation of 400 grams (14 ounces), the survey said.”

The rest of the article (including the section on men drinking) can be found here

There’s a discussion about this going on at and I’d like to post a few responses I’ve read below. 

Response #1

Wrong… I just returned from Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador Bahia, from a month long trip, and the woman there are more in shape, than any american city I have been to. Yes most woman that do have a few extra ponds, Don’t hide it, and are proud of their bodies. 

Your research is way off… There are more healh aware Brasilians than there are Americans – that actualy watch what they eat, and exercise daily. We Fat Americans, need to get out of our cars and walk more… which is why the average Brasilian is in better shape than Americans. 

Shame on you Reuters,for putting out false information. I would think the author would put your name in this release… but it’s some overweight, mother of 3 sitting on her fat butt… 

Why don’t you actually take a trip, and have a look, and do a proper survey… Reuters, before you pump out your False Press Releases … It’s discusting to read this crap.


Response #2

I think a common person with average observation skills could dispute the “survey” that this article reports on. When my wife would go to the doctor in Aracaju and she was 1.3 kgs over the average weight, the doctor told her she is overweight. 5’2″ woman weighing 107 lbs. or 47 kgs, with small bone structure. Right, if she shed another kg, she’d be a stick with boobs. 

“Brazilian health officials say that the rate still falls short of levels in the United States but that they are concerned. “It is higher than we would like,” said Deborah Malta, one of the survey’s coordinators.” -taken from article

Um, right. Because you want all your women anorexic so they fit in those tight bikinis and jeans, so they can fit that status quo of what you “think” is “beautiful”? 

From Article too – “Average consumption of fruits and vegetables was “far below” the minimum daily recommendation of 400 grams (14 ounces), the survey said”.

One word, bullshit.


Response #3

I was virtually shocked when I went to Colombia and saw the types of bodies even hot dog sellers on the streets had.
Those girls over there had really nice bodies and figures in general…. 40 year old colombian mothers were thinner and in better shape than many 18 year old never married american girls.
but what do colombians eat? generally speaking a light breakfast, big lunch and their tea time is some bread with butter and cocoa around 4pm, then a light dinner
they also walk and ride bicicles a lot and junk food is generally speaking not part of their culture…. so junk food comes like one every 3 months or so for some sort of social gattering with friends.
I am 5’9 and 160 male and I was fitting right in with the guys.
now look at americans, breakfast at mcdonalds, lunch at some mexican taco place, dinner at subway, we never get off our cars and we hardly exercise…. how can we not be fatsos?


My Personal Opinion

First, I should say that the men there do drink too much…but what is too much exactly? What about the very low percentage of alcohol in their beer? Secondly, the women are not fat. I was there last year and if I had to make a call, I’d say people are people and they come in all shapes and sizes. Culturally (or perhaps I should say economically), Brazilians get more exercise in their day-to-day than Americans. Breakfast is all but nil, then you walk to school or to and from the bus-stop, walk to work from there, and as I’ve said before, Brazilians are social and therefore you will find them outside (often times doing activities) more so than Americans. Thirdly, there is also a difference between what is called gostosa (hot) and what is called fat (something I think the author of the article didn’t take into consideration). Brazilian men are into big thighs, big butts and some meat on the bones and there’s nothing wrong with that…(except the possibility that this standard was more than likely pushed upon the society by the media). As far as fast-food in Brazil, the big chains have been grabbing ahold of the Brazilian youth and they don’t seem to think twice about the utter crap they are putting into their bodies. McDonalds many times is seen as something elite because of the high prices of their toxic “food”….I suppose we should all be happy that the food-courts in Brazilian malls also cater to clients who want something resembling an actual meal. As far as juices go, I highly doubt Brazilians aren’t getting their fill as juices are readily available anytime, anywhere.