Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Soccer Tournament as Beauty Pageant: Eugenic Logics in Brazilian Women's Futebol Feminino

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

The Soccer Tournament as Beauty Pageant: Eugenic Logics in Brazilian Women's Futebol Feminino

Article excerpt

Two photographs of the Brazilian women's national soccer team, taken sixteen years apart, reveal an important shift infutebol feminino } The first photo, taken in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia, marks the debut appearance of women's soccer at the Olympics. In this image, six players stand in the back row, while in the front row, five players kneel on one knee in a pose common to men's soccer team photos. All but two players have dark, short, almost shaved, tightly curled hair. Nine of these eleven players would be identified as "Afro-Brazilian" by Brazilian census measures. Two players are smiling. The second photograph shows the 2012 Brazilian team at the London Olympics. Six players stand in the back, and five stand in front of them, slightly bent at the waist, with their hands on their knees in a more conventionally feminine pose. In contrast to the first image, almost all the players (except two) have straightened hair and lighter skin. Very few appear Afro-Brazilian. Some are wearing makeup, and three, maybe four, are smiling.

The differences between these two pictures suggest that a regime of gender-conformist beautification has changed Brazilian women's soccer. By 2012 it has affected how not only how soccer players look and pose, but even the racial composition of the national team. Specifically, this regime of aestheticizing soccer has meant not only its feminization but also its whitening. Juxtaposing the two photos raises troubling questions about the racial underpinnings of beauty standards in this commercial sport, and these questions form the crux of this article. The cases I discuss below contribute to transnational feminist conversations about bodies and racialization by flagging the pervasive and supranational nature of Eurocentric beauty norms in a Global South context. Brazilian soccer is frequently held up to exemplify how the country celebrates racial mixing and blended identities; yet, my analysis demonstrates how whiteness shapes dominant standards of beauty in Brazilian women's soccer. Furthermore, sports arenas are presumed to be spaces where gender nonconformity is possible and practiced by women players, even if it is not always celebrated. I show how the pressure to conform to white heterosexy norms even determines career options for some soccer players.

My focus here is on a private regional tournament referred to as the Paulistana, which was intended to cultivate women's soccer in the country. This tournament has a specific place in the history of Brazilian women's soccer. Shortly after the 1996 picture was taken, the seleçao feminino (national women's team) returned home to a country astonished by their Olympic success. The team, which had little financial support, had placed fourth. Even though Brazil was the first Latin American nation to have futebol feminino (women's soccer), few Brazilians could imagine "women" and "soccer" in the same sentence. The team's achievement awoke Brazilians to the potential of women's soccer. Hoping to capitalize on the team's success as well as new forms of television broadcasting, entrepreneurs invested in a women's soccer tournament, which they called the Paulistana, and staged it twice in Sāo Paulo.

The first Paulistana took place in 1997, one year after the Olympic games. This hastily organized tournament was followed by a sequel in 2001 that executed a distinct plan to increase the popularity of women's soccer-by sexualizing it. In what the managers of the Federaçâo Paulistana de Futebol (Football Federation of Sāo Paulo, or FPF) referred to as the "solution" to women's soccer (Arruda 2001), selectors prioritized players' beauty over athletic ability (Matos 2001). In the sections below, I probe and dissect the logics that informed this tournament, and specifically what beauty meant in this context. The role of soccer in the development of Brazilian national identity through the twentieth century makes it an especially apposite site to understand the historical tensions in national identity formation; thus, I begin with a short sketch of historical context, focusing on the formation of the Brazilian nation and the place of soccer- particularly women's soccer-in it. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.