Class Notes April 12th

In class on Thursday, April 12th, Jack presented to the class his research on Brazilian prisons. He explained how citizens residing in favella’s are unfairly targeted and imprisoned for minor crimes, overcrowding the Brazilian prision system. It reflected the current issue of Lula’s imprisonment and how he’s being kept away from such conditions, and provided an introductions into the day’s major discussions about race in Brazil.

Nasua introduced her book Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil by Alexander Edmonds. She covered how Edmonds’ research focuses specifically on how beauty functions as its own factor in society, leaving widespread impacts on how Brazilian women identify themselves. There was an ideal body type, one that had black and white features, though predominantly European in the face. One’s body going through plastic surgery (plástica) was a form of therapy, as some surgeons such as Ivo Pitanguy describe. However, Nasua pointed out the dangerous implications of these practices, including how they directly contradict they ideal of a “racial democracy”. There is an idea that only portions of black bodies are truly acceptable, and for darker skinned women to be more socially accepted as “beautiful”, they must alleviate their “errors” of looking poor, and instead using surgery. This is crucial in understanding Brazilian society and the delusion of assuming that all races are equal when they are clearly divided.

Jackson was able to dive deeper into Brazilian perceptions on race in his presentation of Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America by Edward Telles. The book was more of a scientific report, explain how Brazilian’s identified themselves racially and how others perceived them. It included a history of how race has changed over time, altering how Brazilians have identified their race.  Though the book had some discrepancies, such as a small sample size, it still provides a personal look into the world of racial identify.

All these topics tie into the major theme of the reading; how has beauty standards and the growth of plástica emerged as a source of identification for Brazilians? Alexander Edmonds returns in today’s coverage of Brazilian bodies in this article ‘The Poor Have The Right to Be Beautiful’: Cosmetic Surgery in Neoliberal Brazil.  He explains how plastic surgery has been reinterpreted as a therapeutic practice and serves as a way to “normalize” citizens, especially the poor. Because of the free healthcare that allows anyone to get plastic surgery, it’s prominence has grown dramatically. It’s established a mindset of bodies serving as a representation of one’s entire identity, and can be seen as a way to alleviate citizens from poverty. This has serious historical implications for how Brazilians identify who they are, how people can use science to change their identities, and how Brazilians have begun to categorize themselves beyond race and class, and into bodies.


Some key terms to remember from this seminar are:

  • Favella: Low income slums surrounding major Brazilian cities
  • Mestiçagem: Mixing and variety of races in Brazil
  •  Ethically Ambiguous: Being able to pass as different races, which can be both a hindrance and an advantage.
  • Plástica: Slang for plastic surgery, reflects how common it is in Brazilian society. Widely used term.


To learn more about these topics, feel free to explore the following sources

  • Machado-Borges, Thaïs, Stockholms universitet, Latinamerika-institutet, Humanistiska fakulteten, and Institutionen för spanska, portugisiska och latinamerikastudier. 2009. Producing beauty in brazil: Vanity, visibility and social inequality. Vibrant Virtual Brazilian Anthropology 6 (1): 208.
  • Finger, C. 2003. Brazilian beauty – brazil’s cosmetic surgery industry is thriving, but why is beauty so important? Lancet 362 (9395): 1560-.
  • “Impact: Promises to Reform Brazil’s Overcrowded Prisons” Human Rights Watch, December, 22, 2015.

Questions to Consider:

  • How might the easy access of DNA testing alter Brazilian identity?
  • How might the desire of plastic surgery alter if it became an entirely privatized industry, leaving some with no access to it at all?
  • What role to prisons play in maintaining Brazilian class structure?