When it comes to Brazilian fashion, the face one immediately associates with the industry is supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Tall, thin, and pale, Bundchen represents the “ideal” Brazilian model, a Eurocentric standard creating difficulties for those who don’t fit these stringent beauty standards to find work with fashion magazines or on the runway. While Brazil’s mainstream fashion industry shows no signs of becoming radically inclusive, one photographer is aiming to create an alternative vision for the field. Using the broad, often democratic scope of social media, Anna Mascarenhas is carving a fashion world that celebrates the uniqueness of Brazil’s most marginalized communities.
The 22-year-old explained that after she graduated from communications school, she longed to return to her passion for photography in order to emphasize the beauty of blackness in Brazil. She discovered Lara and Mara, two albino twins, while perusing Instagram. She then became intrigued with the backstory of the two sisters, deciding to document them through her lens.
“Their parents came from Guiné Bissau for opportunities when their mum was pregnant with the oldest one, Sheila. After a while, she had the twins, Lara and Mara. They are albino, and in the beginning the dad thought she cheated on him, so he left. Eventually, they split and she raised the girls by herself,” Macarenhas told Dazed. “The mum works as a hairdresser in the centre of São Paulo, specialising in hairstyles for black hair. The older one, Sheila, is 14 years-old (also pictured below), she dreams about being a model, and so do her younger sisters. But the problem is that it seems they don’t belong in any category. Living in a favela in São Paulo, and having a single mom to pay for all the expenses, it’s almost impossible to consider this dream to be a success.”
Mascarenhas relished in the two twins getting to know them through the intimacy of a photography project. “The twins are very hyperactive, although sensible,” she noted. “All the three girls are amazing and loving. I wanted to show how they see each other as sisters, as black girls, as individuals. How they relate to what society expects from them, being marginalised by their class and colour. And, most important, how they relate to what they see in the mirror.”
A photo posted by anna m (@annapmm) on
The lack of the inclusion in Brazil was first openly contested in 2009. The São Paulo Fashion Week created quotas requiring at least ten percent of the models to be Afro-descendant or Indigenous. Prior to the decree, about three percent of women appearing on the catwalk were black women. In 2013, 40 black Brazilian models staged a topless protest in Rio de Janeiro concerning the low number of Afro-Brazilian models on the runway, despite the imposition of quotas four years earlier.
Mascarenhas spoke candidly about her country’s problematic fashion industry: “When I met the girls, it made me start wondering why it has to be so hard for them. Getting in the industry is hard for anyone, but why does it have to be even harder for them. Here in Brazil, we have a very multicultural population. But when we talk about publicity and fashion in general, we still have a large path to cross. Everything is still very white and skinny like we are committed to a square we can’t abandon. In São Paulo Fashion Week, for example, an agreement was signed in 2009 by the state public office to determine that 10 percent of models working in the event should be black or Native Indian. And last year NGO Educafro was reporting that this agreement was not being followed by the brands. Can you imagine the agencies choosing albino twins to sell jeans to middle-class mums? I don’t think so. That’s why I wanted to tell their story, I don’t think they would be able to reach their dream the regular way.”
The young photographer remains hopeful about the future of Brazilian fashion: “I think the fashion industry is trying to change but it’s moving really slowly compared to the rest of the world. New and alternative brands are more disruptive but we still have a lot to go on when it comes to inclusion. I can send you a copy of a regular fashion magazine so we can count how many black models appear in the ads compared to white models. It’s not cool at all, especially in a mainly black country like Brazil.”