As the second season of Beyond Beauty airs today, the tattoo artist and activist shares with us her personal visual diary of her time in São Paulo, and muses on the many preconceptions she had before going to Brazil, and the observations she made while...
Grace Neutral is the purple-eyed, forked-tongue, elfin beauty who captured our hearts when she journeyed to South Korea in search of alternative ideals of beauty. In her next adventure, the tattoo artist and activist has traveled to São Paulo to meet the young girls challenging societal norms when it comes to body image and beauty standards in Brazil. Here, she shares with us her personal visual diary and muses on the many preconceptions she had before going to Brazil, and the observations she made while there.
Did you have many preconceptions about Brazilian women prior to visiting Brazil?
I didn't really have any idea about what to expect. When I thought about Brazil, I thought about Carnival and the beach and with that, I imagined there to be loads of people with amazing beach bodies walking around half-naked in the Brazilian sun!
What were were hoping to find there?
I was hoping to find the real underground beauty scene in Brazil, I wanted to meet the people who defy the mainstream and bring originality into their daily lives.
What observations about female identity did you make while there?
I realized pretty quickly that being a woman in Brazil is really fucking hard, especially if you don't fit into the 'female ideal.' The more women I met, the more I realized that it's not just hard to be a female in Brazil, but if you're a woman of color, society's structure becomes even more hard to overcome.
A lot of the girls you meet talk about the pressure of European standards and labels. Is this something you can relate to?
I'm a white English girl, but I don't necessarily fit into any mainstream European standard of beauty because of things I have done to my body — however I have no idea what it's like to have society put pressure on me because of the color of my skin, so I can't start to imagine what these girls feel or go through trying to discover their true identity.
Most of them have been ostracized for being different by their country, and yet worshipped worldwide online. What do you think this says about alternative beauty?
This makes me think about two things. One: it shows that the mainstream isn't the most desirable 'look' and that being yourself and staying true to yourself is so beautiful in all its many forms. It also makes me think that we still need to come a long way with communicating with each other. I have no doubt in my mind that lots of people in Brazil love the 'alternative look,' but the pressure of beauty coming from mainstream media and society means we might not speak about it so openly just in case we get ridiculed or are made to feel like we don't fit in because we like something outside of the norm. As we all know, the internet is a great place for people to speak openly about their opinions and not feel as exposed or judged as they would in reality.
Women are going to extreme lengths to attain the perfect physique, like getting boob jobs or butt lifts. Why is it we chastise them for doing this — call them vain — but then celebrate women who go down alternate routes like getting piercings or forking their tongues?
We should never chastise anyone for any decision they have made about their body. That's not what it's about — it's about looking at the pressure the mainstream puts on young people to look a certain way. It's about understanding whether you're truly doing something for yourself or the pressure of others — that could be anyone, friends, your partner, the media.
What are the various ways that women are fighting for female expression?
There are so many ways. Some women are rebelling against the 'fem,' so they're shaving their heads and adopting a more androgynous look. Young black women are empowering themselves by letting the natural hair grow big and beautiful in rebellion against the mainstream European ideal that's pushed on them.
Text Tish Weinstock