fierce

Vogue Brazil Style Director Resigns After Hosting A “Slavery” Party

Earlier this year, Donata Meirelles, the long-time style director of Vogue Brazil, resigned from her top spot after images floated around the Internet of her opulent, and very racist, 50th birthday bash.

The photos showed Meirelles, who served in the position for 7 years, seated on an extravagant chair while donning an elaborate pink dress and gold jewelry. Beside her were two Black women dressed in all white.

If you’re familiar with Brazil’s colonial history, the images will evoke master-slave portraits. In these photos, white Brazilian slave-owners sat on a cadeira da sinhá, an ornate chair similar to the one Meirelles was seated on, as enslaved Africans stood alongside them.

The February 8 birthday celebration, which has since been called a slavery-themed party, received a lot of backlash online.

Instagram user Roberto Sakiyama said, “The photo clearly and unfortunately refers to a Brazil of autocracy and slavery, where Black people were serving and white people tended to.” Another user named Rita Batista highlighted the undeniable resemblance between Meirelles’s photo and a portrait of a Sinhá, a female slave-owner, with two house slaves.

@ritabatista / Instagram

Meirelles responded to the reprisal the next day. According to her, the party was not themed. Rather, the celebration took place in the state of Bahia, where Afro-Brazilian culture thrives and it is common to see women there wearing traditional white garbs on Fridays, the same day of the party. She also said she was sitting on an Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé, not a master’s chair.

Still, Meirelles, who ultimately resigned, said in a post in Portuguese, “if we caused different impressions than these, I am sorry.”

Regardless if Meirelles intended to or not, some Black feminist advocates in Brazil believe her photos glamourize white supremacy and racial inequality in the South American country.

“The black women were used as objects to create an exotic scene,” Stephanie Ribeiro, who writes the column #BlackGirlMagic in the Brazilian edition of Marie Claire, told the Guardian. “It’s reminiscent of colonialism and romanticizes those times. She was recreating the image where whites are superior and blacks are dehumanized.”

More enslaved Africans were forcibly shipped to Brazil than any other country in the world. In fact, of the 10.7 million Africans who survived the grisly voyage across the Atlantic between 1525 and 1866, an estimated 4.9 million went to Brazil, where slavery wasn’t abolished until 1888. In comparison, about 388,000 arrived in North America.

While more than half of Brazil’s population identifies as Black or mixed race, and the country is unmistakably multiracial, the legacy of this brutal history continues through racialized violence, discrimination, economic inequity and media stereotypes.

Vogue Brazil responded to the party and its backlash in a statement.

@voguebrasil / Instagram

“Regarding … Donata Meirelles’ 50-year party, Vogue Brasil deeply regrets what happened and hopes that the debate generated will serve as a learning experience.”

The publication claims it did not take the feedback lightly and has plans to “broaden the voices within the team and create, on a permanent basis, a forum formed by activists and scholars who will help define content and images that combat these inequalities.”

However, this is not the first time any of the Vogue brands has been accused of racism.

According to Complex, between 1892, when Vogue magazine started, and 2012, only 14 of its 1,416 covers were of people of color. As if that alone wasn’t bad enough, oftentimes when Black and brown people are portrayed it’s done in a racist manner. In 2008, for example, LeBron James shared the cover with white Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen. The star basketball player was styled to appear like King Kong, a dangerous animal, in the shoot. In 2011, Italian Vogue ran a piece on hoop earrings that were compared to the jewelry of enslaved Africans. The editors’ even titled the article “Slave Earrings.” The following year, the same publication published a story called “Haute Mess” that made fun of Black and Latina style and aesthetics as “ghetto.”

Racism is not uncommon in the fashion industry, and Vogue Brazil’s former style director’s party and photos are among the latest examples.

Read: This Racist Ad By Dove Is The Most Uncomfortable Thing You’re Gonna See Today

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How Wearing Lingerie Helped Me Fall In Love With My Body

Fierce

How Wearing Lingerie Helped Me Fall In Love With My Body

nomifoto/Instagram

One of my first memories of body shaming is my mami telling me that my thighs were fat and that I shouldn’t wear shorts. She said it very matter-of-fact in a way that, I think, wasn’t meant to hurt my feelings but still left an emotional scar on my pre-pubescent body. I was in the 5th grade and, after that day, never again wore shorts to school. However, now that I am an adult, I’ve slowly learned to embrace and love my body with all of its perfect imperfections — and I do that largely thanks to sexy lingerie.

My mother’s declaration that I was a “gordita” and my family’s ability to put on weight easily (and never exercise or eat well), I spent much of my teen years and early adulthood feeling ashamed of myself.

Looking back at my early childhood, I knew I was different early on. Although my family had originally moved to Miami when we first came to the United States when I was eight years old, we eventually made it to the southwest coast of Florida where I was the only Latina I knew growing up.

Because of this, I was quickly confronted with classmates who were, well, nothing like me. They had quiet, calm parents who never had screaming matches like mine. They had tiny, skinny bodies whereas I have had large thighs for as long as I could remember.

Long before Jennifer Lopez made curves and big booties cool, I was struggling with body image issues and only seeing way-too-skinny 90s models in the media.

At the time, I didn’t know what body positivity meant or how I could get some until I was well into my 20s. In high school, I was overweight and eventually obese. In college, I lost 90 pounds but regained 80 of them after I started my first stressful job at the beginning of the Great Recession. All the while, I kept hearing my mami’s voice constantly telling me that I was too fat. She continued to say that to me throughout my entire life — up until the point that I got “too skinny” for her, that is. But deep down, I knew something was up. Life couldn’t be solely about gaining and losing the same weight over and over again.

Unable to maintain a healthy body weight on my own and afraid of what lifelong morbid obesity would mean for my overall health, I received a gastric bypass shortly before my 23rd birthday. But during my preparation for the life-altering surgery, I met with my doctor who taught me a very valuable lesson: He told me that he was simply giving me a tool to help me manage my weight. I would need to do the work myself in order to learn to eat better and, most importantly, grow comfortable in my body.

It turns out that I had been in a perpetual cycle of stress eating, feeling bad about it, and then eating some more.

I needed to heal my mind as well as my body before I could truly learn to love myself.

The journey to love my body seemed impossible at first. I didn’t know where to start, so I started by reading magazine articles about accepting my body and embracing my curves. This was the days before runways began to feature curvy beauties like Denise Bidot (and other plus-size Latina models) or you could simply search the #bodypositive hashtag on Instagram. But I had to start somewhere, so I started there. Then an ex-boyfriend recommended I try lingerie and I was HOOKED.

I began to scour the internet for scantily clad women in sexy lingerie. The caveat is that they had to be women that looked like me: Women with curves, big thighs, loads of cellulite. They had to look comfortable and exude sexiness; and not just because they were models. I wanted to connect with the women I saw in those images as much as I wanted to feel good imagining myself in their clothes. I discovered pin-up style in my searches and, soon after, the plus-size friendly clothing site, Unique Vintage.

I bought my first bikini on that site. It was white and made me look and feel just like Marilyn Monroe in those famous images of her on the beach (though she actually wore a one-piece). Eventually, I started to sneak into Victoria’s Secret and try on their lingerie. I was still too scared to buy it for myself in front of others, fearing their judgment, so instead, I would go home after each trip and browse through the lingerie on the Frederick’s of Hollywood site.

I fell in love with everything lacy, especially anything that was red or black or a combination.

Although  I owned several of these sexy things, I was still too scared to show it off to anyone.

I wanted to, but I was scared. Loving your body is a journey and, although I was at a weight I was finally happy with and generally comfortable in my body, I could still hear my mami in the back of my head telling me that my thighs were huge. It was an uncomfortable feeling and, to be honest, why none of the items in my growing lingerie collection included thigh-highs despite me finding them to be a very alluring look on other women. Just before my 25th birthday, I decided to do something daring and bought a Groupon for a boudoir photo shoot. The expiration date was six months away, so my promise to myself was that I would spend that time going to the gym and getting in shape, then schedule my photoshoot.

But I didn’t go to the gym. Instead, I let the coupon expire and tried not to think of it for years.

During that time, I continued my journey to loving my body. I learned how to nourish it by eating well. I learned to cook healthy meals because I enjoyed time in the kitchen. I learned to put post-it notes on my mirror that read “I love me for who I am RIGHT NOW” and repeat that mantra every time I got out of the shower, while I was still naked. I learned to not feel shy by walking around my apartment naked on Saturday mornings, making breakfast and reading my favorite magazines.

Little by little, I bought more and more lingerie — modeling it for myself in front of the mirror at least once a week — and learned to love my body more and more.

And then, just before my 30th birthday, I finally booked that boudoir photoshoot.

Nomi Ellenson, @nomifoto/Instagram

To be honest, I was terrified when I walked into the Boudoir by Nomi studio on a snowy Sunday afternoon just two days before my 30th birthday a couple of March’s ago. I still wasn’t completely in love with my thighs (though working on it) and I didn’t know what to expect. But photographer Nomi Ellenson was incredibly encouraging and shared with me her own lingerie and body positivity stories (her great-grandmother was a bra-fitter!). She specializes in photography that focuses on helping women feel more comfortable in their bodies and wasn’t just taking photos for someone’s boyfriend’s Valentine’s Day present. Instead, she made me feel comfortable instantly and even gave me helpful advice about which of the several lingerie outfits I brought to our session I should wear.

Ultimately, I chose my favorite sheer black curve-hugging dress and focused on red accents, like my lips and shoes. Did I mention how much I love that black-and-red combo?

Beyond that, the experience of actually doing something for myself was thrilling. It took over five years and, really, a lifetime of getting comfortable with my body but now I proudly have evidence of my lingerie photoshoot hanging in my bathroom. It’s a daily reminder of how far I’ve come on my body positivity journey. And even though there are still some morning when I wake up and just, ahem, don’t love myself very much, all I have to do is look at that picture and remember: Damn, I really do look good.

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