Probably the best-known female face in Brazil belongs to one Maria da Graça Meneghelbetter known as Xuxa. For those fortunate readers who have never heard of her, she is a television presenter whose lack of artistic talent is offset by a genius for marketing herself. Barely a week passes without her face appearing on the cover of the innumerable gossip magazines which chronicle the lives and loves of Brazil's "celebrities".
Xuxa is currently celebrating her 40th birthday and, as usual, is sharing her private life with the whole world. "Now I Want Respect", she declares from the cover of one of the numerous magazines marking this event as though it were a milestone in Brazilian history. One publisher has even produced a bulky volume full of photos of Xuxa, "a rainha dos baixinhos" (the queen of the tiny tots) as she is coyly known.
It used to be said that magazine sales increased whenever Diana, the late Princess of Wales, appeared on the cover. I am not sure if this is the case with Xuxa, but it may explain the fascination she has for Brazil's magazine editors. Sometimes she features on nearly all of the main gossip, television and women's magazines in the same week. It is unusual for more than two or three weeks to pass without her grinning face appearing on a cover, generally accompanied by her young daughter, Sasha.
The articles are trite and moronicXuxa at Sasha's birthday party, Sasha's first day at school, Xuxa is sad because she does not have a boyfriend, Xuxa is happy because she has a new boyfriend etc. Of course, it is not by coincidence that the cameras are there when Xuxa appears at a particular spot. The magazines are just playing her game and lining up to give her free publicity.
One cannot blame her in professional terms, but to make her private life a public affair, and particularly to involve her daughter, shows an immaturity one would not expect from a successful 40-year-old woman. This can also be dangerous in a country like Brazil where the rich and famous are targets for kidnappers. Of course, the real culprits are the people who actually buy these rubbish magazines but, as someone once said, you can never underestimate the intelligence of television viewers.
However, Xuxa is unlikely to change, since even the gestation and birth of her daughter was surrounded by publicity. As far as I know the actual conception was not filmedsince the father was an actor, who seems to have played a purely biological role, this may be a possibilitybut practically every other part was. The birth was given prime-time coverage on the television news programs and, since then, every step in the child's young life has been chronicled faithfully by the media. I bet more Brazilians know the name of Xuxa's daughter than that of the finance minister.
Like many Brazilian women personalities, Xuxa has undergone plastic surgery and appeared in magazines showing her new-look face and body. As far as we know, Sasha has not been subject to the surgeon's knife but it is just a matter of time I suppose. Just as the male offspring of the English aristocracy are put down for public schools like Eton at birth, perhaps Sasha's name is already on the waiting list of Brazil's most famous plastic surgeon, Ivo Pitanguy. In her younger days Xuxa also posed nude for magazines so viewers can make their own comparisons and choose which nose, chin, breasts etc they prefer.
Xuxa first surfaced in the early 80s when, as a teenage nymphet, she presented children's programs on television, dancing and singing. The combination of scanty outfits and a well-scrubbed face, bouncing ponytail and jailbait appeal soon attracted as many fathers as kids and she proved to be extremely popular with all ages.
She made records and films, was reported to have had an affair with Pelé, and became a star. She tried to export her appeal abroad, targeting the US along with other Latin American countries, but with mixed results. The entire Chilean population rose in my estimation when, a couple of years ago, Xuxa was booed by an audience in Santiago when she appeared on stage clutching a bewildered little Sasha.
As her fame grew, so did her fortune. Last year Veja magazine estimated she had a personal fortune of R$250 million (around U$ 80 million). Her face wasand iseverywhere. She advertises toys, food, clothes etc and even had her own children's entertainment park, magazine and Xuxa dolls. She still has a TV program, releases CDs and films which, while panned by the critics, are extremely successful with children and people from the lower social class.
It is interesting that these people identify with Xuxa, who is fair skinned and blue_eyed and the opposite of most people's ideas of a Brazilian woman. Politically correct foreign journalists have tackled her about this but, as she correctly said, not everyone in Brazil is black or brown and there are lots of fair-haired blue-eyed people, particularly in the south.
She has also less successfully shrugged off accusations that her shows attract pedophiles through "eroticizing" young children by making them act older, apply make up, dance suggestively etc. Some of this criticism has hit the mark and her latest series is said to be providing an educational element and less razzmatazz.
She recently separated from her manager, a woman who had guided her entire career, and people are waiting to see if she can retain the Midas touch. She will probably continue to be a success, but may find it difficult to remain a female Peter Pan after 40. In many ways, it is a miracle that she has lasted so long since the public can tire of someone very quickly and easily. Xuxa should be careful because staying in the public eye while getting older requires a bit of planning and dignity.
In five or 10 years will she still be wearing knee-length boots, mini skirts and bobbing around in front of a group of four to five year olds? If she continues as she is, then she could end up like two vulgar females who have failed to age gracefully: Hebe Camargo, who is in her 70s and rarely absent from the gossip magazines or, even worse, Derci Gonçalves, who is over 90 and a few years back exposed her breasts on television.
Xuxa for President
A host of other dyed blondes have subsequently presented children's programs and although some, such as Angélica and Eliane, have been successful, none has come near Xuxa. Xuxa has shown staying power and proved to be a good businesswoman in a tough business. After two decades of prominence it would be good if she were to change and become more mature and follow the example of someone else with enormous popular appeal, who rose to fame round about the same timePresident Luiz Inácio Lula da SilvaLula. What thenPresident Xuxa?
John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações www.celt.com.br, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
© John Fitzpatrick 2003
You can also read John Fitzpatrick's articles in Infobrazil, at www.infobrazil.com