What Brazilian women have taught me about self-care and femininity

I recently braided my hair, or actually, twisted my hair. For some reason the first few days of new nylon (i think) extensions in my hair, it tends to itch a bit. However, as time progresses things usually calm down. But while the itchiness thrives, my scalp gets covered with dead cells/ dandruff and hence my desperate need for a refreshing hair wash and oiling.

Usually, this is the time I would jump in the shower, on weekends because “ain´t nobody got time for that “ during the week, and start my wash routine. However, this time, come wash day, we were currently having issues with our water pipes (#farmlife) which meant that I couldn´t wash my hair in the house – “Well, then let´s go wash it at the beauty parlor! I need to wash my hair too! I will make an appointment for us right now!” – My MIL ( Mother- In- Law) said enthusiastically.

The beauty parlor is in our little village, it is the place she has been going to for years, it is a sectioned off part of the owner´s house:  A house surrounded by trees, plants, and green gardens protected by chicken wire. On the walls hangs the beautician’s certificates and services, products and a television like any other salon. This was my second time here. The first time I had hesitantly said yes to getting my natural hair (without twists) washed. I hardly remembered the last time I went to a salon after having so many bad experiences and people frowning at me for making their job so difficult by keeping my difficult 4c hair untamed/relaxed. So, I decided to just keep it at home, where I knew everything I was using, where I knew how to tend to my “especially challenging hair” – I had grown protective of these routines – my way of things, my products and my time. However, while laying in the washing chair at the beauty parlor, listening to the birds/chickens outside – feeling the cold water run down my scalp, cooling from the heat outside, fingers firm yet gentle running across my scalp- I felt a certain pleasure. The pleasure of being taken care of- while, yes, I can do this by myself and yes, the control freak in me is worried about how long an ingredient list that is on that conditioner but also, yes oh yes does it feel good! To let go and relax and let someone else take care of you ( even if you are paying them). The first time, I ended with soft, clean and super hydrated hair smelling like all kinds of tropical plants! A noticeable sensation from my usually very calm and natural fragranced products, if any at all. After the appointment, however, I pulled myself and my hair to the side and told it “Now you listen here, yes this was nice and hella cheap (25 reais ) but don´t you dare get too used to it, this isn´t the life I brought you up in you hear?” –

My second time- a few months later, was just as lovely and relaxing and worth it! I was shocked when I heard the price once done, 10 reais, like how sis? And can I come tomorrow?

My MIL also got me into getting my nails and toes done even though I will only be getting my toes done as the fingers I feel I can and would rather do myself.

I started being aware of my toenails here, not in cleanliness but beauty-wise like manicured, a few months after settling in Brazil. I would walk around or ride buses and eyes would randomly gaze at the ground, where I saw feet after feet in flipflops or any other open shoes but 9/10, freshly manicured feet! I couldn´t believe this because in Denmark, perhaps because we spend half a year burying our feet and hands in materials to not lose them to frostbite that the last thing on our minds is how pretty they look. I mean in school, moisturized hands and feet were already applaudable and you would get an extra “hooray!” for polished fingernails! Basically, it wasn´t a big deal and you would often find people walking around with chipped polish or nails and not think much of it. The norm usually was just well cleaned and clipped bare nails (done at home) and you were pretty much good to go.

However, as I looked around, I noticed how the norm here, regardless of race or even social economic background, seemed to be having your nails and feet done. If you were fancy or a show-off, you could get some nail art, yes like the kind I only thought existed in 60second Instagram commercials! People were spotting those at the bank office or selling you corn on the corner of the street; fresh out the nail salon.

What back home would often be seen as indulging in girliness is quite normal here and as a retired tomboy, who only started to enjoy looking like I made an effort at the end of my mid-twenties, it is something that I find quite interesting: How much women here make an effort to always show up as their best self appearance-wise. Once I thought that was shallow; to care about how you look and those little details of femininity. However, A few years ago, as  I started to practice more self-love and care, I realized that I had habits I had labeled as being ‘laid-back’ or ‘low-maintenance’ or ‘just not a girly-girl’.  Habits which actually were not as empowering or didn´t feel as true to me (might surely be for others) as I wanted them to feel. I started not rushing out of bed to go to school but waking up early, showering and choosing what to wear for me! Something that put me in a good mood, something that made me feel like I was adorned with care. To be honest, this extra care positively shifted the way I saw myself.

Being in Brazil and seeing how women take pride in being pampered, in being cared for, getting immersed in girl-talk at salons and nail shops, dressing up to enhance their femininity instead of brushed it off as unimportant, is really eye-opening. Obrigada Brasil.

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