My Brazil

Brazil has come to be known for producing its fair share of beautiful women. One of its most lucrative exports is supermodels. Many of these models—Alessandra Ambrosio, Lais Ribeiro, Adriana Lima, Ana Beatriz Barros, Isabela Fontana, Izabel Goulart, among others—are international stars working for fashion houses in New York, Paris, and Milan. Billboards and ads with icon Gisele Bündchen line the streets in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

With such a deep lineage one wonders about the pressure this places on Brazil’s young women to live up to these beauty standards. On a recent trip to Brazil, I had the opportunity to photograph some young women from São Paulo. It came about quite organically as these girls were trying to capture beauty portraits of each other using iPhones. A bit disappointed at the results, they gave up in frustration. I offered to take some photos if they took turns being assistants. Quite excited, they all agreed and we set off to explore the area for locations and light.

Although they were all new to modeling they did have a well-developed idea of what they wanted to look like. Toned legs, well-sculpted abs, flowing hair. Who doesn’t want to look good in a bathing suit? But even with that focus they still, for the most part, felt the photos didn’t reflect how they wanted to see themselves. Asked if she felt pressure to maintain a certain body type, one of the younger models, Elena Agazzi, said "Beauty stereotypes are present around the world, and Brazil is no exception. We go to the beach a lot, so wanting to be comfortable in bikinis is important. So yes, we are under some pressure, but not from other girls—more from ourselves and even from boys.” Her sister, Gabriela, had a different take. "It depends on your circle of friends. But there are many body types that are beautiful, and there are lots of different preferences. Thus, there will always be someone that can find the real beauty inside you.”

Comfortable in her own skin, Gabriela has a thoughtful approach to being youthful and getting older. "Time passes… Aging is natural and extremely beautiful.” Although she personally is averse to cosmetic surgery, Brazil remains second in the world in cosmetic procedures.

Brazil's pioneer of plastic surgery, Ivo Pitanguy, began his career in the early 1960s when a circus tent caught fire and he performed cosmetic procedures on many of the burn victims. In 1963, the doctor opened a plastic surgery clinic that became the Pitanguy Institute. It would go on to train plastic surgeons from all over the world. This history is well rooted in Brazilian culture and, given fewer regulations and lower costs, many have chosen to endure procedures to enhance or correct features here.

While maintaining their shape was important to all the girls, the core reason came from a place of health and wellness. Carolina Ferraz explained, “[From] my point of view, maintaining a shapely body is important because of health. I can’t imagine [what] it would be [like] living in a situation [in which] your own body is an obstacle.” Gabriella feels disappointed that beauty plays a part in one’s ability to be successful. While this may still be a reality in 2018 Elena takes a proactive approach. “I think my personality is much more important for me to be successful in life."

With that said, Elena is on the right track. All of these women’s personalities were infectious and endearing. These are smart and inventive young women who will be our future leaders. Their beauty comes from a place of being true to who they are.

Photos by Robert DiVito

Modeled by Laura Negrão Armaganijan and Anna Luisa Agazzi

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