Looking good is a national obsession in Brazil
There are few countries more obsessed with the pursuit of the body beautiful than Brazil.
Due to the beach culture of the coastal cities such as Rio de Janeiro, and the sizzling heat of much of the country’s weather, Brazilians often don’t wear many clothes.
And with so much skin on display, it is not surprising that Brazilians – of both sexes – work hard at looking good.
So much so that the word “vanity” (“vaidade” in Portuguese), is generally not viewed as a negative thing when it applies to an excessive pride in your appearance.
For Brazilian women this means a tremendous pressure to look slim, beautiful and young. Which is easy enough if you feel you are slim, beautiful and young, but a bit more complicated if you are under-confident, or worried about getting older.
As a result of all this, Brazilian women spend 11 times more of their annual incomes on beauty products than British women, according to a 2014 study by research group Kantar.
Brazil also tops the global league tables for the number of women undergoing cosmetic plastic surgery.
Nude Agency rents hotel rooms to do its photo shoots
It is in first place for both buttocks reshaping and “tummy tucks” – the removal of excess fat and skin from the abdomen. And Brazil is second only to the US when it comes to the number of breast alteration operations.
Yet despite all this pressure, there are Brazilian women moving in a different direction, such as Darcy Toledo, 42, and Jane Walter, 36, the founders of a photography business called the Nude Agency.
They want Brazil’s women to feel beautiful, and sexy, without the need of having an unachievable body, or undergoing surgery.
Their company, which employs an all-female team of 10 photographers, make-up artists and fashion designers, offers “ordinary women” the chance to feel like a top fashion model for the day, and gain a portfolio of professionally taken “sensual” photographs.
The women can chose to be fully clothed, but most instead wear just lingerie, which they can pick from a large range that Nude Agency provides. Others decide to take off the lingerie.
Rather than building their own permanent studio, Ms Toldeo and Ms Walter instead hire upmarket hotel rooms. This more easily enables the Sao Paulo-based business to also do photo shoots in other cities, such as Rio, Recife, Porto Alegre and Curitiba.
The business was founded in 2006, and now typically receives two clients every day, who are more often women aged between 35 and 45. However, Nude Agency has had customers as old as 60.
Gabriela Martins, a 38 year old from Rio de Janeiro, says that getting a Nude Agency photo shoot boosted her confidence.
Jane Walter (left) and Darcy Toldeo founded Nude Agency back in 2006
“I can tell you it was one of the best investments I ever made,” she says. “There is no price for self esteem.
“I tell my friends, I want to look at those pictures when I’m 90, and remind myself of the happy life I had… I felt like a professional model.”
Another customer, Juliana Santana, 31, from Salvador, agrees that the photo shoot made her feel better about herself.
“I used to have a complicated relationship with my body, so I never felt pretty enough to take pictures like that, but I decided to give it chance,” says Ms Santa.
“When I finally got to make it, I just let myself go with the moment. Instead of thinking about the faults of my body my focus was on having a great time.”
The photo shoots vary in price, ranging from 1,250 Brazilian reals ($442; £310) up to 5,250 reals, depending on the number of photos to be taken. Customers can also chose to have a mocked up fashion magazine, or get a calendar made.
Nude Agency typically photographs two women per day
Before the photo shoot a contract that assures the confidentiality of the pictures is signed. And photos stored on a CD can only be opened with a unique password.
Ms Walter and Ms Toledo both previously worked as graphic designers, but got the idea for the business after a mutual friend asked if they could photograph her.
Ms Toledo says: “When we started, most of the women were looking for a gift to surprise their partners. Today the majority are doing it for themselves.”
She adds: “We help the client to chose the right outfit, and also work with the right poses and the light.”
Another small business called Projecto Provador is doing something very similar.
It was founded in a shopping mall in the northern Brazilian city of Recife in 2009 by Mari Patriota.
Brazil’s beach culture contributes to a feeling that people have to look good
Today the 32-year-old photographs 21 women in a typical week.
And instead of just taking photos at her home studio, she has recently started a travel side to the business, whereby women are flown to beach resorts, such as the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha, so they can do photo shoots by the sea, as well as having a holiday.
Ms Patriota says the general desire that Brazilians have to look good provides a wealth of opportunities for watchful entrepreneurs.
Carmen Silva Vaz, 50, of Recife, was recently photographed by Ms Patriota.
Ms Vaz says: “I was already a grandmother when I took my pictures. I thought I would not have the courage to dare doing something like this.
“I have seen some of Ms Patriota’s pictures, and most of the women are young and really pretty. But she made me see that beauty is beyond that.”
BBC © 2015
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