Middle class women are more educated and more empowered than ever, and they're showing it with more than a beauty statement.
It is one of the world's largest emerging economies. U.S. investors have been infusing it with money for years, and economists project that there is a burgeoning middle class like never before. It is suspected that Brazil will be a developed country in the lives of our children, if not our own. And the Brazilian people are feeling the power of their own presence.
With a large middle class, democracies change. The middle class has their voices heard, in lieu of letting money speak for them. With a large middle class, those that have long been ostracized have the opportunity to move up and then to join rank with the forces that propel the economy and the political sphere.
The protests in Brazil over the past couple weeks have only served to further prove this point. With signs proclaiming, "We don't need the World Cup! We need education, housing, food," the Brazilian middle class has taken to the streets and is shining light on a government that is being forced to answer to those who pay their taxes but not their dowries.
In the U.S., the situation has long been the same. With the rise of the middle class and an ever broadening of the diversity within that middle class, those whose opinions used to dictate policy are being faced with fierce opposition. In Virginia, women of all classes and backgrounds gathered at the capitol to voice, or at very least show, their opposition to an invasive probe ultrasound. And in Texas, the defeat was legendary as Senator Wendy Davis filibustered a bill that would close all but five of the state's current 42 abortion clinics.
And these women beat out the rhetoric of the GOP with one stance alone: "Your reign is over."
Now, whether you rest on the side of the GOP or not, you can't argue that these recent events signify a shift in popular opinion and the way in which it is being voiced. Despite the democratic system's long and arduous processes and paperwork, the middle class is now educated, empowered, and demanding respect. The middle class women of Brazil are taking their own stand, where the reign of pervasive standards of beauty is beginning to lose its hold.
In Brazil, this movement has taken shape in the form of Beleza Natural, one of the country's only natural hair salons.
Beleza Natural serves 90,000 Brazilian women a month, turning their once permanently straightened strands back to their natural curl. Here, they are changing habits. They are changing ideas. And they are empowering a country in which 70 percent of the population is said to have naturally wavy, curly or coily hair.
"This beauty salon is for the forgotten consumer, the invisible one, to raise the self esteem of low-income customers. Women who are used to serving but deserve to be served and served well," said company chairwoman Leila Velez.
Beginning nearly 20 years ago, Velez once struggled to keep the salon alive. Today, she runs all 13 of the salon's parlors as well as a factory that makes hair care products for natural hair. In all, the company employs 1,7000 people and has seen a 30 percent annual increase in sales over the past eight years.
"One hundred percent of the success of this store is linked to the issue of race," said Victor Cunha da Almeida, a professor at the business school of the Universidad Federal in Rio de Janeiro.
"In Brazil there is cultural baggage among black women who do not like their hair because it is not straight, which is the best known standard of beauty", said Almeida, who co-authored a thesis on Beleza Natural and its support for the bottom of the social pyramid.
This is the new Brazilian middle class - a divergent, educated, passionate and empowered group that is finding self-confidence in their natural beauty, creating a natural hair community of their own and soon, will be forcing down the socio and political barriers that once kept them in.
"This is the new middle class, producing for the new middle class," said Marcelo Neri, acting minister of Strategic Issues, in comments to AFP. "The lower middle class learned for a long time to live with little, and now they have a little bit extra that lets them do what they want."
In one of the world's largest emerging economies, Brazilian women are taking back their natural beauty, changing the game on what being beautiful means, and in the long run, changing the old-world opinions of an upper-class that long ago saw its heyday.
Natural hair is much more than just a beauty statement. It is a political statement. It is a self-empowering statement. This movement is the miracle movement that encourages empowerment and self-acceptance. And with those comes confidence, and with confidence comes change.