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November 20, 2017
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Personal trainer Thais Menegucci. Photograph courtesy of Patricia Barci.

Brazil, a country known globally for carnival and voluptuous women, has witnessed the rise of a new aesthetic and behavioural trend among women. They now want strong muscular bodies and as little body fat as possible. The latest report from the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet and Sports Association), published in 2013, notes that Brazil is second only to the United States in the number of gyms per country worldwide.

From 2009 to 2012, the number of fitness facilities in Brazil more than doubled from 7,300 to 16,551. Today, the Brazilian fitness market is worth USD $1.1 billion dollars. The market for gyms has grown substantially and has become a successful business, boosting the trend in Brazil.

This hasn't always been the case. Thais Menegucci, a 33-year-old personal trainer from Ribeirão Preto - State of São Paulo - Brazil, has always been an athletic girl. About ten years ago, when beauty in Brazil meant being thin at all costs, athletic girls who wanted a muscular body were marginalised by society.

Personal trainer Carolina Scarpini Azenari

Personal trainer Carolina Scarpini Azenari.
Photograph courtesy of Patricia Barci. 

As Menegucci told The Genteel, "We can compare women in carnival in the past, with all those curves, and how 'fit' they are now. Previously, the ideal was a beautiful face and feminine body. Nowadays the most successful [woman] has the most defined and 'fit' body."

The increasing number of fitness centres and behavioural changes in recent years are arguably the result of the rise in social media usage and the internet, where people increasingly expose their lives and bodies.

Psychologist Gloria Tada discusses the ways in which this fitness obsession is intimately linked to technology and media when speaking with The Genteel. "We have access to people's lives and thereby we also want to show ourselves in the best way on TV or Instagram. In addition to this, we know that the best way to improve the physical aspects of our body is going to gyms, even it's not the case for everyone, since [these] improvements are hard to achieve."

Paulo Chereguini, a Physical Educator, researcher in the sports behaviour area, and a member of LAHMIEI - Learning Lab, Interactive Multimedia, and Computer Education - noted a behavioural change in Brazil over the last ten years. In his opinion, this change is linked to technology and media but is also related to health concerns.

After seeing me in championships and watching my videos on Youtube, they are proud of me and want to do the same thing.

"The number of gyms had increased. You can see that everywhere. Bodybuilding and strength sports are no longer seen as the exclusive modality for men. This obsession over muscles is recent and I believe that social media and TV have helped on this behavioural transformation in Brazil. But I also believe girls in fitness centres want a healthier lifestyle," says Chereguini when talking to The Genteel.

Carolina Scarpini Azenari, a 34-year-old Brazilian personal trainer and part of a team of people who joined the functional training at her gym, also thinks the media was the main reason for all this transformation in Brazilian society.

"It's great to know that it's now in 'vogue' and we have to thank the media. On TV, if the body is not perfect, everyone will see the flaws. With the reality shows, where ordinary women expose themselves, you can see that clearly. And they are becoming more muscular every time we see them," said Azenari.

The fact that such ideals are circulating and gaining momentum through social media could be viewed as positive for women. "When I started with functional training, even my colleagues who worked with me at the gym had prejudice, because few girls did it. Now, after seeing me in championships and watching my videos on Youtube, they are proud of me and want to do the same thing," explained Menegucci.

Veterinarian and powerlifter Cristiane Saraiva de Lima

Veterinarian and powerlifter Cristiane Saraiva
de Lima. Photograph courtesy
of Patricia Barci.

Menegucci says that those who enter a gym in Brazil, nowadays, find many stories of courage and determination - not just girls who want beautiful bodies. With increasingly less body fat and more strength, these girls - who have given up a common routine of having fun with friends and going to family parties - want to achieve their goals through sport.

As Marty Gallagher, world champion masters Powerlifter, commented in a forum post on Startingstrength.com from May 2013 titled "Is Powerlifting Undergoing a Resurrection?", there has been a surge in lifters. "Two years ago, [the] events [that] might have attracted 25 lifters are now attracting 150+ lifters. Regional and national in United States level events are cutting off raw entries at 350 to 400 lifters. This explosion appears to be nationwide and worldwide." 

Cristiane Saraiva de Lima, a veterinarian who also competes at the Powerlift Championships, concludes on the matter, "[The athletic lifestyle is] not an easy choice. Family parties are difficult. Luckily, my boyfriend is an athlete and understands it well. Despite of all sacrifices, I would not change anything."

Related Article: Brazil is Growing Up

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