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How FIFA exploited the Brazilian beauty myth

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Last summer’s World Cup not only excluded Brazil’s poorest groups, it also left a damaging mark on the country’s women. Charlie Lindsey reports.

The traditional foreign perception of Brazil commonly associates the nation with samba, football and, above all, beautiful, sensual women. During Brazil’s world famous carnival, for example, one of the key attractions for tourists is watching scantily clad women dancing the exotic samba routine. It is hardly surprising, then, that the sponsors of the 2014 World Cup capitalised on the idealised myth of Brazilian beauty, using hyper-sexualised images to entice foreigners to the sunny shores of Ipanema and Copacabana beach.

Adidas T-shirt campaign for the 2014 World Cup

Adidas eventually halted the production of their World Cup line of T-shirts as a response to the Brazilian Tourist Body demanding them to do so. This was followed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff publicly stating that Brazil would combat campaigns appealing to “sex tourism.” However, the problem did not cease there. Coverage of the World Cup seemed to completely exclude women from the realm of football, unless they were being exported as visual commodities for the male gaze; video footage was largely focused on half-naked, slim, and mostly light-skinned women, further adding to the sexualised depiction of Latin American females.

This unrealistic presentation of Brazilian women was especially dangerous given that football broadcasting is an archetypal example of mass media, reaching more people than any other television spectacle. With FIFA estimating that viewing figures during the World Cup final ranged from 250 million who tuned in from the first to the last minute to 450 million who consumed ‘part of the game’, the power of football is unquestionable. Through their careless approach to gender representation, FIFA’s advertising agencies and television broadcasters succeeded in propagating the inaccurate ‘sexy’ stereotype that has plagued Brazil for years.

Article in the Daily Mail with the caption, ‘The Soul of Brazil’

It is a stereotype that has repercussions in Brazilian society, as today the country is the third largest consumer of cosmetics in the world (behind the US and Japan). What is even more shocking is that it is the third highest consumer per capita of plastic surgery, and in recent years has become a haven for ‘surgery tourism’. Undoubtedly, this obsession with physical perfection stems from deeper problems than the representation of women during the World Cup, as sexism and unattainable physical ideals have long been embedded in Brazilian culture, and in many other countries besides. Nonetheless, the inescapable sexualisation of women by worldwide corporations during this year’s World Cup encouraged viewers to buy into the mythologized notion of the sexy brasileira, perpetuating the issue and even globalising it. If the world has preconceived ideas about the way Brazilian women should look, what idealised expectations are they going to have for themselves?

If we bear in mind that the motivation behind the bidding for these mega events is the assumption that they will bring ‘progress’, organisations such as FIFA and Adidas have a responsibility not to diffuse cultural and gender stereotypes to the global masses. The manner in which Brazil’s women are reduced to objects by FIFA is remarkably ignorant, condescending and sexist, and is a marketing technique that has served to undermine the actual progress Brazil has made over the past few years.