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The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

November 14, 2013 14 Comments

Time goes by, but Brazil is still seen as a sexual Disneyland where violence is second only to soccer as a national sport. Here is a little overview of the long road that led to country’s present image overseas:

travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil


It all began in the 40s…

If asked to name one famous Brazilian, the average foreigner will quite probably remember the exotic Portuguese-born Carmen Miranda and her exuberant edible headdresses. So, Brazilian girls must be fun, out of control and slightly crazy. A little bit like Lucille Ball – if she ever showed her belly button.

travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

Carmen Miranda in “That Night in Rio” (1941). Photo from Wikipedia

The other strong reference in the forties is the 1944 Disney production “The Three Caballeros”, an animated musical that introduced character José (or Zé) Carioca, a cigar-smoking parrot. This typical Rio malandro is a bohemian type, always dapper in a white suit and straw hat, playing samba and courting some pretty girl.
travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

In the 50s and 60s…

Pan Am, once the world’s biggest airlines, till its collapse, in 1991, deserves its own chapter for its slightly risqué posters.
travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil
travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

In the 70s…

The Brazilian government is partially responsible for the sexy image that stuck to the global  imaginary. For a long time, Embratur, the official tourism promoter, distributed posters and leaflets that placed the feminine beauty as a centerpiece of the country’s attractions. In later years, the agency repositioned its publicity to focus rather in the country’s natural landscapes and cultural diversity. The country’s strategy to promote tourism (or lack of) was further discussed in another post, Paradise still unexplored

These Embratur ads from the late 70s and 80s were collected by Kelly Akemi Kajihara as part of her graduation project at Universidade de São Paulo. Her study on the construction of the image of Brazil abroad got awards and praises for its quality.


travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil


In the 80s…

“Blame it on Rio”, 1984 film with Michael Caine and Demi Moore. A middle-aged tourist becomes intimate with the teenager daughter of his best friend and blames the unbridled sexuality of the locals for his misconduct. Yeah, good try. They circulate in a version of Ipanema beach where the topless girls play with their little monkeys.


travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

In the 90s…

This selection of postcards depicting the best landscapes of Rio and Fortaleza used to be more common a couple of decades ago, but they still can be found in some tourism spots.

travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

In the OOs…

There is an obvious switch of focus. Our unbridled tropical sensuality loses some of its appeal and violence gets the front stage.

In “Blame it on Lisa”, The Simpson’s episode aired in March, 2002, the yellow cartoon family travels to Rio in search of an orphan that Lisa was sponsoring. The episode was not particularly popular in the country: it showed tons of violence (Homer is kidnapped and has to pay a ransom) and an oversexualized TV show for kids (inspired by the infamous Xou da Xuxa – mentioned in a previous post about The 10 ugliest album covers from Brazil). Then President Fernando Henrique Cardoso complained it “brought a distorted vision of Brazilian reality”.
travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil
travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil

travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil


In another episode, aired 5 years later, the Simpsons showed, once again, all their love: “This is the most disgusting place we’ve ever seen…”



Finally, in the 10s, things must be changing, right?

Not yet, really. Check this racy 2009 ad for a small Italian fashion label, Relish, that caused an uproar in Rio for depicting local policemen submitting foreign tourists to an intimate inspection.

travel history  The land of easy girls: how the world sees Brazil


And let’s end this ranting with the closing scenes of the 2012 London Olympic Games, that depicted a White British cop harassing a Black Brazilian street sweeper, who appeases the policeman with his charm and dancing skills.


I want to hear your opinion about all this. Does this discussion matter at all? Do you think it reduces the country’s appeal to tourists or investors?



Full version of “Olhar Estrangeiro” (Foreign Eye), 2006 documentary by Lucia Murat includes interviews in English with foreign directors, writers and stars who were involved in some key films about the country and helped to perpetrate this vision (among them, “Blame it on Rio”, mentioned earlier). Listen to the perspective of Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Zalman King, Jon Voight, Philippe de Broca, Robert Ellis Miller, among others.


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  • wandile says:

    The conservative nature of our communities and society in most instances do leave a lot of issues unchecked indirectly when our cultural heritage becomes commercialized through money making schemes that looks down on them.

  • Jean says:

    What are we talking about here? Whether Brazil promotes sex through its marketing? Yes, of course it does. There is nothing new about that. Logically people would have the impression that the society is very focused on sex.

  • A very interesting post as always And very interesting how outsiders (and tourism bodies) push Rio to be what they want it to be and what sells. I also thought it interesting to see all the topless women on Copacabana beach. Wherever did they get that idea from?? It looks so completely phony and anyone seeing this in real life would be truly shocked. The only topless people in Rio are (or at least used to be) the trans gender people on the beach opposite the Copacabana palace showing off their new silicone boobs.

  • Izabela says:

    OMG! Really… people have no idea what is Brasil. I have seen more drugs and slut girls here in LA for the last 2 years (where I have been studing English) than my all life in Brasil. The fact that we used to wear super small bikinis doesn’t not mean we are slut or naked. In fact, we are not allow to do topless on the beach, except the ones which is by law accept.

    • Jean says:

      Nonsense. Typical inferiority type retort Izabela. Why so defensive? Why do you attack girls from LA? This article is about how the world perceives Brazil, not how people in LA perceive Brazil.

      • Caio says:

        Well, in her defense if she was studying english, she most likely lived around Hollywood. Hollywood is shitty until you cross LaBrea. Homeless people everywere, kids smoking weed in front of the McDonalds.

  • marina says:

    Unfortunately its truth and some Brazilians living abroad and the ones receiving tourists over there does not help. Every stereotype there’s some truth in it and Brazilians are no exception. Slutty girls, nice girls, tradition, violence is everywhere not exclusively in Brazil. The problem is that the government and the media likes to tarnish the image of this country’e peoples by advertising such things. As a female living abroad I was treated like a slut by foreigners for being brazilian, thing that never happened in brazil. I don’t wear short clothes and I behave like a lady, but as soon as I say I am from brazil i can see the pervy smiles on the man’s face. It really upsets me.

  • bbr says:

    I agree with Marina. I behave like a lady, but many times have witnessed a clear change in behaviour (from foreign man) when I say I am Brazilian. On the other hand, there are many Brazilian “ladies” that behave really badly… In both cases I get quite annoyed. What it hurts is that there is a lot of truth in their perceptions and it is a shame because, even so, Brazil is much more than that.

  • Caio says:

    Brazil has a lot of beauty. The fact that we as americans think that every Brazilian woman is a whore is based on:
    - husbands who can’t please their Brazilian wives (love isnt everything)
    - tourists who go to Brazil to have sex with prostitutes and/or end up marrying one bringing her back to the US and she leaves his dumbass.
    - Many American women are closeted sluts(I’m just saying)
    - Carmen Miranda isnt even Brazilian. She is Portuguese! Nobody cares about Portugal. So she used the Brazilian card.

  • Thaddeus Blanchette says:

    Well, one thing’s for sure: this didn’t start in the 1940s. You can read Maria Graham’s diaries about life in Rio in 1822 and you’ll see gringos making the same comments about “slutty” Brazilian women back then.

    Freyre documents all sorts of shicked visitors in the 1800s whose minds were blown away by Brazilian’s “lack of shame” when it comes to proper clothing. There’s even a report by the Head Librarian of the Portuguese Royal Library from 1811 to the effect that carioca women are all sluts.

    This has been going on for some time now and Carmen Miranda only consolidated an alresdy long-established stereotype.

  • Sackerson says:

    I came across your blog while looking for good modern Brazilian acoustic guitar players, so there are other reasons to notice your country, apart from the many beautiful girls and what seems to be a vibrant economy.

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