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Gender, "the Body" and "Prestigious Imitation" in the Brazilian Culture

Mirian Goldenberg About the author

In this text I discuss the role of the body as an important form of physical, symbolic, and social capital in the Brazilian culture. I try to show the distinguishing traits of a culture in which the body is a crucial element in the construction of a national identity by calling forth the ideas of the Brazilian anthropologist Gilberto Freyre and the French anthropologists Marcel Mauss and Pierre Bourdieu. "The body" is a capital in the universe I have researched, a distinctive body which synthesizes three interrelated concepts: 1) the body as insignia (or emblem) of the effort each one has made to control, imprison, and domesticate the body in order to achieve "good shape"; 2) the body as a fashion icon (or brand), which symbolizes the superiority of those who possess it; and 3) the body as a prize (medal), deservedly earned by those who were able to achieve a more "civilized" physique through their hard work and sacrifice. It can be said that in Brazil the body is a capital, maybe the most desired one by the urban middle class and also by lower strata, which perceive the body as a fundamental vehicle for social ascension, and also an important form of capital in the job, spousal, and erotic markets.

Gender; Body; Sexuality; Brazilian Culture

Faculdade de Saúde Pública, Universidade de São Paulo. Associação Paulista de Saúde Pública. Av. dr. Arnaldo, 715, Prédio da Biblioteca, 2º andar sala 2, 01246-904 São Paulo - SP - Brasil, Tel./Fax: +55 11 3061-7880 - São Paulo - SP - Brazil