About a month ago I was reading an online interview in which the British TV presenter, Daisy Donovan, reflected on her time in Brazil . She was over here for a documentary series to investigate the weird and wonderful world of the country’s extreme TV shows, and not too far into this interview it became clear that she wasn’t shying away from controversy. When discussing one of the more unique TV shows the country has to offer, Miss Bum Bum (a nationwide search to find the best backside in the country…yes, you read that correctly!) she warned that ‘Brazilian TV’s obsession with female flesh verges on the sinister’.Why don’t you get yourself off that fence Daisy!
Although this generalised statement was clearly being used to drum up interest for potential viewers and not really a reflection on what TV is like here, I could kind of see where she was coming from….kind of. Let me give you just one example of something that happened on one show I saw that left me stunned when I saw it about a year ago. One Sunday afternoon I was over at my friends house watching TV. Out of nowhere my favourite Brazilian celebrity, Watermelon Woman, was brought out on stage in her bikini (which was tiny, obviously!) where she talked to the presenters for a few minutes, and was then asked to pick a piece of paper up from the floor. She was wearing stiletto heels and instead of the crowd responding with gasps as turned her back to them, locked her knees and then bent down to pick this paper up (her ass was within touching distance of the camera, giving the viewer an extreme close up of her ….erm, watermelon), the audience actually sat there and applauded. That’s right, this mostly female audience actually sat there and clapped at her arse!
Can you even begin to imagine having your arse clapped? I had never seen people applaud a backside before, and I definitely hadn’t expected to see it for the first time during a Sunday afternoon talk show.I pointed at the screen in the hope that someone would give me confirmation that they too could see what I was seeing, and that’s when my friends began mocking my reaction. “But this is Brazil, this is not strange for us! Don’t you have shows like this too?”
“Well…no! Don’t women mind being degraded like this?” I asked sounding like an old lady. My friend received my question with a pretty deadpan expression on his face. “What are you talking about, this is not degrading. Watermelon Woman has a very big bum, and many people want to see it. And she makes money from going on the show, so it’s really not that bad!”
I looked at my friend in confusion. He looked at me like a prude. We held this look for a few seconds before he broke off the stare to look at our other friend. “Foreigners!” he simply said whilst rolling his eyes.
So that was one example of a show I found to be, well….a little too much for me to get my British head around at first. However instead of being as judgmental as Daisy and deeming this as ‘sinister’, I’ve often wondered if my surprised reaction says more about me as a Brit than it does about our Brazilian counterparts…are Brits not just a whole lot more prudish than we care to admit?
Well I was intrigued to see if this sort of thing would feature heavily in this documentary.
Not too long into the show Daisy found herself sat in a popular bar area of Sao Paulo, Vila Madalena, where she asked the waiter for a beer. As he went off to get this for her, quite by chance I’m sure, Daisy immediately found herself watching Miss Bum Bum. I’d not actually heard anything about this show until recently, but Daisy’s documentary seemed to insinuate that shows like this were on every day after work over here.
“Before I even get my drink, I’m exposed to a spectacular feast of the flesh” she stated as the camera then focused on the show playing out across the bar.
Daisy instantly took issue with the show…and who can blame her. She’d gone in to the bar for a beer and found herself watching a program about arses, at a time of the evening back home she’d have probably been watching Emmerdale.
To make matters worse, nobody else in this bar seemed to care that this show was on. Although to be fair, they seemed much more interested in the conversations they were having with their friends than what was being screened in the corner of the bar. Daisy looked like she was the only one in there who’d gone out for a beer to sit and watch TV.Of course, she felt obliged to share her surprised reaction with the guy on the next table. “Would you watch this type of show with your wife?” she asked whilst gesturing over to the TV screen. From the disgusted look on her face, you’d have thought that it was pornography she was asking him about.
“Yes. No problem” replied this middle aged business man instinctively.
Daisy sighed and then reverted her gaze back over to the screen. “Well, it just wouldn’t be like that in England” she said quite loudly, clearly not to elicit a response from the guy but for the benefit of the camera.
The guy on the next table then felt the need to defend his viewing habits. “I imagine it wouldn’t happen in the UK” he argued, seemingly unable to understand what Daisy was getting at, “because women there don’t have bums like this, do they?”
“Erm….” responded Daisy, who’d been caught off guard by his comment. It obviously hadn’t registered with this guy that he should have been embarrassed or uncomfortable with what he was watching.“100% not, no” she conceded.
And right there was an interesting clash of British and Brazilian culture that really struck a chord with me. Like Daisy, as a foreigner over here who has had my own views and beliefs challenged by my surroundings in a way that I hadn’t expected, I could relate to what she’d just seen. Having what you’ve always considered normal suddenly becoming weird to the people around you can feel quite unnerving.
Actually I remember once trying to explain to a student in Japan that British people love nothing more on November 5th than building a fire, standing around it with their children and then cheering as an effigy goes up in flames; all against the backdrop of fireworks. “Do children really watch the body burn?” my Japanese high school student asked with concern. “Well yes” I responded, before considering for the first time in my life just how SAVAGE Bonfire Night must sound to someone who isn’t accustomed to it. “But its tradition” I interjected, as if this went some way to justify us still celebrating it this side of the 21st century.
So it wasn’t long before Daisy was given the opportunity to talk to a journalist at the Bum Bum show and challenge him on his views on decency. “Do you feel like this show is objectifying women in some way?”
‘Brazilian woman like to be, not exactly objectified” he began, “but they like to be admired. Brazilian women have the highest self esteem in the world. If you ask any Brazilian woman, especially in the lower classes you will find that this is true…”
However just as the show looked set to explore this issue in more depth, it changed its focus from backsides to live crime shows, leaving me with a few questions of my own to ask my Brazilian friends.
As it turns out, the more Brazilians I’ve asked about women being ‘degraded’ the more I’ve noticed that this issue elicits differing responses. On the one hand people appreciate that showing scantily clad women in their bikinis feels slightly outdated, yet on the other many are indifferent to seeing women like this. Which begs the question, why do some feel like this?
Although the women in bikinis on TV shows might, to the unaccustomed eye, look like they’re appealing exclusively to a male audience, over here if you go down to any given beach you’re likely to find the women wearing exactly the same thing. Women here don’t wear bikini’s that modestly hide flesh, they favour tiny bikinis that many back home would never dream of wearing. Seeing women dressed in so little on your first trip to the beach might be a real eye opener at first, but summer months here are HOT and people enjoy spending time at the beach wearing as little as possible. It’s a cultural thing.
So really what the women wear on the Miss Bum Bum show is arguably just an extension of what you’re likely to find on any given Brazilian beach, something Brazilian women wouldn’t find all that ‘sinister’ when watching on TV.
Reading between the lines I guess what Daisy had a problem with not that the scantily clad women were being admired for their beauty, but that perhaps because in the UK at least, shows like this are arguably made to suit more of a masochistic agenda.
So is Brazilian TV showcasing beautiful women to be admired, or does it represent objectification that should be frowned upon? Or both?The answer to that is one I’m still fairly unsure about, but even considering this ultimately invites comparisons with how the British media portrays its own women.
Isn’t Our Own Media Equally As Obsessed With Female Flesh Too?
And interestingly one aspect of our media that Brazilians find low class is the way it is so comfortable with showing naked breasts.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with our Page 3 girl tradition, this is where on the third page of one of the most famous tabloids in the country, The Sun, an attractive woman poses topless for the reader to…erm, admire. And the tradition of having topless women do this isn’t exclusive to this tabloid newspaper either. The advice from our own prime minister is that if you find this degrading, you should simply ’just turn the page’.
As a nation the relaxed attitude our media has towards breasts is arguably then extended to how women behave when at the beach, as many women think nothing of sunbathing topless when abroad; and even Royalty got in on the act last year.“I can’t believe Kate Middleton relaxed outside her hotel room without a bikini on when someone took her picture” said one of my students. “She is a Princess; she shouldn’t be walking round showing her naked breasts. I understand that doing that on the beach is European culture, but to me, it seems so…trashy”.
So this is one form of ‘female flesh’ you’re unlikely to see on TV over here. Yes, you might have seen women showing their breasts in pictures during carnival here, but actually you’re only likely to see these during the five day carnival event. Even then it’s often dismissed as a ‘carnival thing’. Outside of this celebration topless women don’t really play any part in the Brazilian media, and certainly don’t feature on any of the beaches here (except of course the nudist ones).
So whilst Daisy might have rolled her eyes at what she was seeing on Miss Bum Bum, equally Brazilian’s could argue that the UK’s ‘obsession’ with the ‘female flesh’ verges on being uncomfortable for them too.
But does this obsession with female flesh verge on the sinister? Well let me clarify one thing, shows containing a ridiculous amount of female flesh aren’t nearly all that common here. In fact, they represent a very small percentage of a TV channels output. So I think labeling the showing of female flesh as an ‘obsession’ is definitely a step too far. What constitutes as ‘sinful’ is also pretty subjective too, dependent not only on your cultural understanding of what ‘female flesh’ represents, but also on your personal perspective.And from what I’ve noticed over here, attitudes to sexuality and female flesh in general aren’t nearly as ‘sinful’ as they are back home. Perhaps then what Daisy should have said is that ‘when projecting British values onto Brazilian culture, at a push, the way female flesh is shown on TV will verge on the uncomfortable for some viewers’.
What do you think? Is there such thing as a ‘sinful’ amount of skin on Brazilian TV? Are Brits not just a whole lot more prudish than they care to admit? Isn’t there an ‘obsession’ with female flesh in the majority of media channels around the world, not just Brazil’s?