Health Equity in Brazil and The Biopolitics of Beauty- Author Talk with Kia Caldwell and Alvaro Jarrin
Brazil's leadership role in the fight against HIV has brought its public health system widespread praise. But the nation still faces serious health challenges and inequities. Though home to the world's second largest African-descendant population, Brazil failed to address many of its public health issues that disproportionately impact Afro-Brazilian women and men. Kia Lilly Caldwell draws on twenty years of engagement with activists, issues, and policy initiatives to document how the country's feminist health movement and black women's movement have fought for much-needed changes in women's health. Merging ethnography with a historical analysis of policies and programs, Caldwell offers a close examination of institutional and structural factors that have impacted the quest for gender and racial health equity in Brazil. As she shows, activists have played an essential role in policy development in areas ranging from maternal mortality to female sterilization. Caldwell's insightful portrait of the public health system also details how its weaknesses contribute to ongoing failures and challenges while also imperiling the advances that have been made.
The Biopolitics of Beauty examines how beauty became an aim of national health in Brazil. Using ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Brazilian hospitals, the author shows how plastic surgeons and patients navigate the public health system to transform beauty into a basic health right. The book historically traces the national concern with beauty to Brazilian eugenics, which established beauty as an index of the nation’s racial improvement. From here, Jarrín explains how plastic surgeons became the main proponents of a raciology of beauty, using it to gain the backing of the Brazilian state. Beauty can be understood as an immaterial form of value that Jarrín calls “affective capital,” which maps onto and intensifies the social hierarchies of Brazilian society. Patients experience beauty as central to national belonging and to gendered aspirations of upward mobility, and they become entangled in biopolitical rationalities that complicate their ability to consent to the risks of surgery. The Biopolitics of Beauty explores not only the biopolitical regime that made beauty a desirable national project, but also the subtle ways in which beauty is laden with affective value within everyday social practices—thus becoming the terrain upon which race, class, and gender hierarchies are reproduced and contested in Brazil.