Black hair in Brazil: A Revolution in the Making

by Marques of BlackWomenOfBrazil

Gone are days when kinky/curly hair was synonymous with mistreated and laborious hair. Nowadays in Brazil, kinky/curly hair is increasingly associated with self-assertion, self-esteem, behavior and femininity.

Mirella Santos

Globalization and democratization of the media has greatly increased the speed of information. This is not just a fad, but trends and intervals increasingly shorter. A black woman can explore all this democratization of fashion, mixing with curly hair with braids, weaves, straight and permanent afros.

Erica Barbosa

The dancing rhythm of the Disco Era was a turning point for the black woman, with her naturally curly hair, ethnic ornaments and bell-bottom pants. The lacquer was a product often used to maintain the volume. It originated from a change of behavior in a changing society.

The revival of culture and the appreciation of black people has come along with their aesthetic, and one of the most relevant in this respect is the hair. In the not too distant past, the kinky/curly tresses were seen as a fragile part of black men and women, so much so that the shaving of the hair during the era of slavery was common. For the slaves, however, this act was tantamount to mutilation, since the hair was a hallmark of their identity. And talking about kinky/curly hair is certainly going through the social, cultural and political aspect of the history of black people worldwide. It was with these references that the hairdresser Luciana Maia, author of Força negra - a luta pela autoestima de um povo (Black Power - The Struggle for the Self-Esteem of a People) held a showcase in Taboão da Serra, São Paulo, with the region's youth, and presented a retrospective of hairstyles permeated by the musical rhythms of each era. The idea of a hairdresser (this article features young people from Sierra Taboão) was to show that, regardless of prevailing fashion, kinky/curly hair can adapt to any style. Just use creativity and good taste! “It was like remembering the good times when we liked the “Bailes Black”(1). The ritual was never the same, we were in our style, we had our clothes and shoes, and the hairstyles represented everything that was hot,” says Luciana.

Hair stylist Luciana Maia, author of Força negra - a luta pela autoestima de um povo

In the era of the 70s that Luciana speaks, it is important to remember that black Brazilians were in a struggle for their very acceptance in a country that their African slave ancestors had built. The dominant ideology in Brazil was to strive to be white or as close to white as possible. African features (hair, dark skin, thick lips, etc) were not considered "acceptable" and if one could not "fix" these features, they should try to marry with a white or lighter-skinned partner so that their offspring were not also "cursed". In the second half of the 20th century, it was still common for black Brazilians to be told something to the affect of "we don't do THAT type of hair here" when going to salons in search of hair care. Because of the shame that accompanied having "that" type of hair, it was common for black men to shave their heads extremely close rather than facing certain discrimination because of having "cabelo ruim (bad hair)". Because of these dominant ideals in Brazil, the global visibility of black American entertainers was extremely important in the development of black pride in Brazil. 

When international black singers began to have success in Brazil, the "bailes black" began to spring up everywhere and there were several event organizers that helped to disseminate, besides the music, the aesthetics of black people. Everybody waited anxiously for the great dances of the event organizers known as Chic Show, held once a month with the presence of black Brazilian artists like Jorge Ben Jor, Sandra de Sá, Tim Maia, Djavan, Bebeto and Claudio Zolli, while the big screen played videoclips of international stars like the Jackson Five, Michael Jackson, Jimmy “Bo” Horne, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Johnny Rivers ...“I am very proud to tell my daughters that I was part of this story,” emphasizes the hairdresser (2).

Elinelma Rosa da Silva

Besides the style known in Brazil as “Black Power (afro)”, women wear different types of braids. The diversity allows black women to create classic hairstyles that can be used in any environment and occasion, showing elegance and creativity.

Cássia da Silva

The Black Power movement was a watershed moment in relation to the appreciation of black culture and, consequently, its fashion and aesthetics, which combined the concept of beauty to a political and social struggle. The dances served as meeting places, where the language and expressions, born in salons, began to gain ground in the consumer society. “Those were hard times, in spite of  blacks starting to show their identity, Brazilian society was not used to that kind of behavior. It was very common for police officers to ram their hands into our hair thinking they could find drugs,” recalls Durval. In this era, Brazilian elites were very concerned with the idea that black Brazilians would begin to adapt the posture, attitude and revolutionary spirit of their black American counterparts. Brazilian Soul singer Tony Tornado (who had visited the US in the 1960s and recorded music with a strong James Brown influence) remembers being at parties where the police would often interrupt the festivities because there were no white people present!

But over time, the "black power (afro)" hair style was becoming a trend and it began to be copied by the white population that searched the salons specializing in black hair in search of the afro permanente (3), all so that they could have curly or fluffy hair. “Today things are different, everything is very mixed, before it was only at the dances and black salons where we felt strengthened. The media did not show the great black icons, we had no references, and what brought us together and dictated our fashion were the parties.”

Kinky/Curly in every way!

With the appreciation of black beauty and its natural texture, kinky/curly tresses were taking the streets and today are displayed in everyday life in different ways by men and women, thanks to a series of products specially designed for this type of hair and even more adapted to the Brazilian population. It was not always so. “Before the 1970s, we had no option to treat our hair, unless straightening and in a extremely primitive way. We used products that had caustic soda as an ingredient and this caused burns. The professionals didn’t have too many techniques. I remember a friend made a pick out of a bicycle rim! I liked the idea so much that I decided to make one for myself, and this is how I entered the world of black power (afro),” says Durval, a hair stylist that has specialized in black hair for 30 years.

With the achievements of blacks in society, the aesthetic industry has evolved and there are now many options for black hair like creams to make the hair more manageable whether curly or straight. Now, the black woman especially has options! “A woman executive can safely wear an afro on a daily basis, adjusting the look with a plethora of available accessories, in addition to buns and various other styles that, besides letting her be stylish and trendy, shows a genuine attitude and self-appreciation”, says Luciana Maia.

Mara Campos

The Mohawk hairstyle was widely used in the ‘70s, representing a time of Rock n’ Roll rebellion combined with the Samba. Thus was born the mixture of the Samba-Rock. The style has become fashionable again.

"Today it’s common for my clients to come to the salon to recover their natural locks. Many are opting for extensions in an attempt to rehabilitate their hair and stop straightening."

Victoria Regina

The accessories were the big thing of the hippie era. The lack of commitment to society ran contrary to the personalized hairstyles. Long hair, usually parted in the middle, were often used for generating peace and love, and adorned with banners and hangers, whose symbols of flowers and butterflies represented respect for nature.

“The use of chemicals is just one of the options, not a necessity as it was thought of in the past. With a lot of research, I developed a line of products in accordance with the needs of kinky/curly hair.”

Fabio Santos, Cauan Almeida, Ismael nascimento, Marcos Leonardo and Ricardo Xeba

Hair, Roots and Culture

And it was in the early 90s that American products invaded the shelves of the Brazilian market, bringing the promise of perfect straightening. The demand for these products was huge. Until then, the afro permanente was the great outlet for many women who complained about the work needed to take care of kinky/curly hair. Many opted for miraculous formulas to 'work something out with their hair.' But even with imported products, hair loss and permanent damage to the scalp often happened because of the inadequacy of the products being used for the hair texture of black Brazilians. Even so, when one visits large Brazilians cities where there are large concentrations of African descendants, the number of ethnic salons sprouting up is impressive quite. Thus, whether you happen to be in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo or Brasília, it's nice to know that you can find places that know how to take care of "that" kind of hair. 

1. "Bailes Black" or Black Dances are parties or dances that cater to a specifically black Brazilian audience where black style, fashion and music are the dominant aesthetic.
2. For more on the importance of music and dance in the development of a black pride in Brazil, see this article on singer Negra Li
3. Somewhat reminiscent of the Jheri Curl hairstyle

Based on an article by Claudia Canto in Raça Brasil magazine

14 Weigh in!:
Anonymous said...

It's so funny seeing all these women that look like me with these Portugese names. And it's nice seeing brazilian women that aren't super light skinned with green eyes and long silky hair like you see everywhere in the media.

Unknown said...

Soo true, its just a foreign concept to me. Being of directly african heritage and living in London there is no such discrimination towards black people regarding their hair, not as much as there is in America and also Brazil. The words Kinky and Nappy, just never used. And I hope that in time the same can be said for both America and Brazil.

Anonymous said...

It's soooooo shameful how the US and certain other places make minorities with "so called bad hair" feel bad about their hair! #thatishhastostop

TTsGurlBB said...

Great post. Def lets us know that it is not just here in America where our natural hair is seen as something that needs to be tamed or straighted to be acceptable. Gradually, things are changing for the better. Keep it up natural warriors. :)

marianela said...

These are some the most beautiful styles I have ever seen! It is so ironic that hair symbolizes so much in a person's view of themselves. I am reminded of the cult mentality and how the first things they strip you of is your hair and your clothes. It was used in the past and in some organizations today in order to easily produce obedient followers. I am thankful that the curly hair revolution finally caught on because one of the most important things that a human needs in order to live a healthy productive and happy life is self-confidence and awareness. I come from a long line of Dominican/Puertorican women that long have denied their natural beauty. Me and the majority of my cousins have gone natural which has rubbed off on my elders and has caught on like wild fire. I am currently helping my mom in her natural journey. For Dominicans especially and the Caribbean in general it has been projected in the media that having Afro-hair was a source of shame but I am thankful to my Lord that, finally things are changing and although Afro-Caribbean women still have a long way to go with self-esteem and acceptance, this is a first step in the right direction :) Happy Curly Days Girls!

Jenna said...

Glad to see many brazilian women wearing afro

Anonymous said...

No matter how you wear your hair this movement is not about "hating" but is about "loving" and respecting how anyone wants to wear their hair.

If we can just see that wearing "natural hair" is an option which should be afforded to all without reprisal that is the point. Once we stop thinking that "natural" is a rebellion I think we will make it home.

Thanks CN for this article and for sharing these stories on your site.

Anonymous said...

@Anonyous 9:32am...way more women in Brazil look like you than are white. It has the largest black population outside of Africa. 60% of Brazilians identify as black (as of the most recent census) and many more are "black" by American standards (they have more categories that match your skin color as opposed to your ancestry).

So they could say the same thing about seeing you looking like the with an English name. And black people from the French speaking world could also say the same thing. Your name has little to do with your race.

The Brazilian modeling industry only promotes white women (and they are white, children and grandchildren of recent German and Italian immigrants who do NOT marry the locals), so you, like a lot of white people assume that they are the norm when in fact your face and skin is what is most common in Brazil.

Annie L. said...

@Leah Omonya

That's interesting because my experiences in London have been different. While no one has ever said hateful things (no one in any country has) I'm always surprised at how many Black women and men give my loose natural hair surprised looks or nervous 'that's so...interesting' comments. Also, I've only seen few non-mixed naturals or those without braid extensions on the streets, but that's just been my experience, the same in France as well. I find the U.S., especially my hometowns of NY and SF incredibly natural-friendly.

Anonymous said...

They are so beautiful. We should never be ashamed of our hair. It's just a ploy for ignorant people to make us feel inferior. Well guess what? It's not working! This is a worldwide movement. Get used to it! We are beautiful!

Abby said...

Wow. Beautiful hair! I admit I was skeptical about there being proud naturals is Brazil but once again you proved me wrong Nikki! Love it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping it Global, Nikki. It's important to acknowledge all aspects of the African Diaspora. The U.S. is merely a part of it.

Anonymous said...

One of most beautiful afros I have ever seen.

Nicol C.

watkinsabob said...


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