Meet the women changing the face of Brazil — by aging naturally

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For generations of women in Brazil, aging has been out of the question.

In the plastic-surgery-obsessed country, many go under the knife as early as possible to nip, tuck and pull themselves back to youth. Brazil leads the world in procedures per capita, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Its beauty industry is one of the world’s largest.

But now, some women are defying expectations: They’re embracing their wrinkles and white locks on magazine covers, television and social media. These women are trying to change the face of Brazil by challenging long-accepted — and expected — standards for female beauty.

My white, curly hair has long kept me out of the norm in Brazil.

The stereotype of Brazilian women is inspired by a White, European ideal, even though more than 50 percent of people are Black and Brown like me. I was a teenager with curly hair when I learned that straight hair was beautiful. The standard was Gisele Bündchen.

I oppressed my hair, never letting it be as it was. I use these words — freedom and oppression — because when I freed my hair, I became who I truly was. Only when I was 30 did I learn to style my hair naturally.

Eventually, I accepted my curly hair, but my gray hair, which I’ve had since I was 28 or 29, I could not accept. There was no doubt in my mind, I had to dye it.

When I was 40, I lived in Paris as a correspondent for Vogue and Marie Claire, and saw that French women free their hair. Many of my friends let it go gray.

When I returned to Brazil, I decided to try. My white hair gave me unparalleled self-esteem high. White hair gave me a personality. And it coincided with me turning 40, a time of incredible transformation for me. I feel secure; I have experience under my belt.

I am a testament to how the Brazilian beauty industry has changed. I have lived it. From not having any products for curly-haired women when I was 19 to today, when we have products that are affordable and easily available for Black women and older women.

For me, using my natural hair in this political and social moment is really significant. It is racial pride. White hair, to me, is feminism; it’s anti-racism. This is a movement of resistance.

My hair is not white — it is a beautiful, shiny silver.

I started dyeing it in my 30s. My white strands always stood out against my natural jet-black hair, and I gave in to pressure from people around me who said it would age me.

One day between dyes, my daughter said to me, “I can’t believe you have this beautiful silver hair, and you dye it.” I told her I would never get used to letting my hair go fully white, because my whole life, my hair has been so dark.

And she said “Mom … your hair isn’t dark anymore. It’s changed.”

And that really hit me. I realized I had lost touch with who I really was. And so I thought, okay, I’ll try it.

It was a profound moment for me, and not a decision I made purely based on aesthetics. It was a marker of a transition, a new phase.

And it really started to resonate. People started stopping me in the street, asking me where I got my hair. Women began bringing my photos to salons and deciding to let their hair go white like mine.

Then, one day, my friend who has a modeling school said, “You should really invest in this — you could fill a professional niche.” So, after decades working in luxury sales, I began a new career as a mature model.

I hope a plurality of beauty standards will open up like a fan around us. Our diversity should be reflected in society, in fashion.

We have this fear around aging that we must get rid of. Is aging difficult? Yes, like all of life’s phases. But aging is easier than the alternative. If you fight against a natural process, it becomes much harder.

The industry is changing, but still, there are so many taboos for us to break. Men with white hair are considered charming, but women with white hair are lazy, dirty, unkempt. I’m here to tell everyone that none of that is true. And if you want to ride this silver wave with me, dive right in. It’s great.

Hair, for me, is an accessory. I’ve been a brunette and a blonde. I’ve had dreadlocks, short hair, pink hair and blue hair. Eight years ago, I was working on television and I said, “Man, I’d love to let my hair go gray.” And the director at the time said, “Absolutely not. You can have pink hair or any color you’d like but gray.”

Then came the pandemic, and I was alone with my 11-year-old. And I had to be especially careful because I have lupus, so my son and I were isolated. So among my priorities at the time, dyeing my hair and doing my nails were not on the menu.

I used to paint my hair every two weeks. But I stopped. Now, looking back on it, I say, “My God, I was brave.” It’s not like I was doing this alone in my house. I was on the television screen. But I behaved on television with respect toward the pandemic.

I was there, live, every week and I understood it was not time to be fully made up, looking very done up. I used my own clothes, wore a lot of sweatpants, sneakers and my graying hair up in a bun or ponytail.

I think my audience was in the same situation, so a large part of people were with me. One major beauty company offered me money to dye my hair live on Instagram. I refused.

Two months later, another major beauty brand offered me a deal, but this time to represent their special shampoo for white hair. Now I represent some of the world’s largest cosmetics brands with my gray hair.

For me, it was always very natural to age as I am. I was very beautiful, and at 83, I consider myself acceptable. I come from a family of strong, active women. We have never wanted to be objects, but people. So I accept what I have.

I am not a woman object. I hate the idea of being sexy at all cost. Throughout my 3½ marriages, I have always continued being myself and never accepted anything else. I am a feminist without fury. I take care of my body, my mind and my health. But I have never chased youth.

The Brazilian woman takes care of herself. She is brushed, perfumed, made up, and I admire that. But the problem is this attempt to be young forever.

I’ve survived anorexia, cancer and deep depression. And I’m not going to risk putting toxins in me to get to a certain look. Health is fundamental. My identity is fundamental. All my friends look alike; they have all had work done. You have to look like yourself. That was never my style.

I think that fashion is, first and foremost, a reflection of people’s behavior. I’ve lived through many eras and I’ve seen many changes. Brazilian culture still treats women as objects. Social media has reinforced this. People go to the doctor, plastify themselves and ask to look like an Instagram filter.

But things are changing. Young Brazilian women are a bit different. I see them taking care of themselves, their hair and their style. They are much more empowered. The men should be worried. They are not keeping up.

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About this story

Design and development by Hailey Haymond. Editing by Matthew Brown, Reem Akkad, Chloe Coleman and Joseph Moore. Copy editing by Vanessa Larson.


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