The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

Feminists and Fashion Plates: The Brazilian Mulher Moderna in O Cruzeiro, 1928-1940

Danielle Stewart
University of Warwick


This article examines depictions of the Mulher Moderna (Modern Girl) in Brazilian illustrated magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. It begins with an overview of early feminist movements in Brazil and their use of magazines as vehicles for advancing political ambitions, especially women’s suffrage. Via a combination of digital data-mining and close visual and textual analysis of advertisements, editorials, and articles from the weekly magazine O Cruzeiro (1928-1985), I argue that the Mulher Moderna was most radical in the late 1920s during the years preceding women’s enfranchisement. By tracking the evolving use of the terms feminismo and Mulher Moderna across the 1930s as well as changes in the visual and textual representation of the Mulher Moderna’s appearance and habits, I suggest that her perceived threat to traditional Brazilian culture increased as the decade advanced and her political significance grew.

Keywords Brazil / feminism / magazines / Modern Girl / illustration / Mulher Moderna

Like many industrialized states, Brazil saw a dramatic surge in print media during the interwar period. With the launch of the weekly O Cruzeiro (1928-1985), which would eventually become the country’s most widely read magazine, the media conglomerate Diários Associados created an illustrated periodical that incorporated photography and cosmopolitan imagery to a degree that was unprecedented in Brazil. Looking to Life and Vu as models, O Cruzeiro’s first editor, Carlos Malheiros Dias, and his successor Antônio Accioly Neto, openly borrowed and reimagined content from foreign publications—especially those from the United States and France—including fashion plates, texts, and illustrations (Costa and Burgi 15). At just one Brazilian Real per issue, O Cruzeiro cost the same as its principal competitors, but it quickly acquired a more modern cachet due to its lavish illustration (Peregrino 12). Furthermore, O Cruzeiro was the first Brazilian magazine marketed nationally. The magazine included features on celebrities, cinema, sports, health, and fashion, in addition to covering domestic and international politics. Although it was directed to a wide audience of both men and women, the magazine reflected the upper-class tastes of its all-male editorial team and frequently drew contributions from Brazilian academics (Costa and Burgi 13). High-quality production was of such paramount importance to its publisher Assis Chateaubriand that, despite requiring loans to produce the first issues, he sent the issue to Buenos Aires, Argentina for printing on a rotogravure press not yet available in Brazil.

From 1928 to 1940, O Cruzeiro played an important role in popularizing depictions of the Mulher Moderna and mediating debates about her role in society. The birth of O Cruzeiro corresponded with a period of concentrated feminist action in Brazil as leaders like Bertha Lutz fought for women’s suffrage and increased political representation. Although O Cruzeiro rarely engaged the feminist movement directly, it is an important register of attitudes about women, their evolving roles in modern Brazil, and public perceptions of the feminist movement. The first cover of O Cruzeiro featured an illustration by male Portuguese-Brazilian illustrator Manoel de Móra showcasing a doe-eyed young woman, her lips puckered in an alluring, red pout (fig. 1). The girl’s bobbed blonde hair, heavy makeup, and suggestively bare shoulders signal her modernity. Like the magazine she is designed to sell, the cover girl appears cosmopolitan and world-savvy, while also signaling Brazilian nationalism. The stars in her dangling, gold earring and those superimposed across her face represent the Southern Cross constellation, a nationally significant symbol in Brazil as it appears on the Brazilian flag and is called the Cruzeiro do Sul in Portuguese. The blue, green, and gold ombre background, as well as the tropical yellow flowers tucked into the woman's hair transform her into a symbol of the Republic.1 Published in the centenary period following Brazil’s political independence from Portugal and during a time of nationalistic foment, O Cruzeiro was an overtly patriotic publication invested in the post-colonial nation-building project (Neves 20). As exemplified by Manoel de Móra’s cover, the body of the Mulher Moderna was co-opted as a symbol of the nation-state.

O Cruzeiro was the most significant—but not the only—Brazilian popular magazine to engage in the discourse surrounding the Modern Girl. A Cigarra (The Cicada, 1914-1975), Fon-Fon! (Honk! Honk!, 1907-1958), O Malho (The Mallet, 1902-1952), Para Todos (For All, 1920-1931), and Cinearte (Cine-Art, 1926-1942), among others, depicted idealized women on their covers, in editorials, and as advertisements. O Cruzeiro and, to a lesser extent, A Cigarra were the most popular magazines of the period, but—excepting a few recent exhibitions and publications in Brazil—the periodicals are understudied. Thus, this article offers a necessarily broad view, introducing a rich field of study for feminist scholars and others.2 The text and illustrations in O Cruzeiro demonstrate how representations of the Mulher Moderna were shaped by Brazilian industrialization, the interwar magazine publishing boom, and feminist movements. I have also sought to decipher how the Mulher Moderna was represented to the reading public: what she looked like, how she acted, and what she desired. Over the period this essay covers, publishers’ gradual and intentional detachment of the Mulher Moderna from political and feminist meanings was an effort to constrain Brazilian women’s growing political influence, culminating in her reduction to a symbol of consumerism.

The Popular Press and Early Feminist Movements in Brazil

To understand the Brazilian Modern Girl, it is important to recognize how European and US-based feminisms—of which Brazilian feminist leaders were aware and with whose leaders they were in dialogue—are largely incongruous with Brazilian women’s histories. Brazilian women’s leaders have historically been reluctant to identify with the term “feminist” (Sneed 5). Similarly, Brazilians did not use the categories of “New Woman” and “Modern Girl” to describe female experiences of modernity, and these labels did not regularly appear in Brazilian illustrated magazines. Instead, it was common to read about the Mulher Moderna, who embodied a regionally specific incarnation of the transnational Modern Girl. While especially prominent in the media discourse of the 1920s through 1940s, the term Mulher Moderna circulated until at least the 1980s to describe women with either progressive attitudes or cosmopolitan tastes—or some combination of the two. In contrast to the Modern Girl of the Anglosphere, the Brazilian Mulher Moderna was thoroughly engaged with both the feminist politics typical of the New Woman of the 1890s to the 1910s, and with the leisure pursuits of the interwar Modern Girl, which were characterized by conspicuous consumption. Influenced by international conceptions of womanhood brought to Brazil through European immigration and popular media, as well as by domestic ideas about womanhood, the Mulher Moderna came to embody both urbane independence and Brazilian national values. Throughout this article, I use the term Mulher Moderna to refer to the Brazilian iteration of the Modern Girl and her attributes, while recognizing that this word is an imperfect transliteration of the Anglicized concept of the Modern Girl and its associations. Relatedly, although there is considerable overlap between feminism and the Mulher Moderna, they are not interchangeable terms. Feminists were nearly always styled as Mulher Modernas in terms of their appearance and attitudes, but—as this study shows—the popular media also domesticated the Mulher Moderna to create a female identity that was modern yet did not pose a threat to patriarchal social and political structures. Consequently, the Mulher Moderna entered the 1930s as a feminist but concluded the decade as a fashion plate.

Just as European female typologies do not seamlessly map onto Brazilian models, neither does the timeline of Brazilian women’s movements fit with Anglophone correlates. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a first-wave fight for political representation and educational access took hold in Brazil alongside movements in the global north. Early Brazilian suffragists embraced the term feminism and participated in international feminist events. This was especially true in the decades surrounding the extension of women’s enfranchisement in 1932—a fairly late date in terms of international women’s suffrage movements, but early in comparison with other South American nations. However, for many Brazilians, the feminist label became increasingly associated with US imperialism as contact with their northern neighbor escalated during the twentieth century, creating a strained relationship between domestic women’s emancipation movements and international feminism.

Feminist ideas began circulating in the Brazilian press in the late 1870s—a half-century before O Cruzeiro’s first issue (Carula 262). These first publications attest to how early and how radically Brazilian women were thinking and writing about women’s issues. Most of these early commentaries are didactic, educating female readerships about modern literary trends and providing a space for female readers and journalists to articulate their opinions through letters and editorial columns (Carula 265 and 269). Although their ideas now seem relatively conservative, the magazines helped accomplish two important goals. First, they provided a space for women to become more involved in political dialogue. Second, they paved the way for radical reinterpretations of women’s public roles.

Josefina Álvarez de Azevedo championed a feminist perspective in the Brazilian popular press as early as the 1880s and her writing demonstrates the radicality of her generation. Álvarez de Azevedo, who was born in Recife in 1851 and moved to São Paulo in 1878, founded the women’s journal A Família in 1888. Despite its domestically oriented name, A Família published declarations like the following, which appeared in the first issue, published 18 November 1888:3

Assim pensando, até me parece que compete-nos de preferência a direção das sociedades. Porque o homem é e sempre foi a negação da ordem, sem a qual não há sociedade possível . . . Pois bem, ele que não é capaz de governar uma casa, que se compõe de algumas pessoas, como poderá governar um estado que se compõe de muitas centenas de casas?

[It seems to me that we (women) might be preferable to men in directing society. Because man is and always has been the antithesis of order, without which society is not possible . . . If a man is not capable of running a house, which only consists of a few people, how can he govern a state, which is comprised of many hundreds of houses?] (Álvarez de Azevedo 82)

Blunt and unapologetic, Álvarez de Azevedo’s fearless rhetoric established the Brazilian magazine as an important arena for debates around gender equality. Although Álvarez de Azevedo was well-read and familiar with European and North American feminist movements, it is unlikely that she ever travelled abroad; hers was a home-grown feminism that encouraged both a consciousness of global women’s movements and radical local action (Rachum 120). Her model of Brazilian feminism drew from both national and international trends to describe a woman who self-fashions through both domestic and professional pursuits. Álvarez de Azevedo’s journalism laid the foundation for the further development of the Mulher Moderna in the popular magazines of the following generation, like O Cruzeiro.

Feminism and the Mulher Moderna in Print

The nascent emancipated womanhood that emerged in these nineteenth-century publications matured in the 1920s and 1930s as print culture proliferated during the fight for women’s suffrage. Bertha Lutz, the primary spokesperson for women’s right to vote in Brazil, first articulated her aspirations in the 28 December 1918 issue of Revista da Semana (The Weekly Magazine), when she countered assertions by the editor’s wife that feminist movements in the global north were largely irrelevant for Brazilian women (Hahner, 201).

In 1925, Lutz was photographed at the home of US suffragist leader Carrie Chapman Catt in New Rochelle, New York (fig. 2). With her sporty bob and drop-waist dress, Lutz resembles O Cruzeiro’s cover girls, including the first, who lovingly kissed the Brazilian flag in a gesture of national devotion. Although Lutz was not mentioned in the magazine until the 1950s and was a polemical figure during her lifetime, the visual similarities between her and the illustrations of women that appeared in O Cruzeiro reflect the international iconography of the Modern Girl. Likewise, these parallels demonstrate that the Mulher Moderna was a flexible symbol defined primarily through externalities such as her dress and appearance: she communicated a variety of identities from crusader to coquette.

The first issue of O Cruzeiro hit the newsstands in November 1928, just four years before Lutz and her colleagues secured Brazilian women the right to vote.4 During its first decade, the phrases Mulher Moderna and feminista appeared in the magazine with relative frequency. At the same time, its covers often featured highly sexualized bob-haired beauties like those mentioned above. Digitized versions of O Cruzeiro and A Cigarra available through the Brazilian National Library’s website confirm that the terms Mulher Moderna and feminista came into most frequent usage between 1928 and 1940, especially in the years from 1931 to 1935. While inexact, the numerical data these search engines provide helps to identify trends in word use. According to these databases, over the entire run of O Cruzeiro from 1928 to 1985, the phrase Mulher Moderna is used 976 times, and the term feminismo 117 times. Of these, 155 instances of Mulher Moderna appear in the period from 1928 to 1930, with a whopping 86 usages in the years from 1933 to 1935. Thus, a large proportion of the phrases appear within just three years while an escalating percentage of the usage outside of this period is found in advertisements rather than editorial text. Similarly, almost a quarter of the total usages of Mulher Moderna across the run of A Cigarra occur from 1928 to 1940; searching the term feminismo produces a similar pattern. Almost half the references to feminism in O Cruzeiro (61 out of 117) come from the period demarcated for this study (1928-1940) with the most concentrated period being 1931 to 1935. The term feminismo appeared in the magazine at least once every year from 1928 to 1939, after which usage became sporadic. Similarly, feminismo appears in A Cigarra at least once per year every year from 1917 to 1934—except 1926—and then infrequently until the magazine’s closure in 1975. Discussions of feminismo in magazines were both positive and negative—and more often the latter—but the word’s concentration in the decade of the 1930s suggests that mass media conversations on the topic peaked in Brazil at that time. Furthermore, the media’s preference for the term Mulher Moderna over feminismo can be read as restrictive, a claim supported by visual and textual evidence from the magazines, because it favors a consumerist and consumable image over the formation of a radical female identity.

While modern womanhood and feminism were not principal discourses in Brazilian popular magazines, the data shows that they were most discussed in the years surrounding women’s enfranchisement (Serpa 51). Bertha Lutz’s name appeared in O Cruzeiro magazine only six times across its entire run, four of which cluster between 1929 and 1933 even though her political career stretched into the 1970s. References to Brazil’s leading feminist figures were brief: several leaders were solely mentioned in photograph captions. Only one appeared as part of magazine featured content—in an editorial on Lutz’s fellow feminist Orminda Ribeiro Bastos.

The editorial on Bastos, which appeared on the first page of the 13 April 1929 edition of O Cruzeiro under the title “A missão da mulher” (“The Woman’s Mission”), called the feminist campaign “a grand dream of liberation.” This claim corroborates the assertion that the magazine’s earliest references to the Mulher Moderna were also its most progressive. That year, the magazine also published a column in which a woman writing under the pen name Iracema rails against the sexist preconceptions of male journalists. After paraphrasing a previous article suggesting that wives should be submissive to their husbands, Iracema responds:

Que bárbaro ideal de amor se propõe a uma mulher, exigindo-lhe a abdicação total da sua individualidade! Em nome de que direitos ou conveniências, em nome de que moral se lhe exige esse desumano sacrifício? Em nome de que dever se pretende que a mulher renuncie á sua personalidade e se converta num ser irracional, sem vontade própria, para merecer a estima do homen e ser digna de conservar a sua confiança?

[What a barbaric ideal of love to propose to a woman, demanding the total abdication of her individuality! In the name of what rights or conveniences, under what moral authority would one demand this inhuman sacrifice? In the name of what duty do you pretend that a woman should renounce her personality and convert herself into an irrational being, without her own free will, in order to be esteemed by man and considered worthy of his confidence?] (42)

The author’s confrontational tone and incredulous rhetorical stance echo Álvarez de Azevedo’s writings of thirty years prior. Other editorial columns from this period described women as keen interpreters of the arts, readers of the news, and forces poised to overturn the social injustices that had historically plagued them (“Dona” 46). Magazine copy often represented the Mulher Moderna positively as cosmopolitan and worldy. Editorials encouraged women to take control of their bodies and sexuality through smoking, exercising, and displaying their legs—activities which will be explored in the following sections.

Early O Cruzeiro covers sometimes featured art by Brazilian avant-garde artists that emphasized the Mulher Moderna’s autonomy and urbanity. Di Cavalcanti, the creator of the 20 April 1929 cover (fig. 3), was also an organizer of the 1922 Semana de Arte Moderna (Week of Modern Art)—a multi-disciplinary event that introduced Brazilians to Modernism. Much like his illustration for the cover of the Semana de Arte Moderna program (fig. 4), Di Cavalcanti’s O Cruzeiro cover is a Cubist-inspired image of a woman against a city skyline completed in a simple red, black, and white palette. While the woman’s carefully rendered full lips, beauty mark, and heavily shaded eyes suggest sensuality, the picture also evidences her self-possession and economic liberation. The woman traverses her urban context confidently and independently. Her cloche hat, modest jacket, and gloves constitute a traveling costume, one of the Mulher Moderna’s preferred ensembles. Furthermore, the dramatic color scheme, the background of menacingly windowless skyscrapers, and the woman’s aloof expression infuse the image with tension and uncertainty. Whereas cover girls often flirted with their readers—either through a provocative exchange of looks or by glancing away while exposing their body to the viewer—Di Cavalcanti’s Modern Girl is detached and disengaged. Created during an intense period in Brazil’s feminist movement, the illustration conveys both the Mulher Moderna’s increasingly public role and the anxieties that accompanied this shift.

Despite the publication of images like Di Cavalcanti’s in the late 1920s, the magazine’s cover art and editorial content seems to have become less progressive as the 1930s advanced. After the achievement of women’s suffrage in 1932, the phrase Mulher Moderna was increasingly used either derogatorily or as an advertising slogan to sell beauty products, rather than as a sobriquet for an empowered, urban female. Articles increasingly undercut the ideals of independence and autonomy espoused only a few years earlier by wondering openly whether modern women could serve as capable mothers or homemakers (Blitzstein 56).

The Mulher Moderna entered the late 1930s as an upper-middle-class white woman with ample access to leisure time and consumer goods. When imagined as a member of the working-class, her situation appeared more precarious and less desirable, perhaps because working women were a greater threat to conservative social norms. A 1939 photo essay composed by two male members of O Cruzeiro’s reporting staff questioned the financial viability of single, independent, or working-class Mulher Modernas (Pires and Medina 6). Announced by a dramatically scrawled title that decries the woman’s modest salary, the article, “$400,000 por mês!” (“R$400,000 Per Month!”) follows its heroine through her daily routine, highlighting the sacrifices of sleep, material comforts, and relationships that she makes to appear modern (fig. 5). The essay further emphasizes that the Mulher Moderna still performs substantial domestic labor, albeit for a household of one. The article advocates for a living wage, but it is ultimately a cautionary tale about the perils of female emancipation. Elsewhere in the magazine, male writers suggest that working women often resorted to “unmentionable” ways of earning a living (Perelet 12). This negative image contrasts with a contemporaneous recurring column, “Confidencialmente…” (“Confidentially…”) by the writer-photographer team of João Pires and Edgar Medina, which profiled predominantly female Brazilian entertainers, highlighting their privileged lifestyles against the deprivations suffered by the single working-class woman. While writers praised actresses and dancers for their physical beauty and elevated tastes, they took a more cynical approach to less economically privileged women. These conflicting ideas of female respectability suggest a discomfort with the role of the Mulher Moderna in public spaces in the wake of enfranchisement. Magazines frequently emphasized women’s domestic obligations and physical appearances over their political, economic, or intellectual contributions.

The Modern Look
Early issues of O Cruzeiro interspersed images of the Mulher Moderna with traditional representations of female domesticity and overtly sexualized coquettes. With multiple models of womanhood circulating simultaneously, the Mulher Moderna is most easily identified by her outward appearance: short hair, slim build, stylish clothes, and bold make-up. The cover of the 1 June 1929 issue presents a Mulher Moderna clad in a brightly colored, knee-length shift dress with a coordinating scarf and wide-brimmed hat, reading a copy of O Cruzeiro (fig. 6). The cover within the cover is identifiable as the 21 April 1929 edition, which featured a pastel illustration of Olga Bergamini, the reigning Miss Brazil. In contrast to the reading woman, Bergamini represents graceful softness. While Bergamini has adopted some symbols of modernity—such as bobbed hair and a sleeveless dress—her demeanor conveys wide-eyed approbation-seeking in contrast to the aloofness and independence of the more progressive cover girl. These complementary depictions of the Mulher Moderna suggest a palpable tension surrounding the meaning of modern womanhood in early twentieth-century Brazil. While physical appearances immediately identified the Mulher Moderna, becoming one also meant adopting modern behaviors; I discuss the modern look here and modern habits in a subsequent section.

As women’s political influence began to increase in the years surrounding enfranchisement, the popular media formulated female types that emphasized physical appearance and conspicuous consumption in order to curtail enfranchisement’s liberating effects. In magazines, the female body was increasingly depicted as requiring physical discipline and commercial maintenance. The birth of the Brazilian advertising industry around the same time as the emergence of the New Woman exacerbated these tendencies (Wolf 35). As The Modern Girl Around the World working group demonstrated in their 2008 survey of 1920s and 1930s media across the global north and south—a ground-breaking study that unfortunately overlooked iterations of the Modern Girl in Latin America—advertisements played a pivotal role in fashioning the Modern Girl. That a significant portion of the references to the Mulher Moderna in the period from 1928 to 1940 come from advertisements selling products from pomades to depilatories suggests that Brazilian society still prioritized women’s physical appearance over other aspects of her being.

The emphasis on women’s bodies is especially inauspicious in the Brazilian context because of the way men dominated the publishing industry. With few exceptions, the editors, writers, photographers, illustrators, and advertisers who collaborated on early twentieth-century Brazilian magazines were male (Costa and Burgi 13). While now-famous female writers like Rachel de Queiroz, Patrícia Galvão (Pagu), and Lygia Fagundes Telles began their careers in journalism around this time, they did not find work at O Cruzeiro. Moreover, the magazine’s recurring columns supposedly penned by women were written anonymously or under pseudonyms, making their actual authorship difficult to verify (Blumberg 12). Woman writers have a few more bylines at A Cigarra, but in general the entry of women into publishing that the late nineteenth-century feminist periodicals presaged did not translate into jobs with the popular magazines of the twentieth century. O Cruzeiro’s photographic and reporting staff were all male, as were the editors. The few female creatives whom O Cruzeiro did publish, like the German-born cover illustrator Hilde Weber, had ties to Europe where it was more common for women to work in publishing.

Women’s absence from the creation of magazines, and their limited ability to participate in the community of exchange associated with periodicals, makes the issue of their pictorial representation more urgent (Beetham 2). Furthermore, the disciplinary efforts directed at the Mulher Moderna in print and advertising takes on a misogynistic tone when the conversation is dominated by male authors. A June 1930 column by the well-known male author Peregrino Júnior (João Peregrino Júnior da Rocha Fagundes) criticized the Mulher Moderna for trading on her feminine allure:

O espetáculo da beleza sempre o mesmo—em forma de mulher. A mulher linda e desconcertante—produto “standard” do cinema de Hollywood e dos costureiros de Paris—cabelos curtos, olhos ardentes, modos ágeis e gestos rápidos—a mulher moderna, sincronizada, diabólica, artificial, dona do mundo, que imita o homem e desdenha o homem, espalhando entre os homens incêndios cada vez mais crepitantes e terríveis de desejo, de paixão, de encantamento, de loucura, de amor . . . Mulher-moderna—produto industrial de fabricação “yankee”—“made in U.S.A.”, inteiramente cinematográfica, mais perigosa e mais envolvente de as mulheres de todos os tempos.
[The spectacle of beauty always takes the same form—that of woman. The pretty and disconcerting woman—the standard product of Hollywood cinema and Parisian tailors—short hair, burning eyes, agile ways and rapid gestures—the modern woman, synchronized, diabolical, artificial, woman of the world, that imitates man and disdains man, spreading among men fires ever more terrible and crackling with desire, passion, enchantment, madness, love . . . The modern woman—industrial product of “yankee” fabrication “made in U.S.A.,” entirely cinematographic, more dangerous and more enveloping than the women of all other times.] (Peregrino Júnior, “Dona” 44).

Peregrino Júnior’s diatribe demonstrates the skepticism many members of the Brazilian intellectual elite felt towards changing ideas about womanhood with its evocation of a national sexual apocalypse promoted by culturally imperialist nations like the United States and France. Evoking the trope of the femme fatale, Peregrino Júnior portrays the Modern Woman as an antagonist of men—simultaneously dangerous and disdainful. Just one year after the column quoted above, Peregrino Júnior wrote another piece, this one for the magazine’s introductory editorial, on similar themes. Titled “The Standardized Beauty of the Modern Woman,” this second column again bemoans Hollywood’s influence on Brazilian beauty by listing Hollywood’s “standard” measurements. Instead of accusing the Mulher Moderna of artifice and affect, in this second article Peregrino Júnior calls for the popular rejection of beauty standards that do not reflect racial and cultural differences, emphasizing that “A beleza é aquela expressão que coincide com as preferencias individuais dos nossos sentidos” (“Beauty is that expression which coincides with the individual preferences of our senses”) (“Beleza” 3).

Peregrino Júnior’s persistent scapegoating of women’s bodies, whatever their form, demonstrates the rhetorical utility of the multivalent, entangled, and unconsolidated meanings ascribed to the Mulher Moderna in Brazilian magazines. It also suggests the increasing resentment that Brazilian cultural arbiters like Peregrino Júnior felt towards what they saw as imperialistic forays by US media into the Brazilian market. Alongside domestic political and economic shifts driven by the women’s suffrage movement and industrialization, Brazil was also becoming more hemispherically connected during the 1930s. The United States was investing heavily in Brazilian industries, despite complaints of “Yankee imperialism,” and was preparing to expand its cultural colonization as well. Writing in the lead-up to United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 implementation of the “Good Neighbor Policy,” Peregrino Júnior’s comments foreshadow the energy and angst generated by panamericanismo (pan-Americanism). In United States foreign policy, this term referred primarily to a cultural project intended to charm Latin American politicians and populaces and thus to extend the US sphere of influence. Mid-century inter-American cooperation marshalled Hollywood’s resources to court southern neighbors. After Pan American Airways began operating flights to Rio out of Miami in the 1930s, the airline collaborated with RKO-Radio Pictures on a film called Flying Down to Rio, which helped introduce the “marvellous city’s” stunning landscape to US-based audiences (Schwartz 4, 305). The ensuing vogue for exotic Brazil accelerated the career of Carmen Miranda, inspired the creation of a documentary by Orson Welles, and generated two Disney films, among other productions. Peregrino Júnior’s remarks are thus prescient.

Hollywood’s infiltration of the Brazilian popular press had a decidedly damaging impact on Brazilian women, both because of the foreign beauty standards it imposed and because it gave nationalist critics like Peregrino Júnior an excuse to disparage the visual signifiers associated with feminism under the guise of anti-imperialism. In July 1933, the year of Flying Down to Rio’s debut and the Good Neighbor Policy’s inception, O Cruzeiro printed another article written by a well-known male Brazilian writer lamenting the influence of Hollywood while commenting on the shape of women’s bodies. Called “O fim das andróginas” (“The End of Androgyny”), the text and illustrations were created by Belmonte (Benedito Carneiro Bastos Barreto), arguably Brazil’s most important magazine illustrator of the pre-photographic era (fig. 7). The two-page spread is punctuated with twined pairs of women in fashionable dress: one—straight and thin with square shoulders and chiseled cheekbones; the other—buxom, curvaceous, and smiling. The accompanying text celebrates the return of hourglass silhouettes:

Deliciosamente provida de curvas tentadoras, cheia, solemne, magestosa, cathedralesca—mulher-mulher, emfim, mulher que, ao contrario das Garbo, Marlene ‘et caterva’, nunca poderá verstir-se de homem porque ella é, em tudo, a antithese absoluta do homem.

[Deliciously provided with tempting curves, full, solemn, majestic, cathedralesque—woman-woman, at last a woman who, contrary to Garbo, Marlene, etc., could never dress as a man because she is, in everything, the absolute antithesis to man] (Belmonte 12)

While the piece concludes with a putatively healthy invitation for women to stop dieting and “return to the dining room” (12), Belmonte’s claims that women are men’s opposites, that their primary merits are aesthetic and domestic, and that men should have a say in how women shape and display their bodies, demonstrate that the appearance of the Mulher Moderna elicited sexist responses. With increasing frequency, these responses were subtly infused with the implication that modern looks were unpatriotic. For Belmonte, Garbo and Dietrich’s tuxedo-wearing, self-confident style transgressed traditional Brazilian society’s strict gender boundaries, creating an undesirable fluidity between male and female characteristics. Much like women’s suffrage, the dissolution of clear cultural markers of gender differentiation was a subject of enormous concern for Belmonte and his male counterparts.

Male critiques of women’s visibility became even more prominent around 1930, and Belmonte was a significant participant in the trend toward censure. In startling fashion, Belmonte’s July 1930 cover illustration illuminates the cultural preeminence men enjoyed, even during periods of intense feminist action in Brazil. The illustration depicts a carefully coiffed man with a monocle inspecting six miniature Modern Girls suspended on puppet strings (fig. 8). Dressed in ruffles, bright colors, jewelry, and heels, the women’s feminine attire starkly contrasts the boxy, grey suit of the monocled man, emphasizing Belmonte’s rejection of androgyny. The women are both judged and controlled by their unsympathetic male captor who compels them to perform for the male gaze. Through its intense ocular focus, the cover also evokes Peregrino Júnior’s critique of Hollywood’s influence on Brazilian ideas of modern femininity. The male puppet master’s control over the diminutive Modern Girls can be read as a metaphor for O Cruzeiro’s own tightly controlled deployment of women, suspended in its newsprint pages to be scrutinized by its readers. Articles featuring female celebrities often employed interrogative titles like “Como você os quer?” (“How do you like them?”) and “Gordas ou magras?” (“Fat or thin?’) that invited the presumably male reader to select women to suit his taste.5 While the magazine courted female readers with fashion plates and advertisements, columns like “Dona na sociedade” (“The lady in society”), and increasingly dramatic photo essays, the Brazilian popular magazine of the early twentieth century was a predominantly patriarchal institution.

It was also a white institution. Articles debated the ideal size and shape of the Mulher Moderna, but one central feature of her identity was never in contention: she was unequivocally white. As Liz Conor has shown in the case of Australian print culture, Indigenous and other non-white women were simultaneously positioned as promiscuous and as undesirable “primitives” in the print media of formerly colonial cultures (204-206). Afro-Brazilian women rarely appeared in O Cruzeiro, and when they did appear they were caricatured as ignorant, rural, and backward. Likewise, women of Indigenous Brazilian descent were depicted as sexually vulnerable exotic sirens. A cover by Manoel Móra published on 23 February 1929 shows a white woman styled in faux-Indigenous garb (fig. 9). A skirt decorated with geometric patterns and a wide belt cover her up to her waist, but her bare breasts are veiled only with flowers, her hands, and strings of red beads. The woman nestles into the embrace of her male companion, who is also dressed in a loincloth that leaves his chest bare. A feathered headdress—bearing little resemblance to either Brazilian or North American traditional styles—and a bow complete the pair’s costumes. The scene is exoticism in pure form, its overt sexuality made permissible through allusions to racial otherness.

In contrast to the exotic eroticism of many Indigenous-themed artworks in O Cruzeiro, Black women were often cast as foils to their white counterparts. Brazil has the highest number of citizens of African descent outside of Africa, but this concentration is not apparent in the pages of O Cruzeiro. The 21 November 1931 cover shows a thin, blonde woman chatting in the street with an Afro-Brazilian baiana—a woman from the north-eastern state of Bahia (fig. 10). The white woman is slim and delicate. In contrast, the Black woman is heavyset and wears a gathered skirt and loose-fitting shirt that further accentuates her voluminous figure. Points of contrast proliferate: the white woman uses a parasol to shade her skin from the sun, while the Black woman balances a closed umbrella on her head; the white woman wears delicate red heels, while the Black woman wears slouchy, red loafers; finally, the Black woman’s hair is entirely concealed in a red turban, while the white woman’s coiffed blonde waves skim her elegant neck. Bedecked in the traditional baiana outfit of a white blouse, full skirt and shawl, heavy jewelry, a head wrap, and palm fan, the Black woman provides an instructive contrast to her fashionable white counterpart whose outfit includes a feathered hat and dramatic gloves. Furthermore, while the white woman stands in front of an urban, skyscraper-filled background, the scene behind the Black woman is sparsely dotted with palm trees, suggesting her closer proximity to nature and looser connection to the modern world. O Cruzeiro’s approach to depicting Afro-Brazilians echoes those of its contemporaries, which included representations of blackface and other caricatures (Loredano). Still, by far the greatest violence done to women of color in early-twentieth-century Brazilian illustrated magazines was their erasure.

Modern Habits

In addition to imposing strict beauty standards on the Mulher Moderna, magazine illustrations and copy arbitrated the habits and lifestyle choices appropriate for the modern women. As presented in the cover illustration described above, the Mulher Moderna was a woman about town. She was frequently depicted traveling and promenading—either alone or with a pet filling the role of companion and protector in a way that conspicuously excluded men. Dog ownership signified the Mulher Moderna’s independence and became one of her identifying attributes. Unfortunately, the behaviors that came to be associated with the Mulher Moderna often reinforced the primacy of her physical appearance. Advertisements and editorial features in O Cruzeiro encouraged the Mulher Moderna to alter her appearance in specific ways. One was through exercise—especially exercise that refined and accentuated the shape of her legs. A second was smoking, an activity that not only carried a cosmopolitan cachet but was also a known appetite suppressant, thus helping the Mulher Moderna maintain her svelte physique. Finally, the Mulher Moderna embraced the use of new beauty products—like toothpaste and face powder—marketed as both hygienic and beautifying.

One of the Mulher Moderna’s most provocative features was her athletic legs—a body part often emphasized in both illustrations and advertisements. Since strong legs signaled mobility, fortitude, and ability, the preoccupation with shapely limbs was sometimes framed in the language of female empowerment and sometimes in objectifying and voyeuristic terms. An October 1930 article called “Psychología das pernas” (“The Psychology of Legs”) suggested that women’s legs provided insights into her breeding and physical condition at a time when eugenicist ideas circulated broadly in Brazilian society: “Uma perna de fino artelho é signal de raça. Uma perna curta e grossa é, em geral, o indicio de uma hereditariedade plebéa” [A lean and fine-toed leg is a sign of good breeding. A short and wide leg is, in general, an indication of plebeian heritage] (“Psychologia” 30) (fig. 11). The article suggests that there is the hope of refining “plebeian” legs through dance, tennis, swimming, and other activities, and the author emphasizes the importance of maintaining standards of beauty supposedly passed down from the ancient Greeks. The accompanying photographs—all of white actresses and models—are captioned “the legs of…”—a gesture of linguistic and visual violence that reduces the woman to a single body part.

Over time, body sculpting became a prominent theme in O Cruzerio. Beginning in 1932, O Cruzeiro featured articles by Silvia Accioly, the director of a local gymnastic studio, the Academia Femenína de Cultura Physcia, advocating the sport. Accompanied by theatrical photographs of women acting out poses like “the starfish” and “the gust of wind,” Accioly’s text promotes gymnastics for multiple reasons, most of which have little to do with physical beauty (“Gymnastica” 27) (fig. 12). Physical fitness, Accioly argues, reflects current health trends in the US and Europe, promotes corporeal and mental health, facilitates greater parity with men, and is a primary marker of the ever-on-the-go Mulher Moderna (“Gymnastica” 28). As the owner of a women’s gymnastics studio, Accioly had a vested interest in making her work appealing to O Cruzeiro’s female readers. Perhaps this is why she chose to highlight the benefit of exercise for female empowerment; Acccioly emphasizes what exercises enabled a woman to do rather than how they shaped appearance. Unfortunately, this emancipatory portrayal of exercise was short-lived. By 1934, Accioly’s features had become insipid advertising that echoed the tone of “Psychología das pernas”—beginning with references to a western canon of beauty rooted in Ancient Greece and suggesting that “A elegancia . . . depende essencialmente de um corpo perfeito” (“elegance . . . depends essentially on having a perfect body”) (“Elegancia” 20). The accompanying photograph depicts a graceful blonde ballerina whose legs emerge from a revealing leotard. Over the 1930s, Accioly’s tone appears to have shifted from body-positive to normative.

Exercise was not the only way to cultivate a modern physique, and other appearance-oriented features from this era suggest a growing discourse of female restriction centered on the body. While articles recommend strict dieting to ward off the “tendency to fatten” that comes with women’s “inherently lazy” dispositions, the magazine does not often elaborate on dieting methods (“Psychología” 29). Instead, smoking was promoted as both a modern habit and a means of appetite control. A striking cover illustration from 1931 reveals how smoking could signal female emancipation (fig. 13). It shows a simple line drawing of a bob-haired woman’s head, her heavily-shaded eyes closing as a slim cigarette hangs from her red-lipped mouth. The woman holds up her hand to block the wind that tousles her dark hair as the fire from her lighter flickers towards the tip of her cigarette. The image exudes sensuality through the deep reds and purples of the woman’s ostentatious make-up. Her averted gaze makes her seem alluring and aloof.

O Cruzeiro frequently portrays smoking as emancipatory. The anonymous column “Carta de mulher” (“Women’s Letters”) made recurrent references to smoking during this period. The regular feature details the escapades of an eighteen-year-old Modern Girl named Lucia through her letters to her Aunt Iracema. The name “Iracema” is evocative, as it was associated with Brazil’s founding myth, and ironic, because it is an anagram of the word America. The column chronicles Lucia’s struggles to navigate modernity’s changing social mores: how to react when a beau attempts to control how she drinks or smokes, how much affection and flirtation to bestow upon her suitors, and how to choose a marital partner. Lucia seeks to act the part of the Mulher Moderna, which she defines as not allowing herself to be “governed” and “tyrannized” by “superior men.” She insists, “Eu sou uma pequenina cousa, muito futil e muito fragil, se eu deixar de fumar, de beber ‘cocktail’ e de dansar o fox-trot, continuarei a ser sempre a mesma boneca sem préstimo” [I am a small, little thing, very frivolous and very fragile, if I stop smoking, drinking cocktails and dancing the foxtrot, I will continue to be the same worthless doll.] (“Carta,” 5 January 1929, 49). For Lucia, smoking, drinking, and dancing are small rebellions that allow her to assert her independence despite her physical vulnerability. A decade later, at the end of the 1930s, A Cigarra published a recurring column called “Por que fumam as mulheres?” (“Why Do Women Smoke?”), written by an unknown author with the pen name M. Lucia, who interviewed Brazilian women about their reasons for and ways of smoking. In her interview for the column, dancer and actress Anita Otero emphasized that smoking was a symbolic act that married feminine grace and modern audacity. Praised as a “fumante requintadissima” (“most exquisite smoker”), Otero enthusiastically proclaimed,

Penso que uma mulher não pode considerar-se verdadeiramente moderna se não sabe segurar um cigarro com elegância e naturalidade. Minha irmã fuma como um homem, um cigarro atrás do outro. Quanto a mim, aprendi a fumar não só porque segurar um cigarro com elegância dá uma graça especial á mulher, como porque creio que ha certos actos da nossa vida social, como, por exemplo, tomar um cock-tail, que devem obrigatoriamente ser acompanhados por um bom cigarro.

[I think that a woman cannot consider herself really modern if she does not know how to hold a cigarette elegantly and naturally. My sister smokes like a man, one cigarette after the other. As for me, I learned how to smoke not only because holding a cigarette bestows a special grace on women, but because I believe that there are certain acts in our social lives, like, for example, drinking a cocktail, that should obligatorily be accompanied by a cigarette.] (Lucia 103)

Otero’s description of smoking as a social act demonstrates its broad significance for Brazilian women: it was a means to maintaining a modern figure, but it was also a way of expressing feminine elegance and a sign of a women’s new participation in social rituals that were traditionally the purview of men.

Still more than a decade before smoking’s carcinogenic effects would be uncovered, cigarettes were just one of many beauty-enhancing products marketed to women in magazines. Less problematic products like toothpaste and depilatories also referenced the Mulher Moderna in their imagery and language. As the Modern Girl Around the World Working Group has recognized, “advertising was one of the primary means through which a distinct Modern Girl style simultaneously appeared around the globe in the 1920s and 1930s” (Weinbaum et al. 25). In an advertisement for ODOL toothpaste—to give just one example—an elegant woman with cropped hair, bare shoulders, and a long, slim neck becomes the face of good hygiene. The ad copy suggests that toothpaste is the first and most important object the Mulher Moderna interacts with during the day. Similar language and imagery connecting hygiene and modernity were deployed to sell face power, bleaching creams, and lotions. These ads demonstrate that the links between beauty and science highlighted by the Modern Girl Around the World Working Group were also active in Brazil (Weinbaum et al. 30-31).

The Mulher Moderna’s hygiene and grooming habits were also influenced by eugenic thought. In the late 1920s, politicians in Rio de Janeiro—home to O Cruzeiro’s headquarters—invited French city planner Alfred Agache to propose a new urban model for their capital. Addressing an audience of the Rio elite in 1927, Agache styled himself as a doctor for the ailing “Mademoiselle Carioca” and promised to relieve her clogged circulation through a strict regimen of “progress and discipline” which would enable her to “blossom favorably” (López-Durán 73). Highly influenced by the ideas of French eugenicists, Agache viewed urbanism as a tool that would make the city more hygienic—and whiter (Heeren 54). The white ideal continued to find resonance in the political and cultural dialogue of the 1930s during the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas.

Depilatory ads in Brazilian magazines conspicuously bridged contemporary discourses surrounding science, eugenics, beauty, and modernity (fig. 14). It is no mere coincidence that one popular brand, Racé—a word with no meaning in Portuguese, but which is visually and etyomologically related to raça, the word for race—promises to “destroy forever” the body hair that the Mulher Moderna “detests” while deploying the same visual imagery of long, white legs used in “Psychología das pernas” to suggest that shapely legs are a sign of racial superiority. The ad includes two images of white women—one on the product packaging, and the other posed jauntily atop it, reinforcing the idea that modernity was the territory of meticulously maintained white bodies. Thus, becoming a Mulher Moderna required the inheritance of a prescribed racial phenotype, the adoption of a particular look, and the time and means to maintain that look through modern hygiene.

Conclusion: The Future of Feminism in 1930s Brazil
            After Brazilian women won the right to vote in 1932, representations of the Mulher Moderna in O Cruzeiro became increasingly fraught. Styles changed and the Mulher Moderna’s distinct look and independent spirit were often associated with a pitiful, rather than powerful, protagonist. In June 1935, O Cruzeiro ran an article called “O feminismo do futuro” (“The Feminism of the Future”) by Helena Welchimer, a rare female contributor to the magazine and, significantly, not a Brazilian. The piece speculates that allowing women into positions of prominence will limit the opportunities available to men; consequently, there will be fewer suitable men available to marry. Welchimer suggests that the women of the future will have to resign themselves to sharing husbands, an assertion illustrated by a line drawing of two female competitors pulling at the arms of a suited gentleman who seems to be enjoying both the tension and the attention. According to Welchimer, in a world with few eligible males, emancipated women will be forced to acquiesce to more traditional gender roles (returning to the home and thus restoring balance to society), accustom themselves to the idea of permanent singledom, or share spouses. After surveying contemporary women’s opinions on monogamy, the author comes to the cautionary conclusion that

O que na verdade quer o homem é uma esposa que fique na sua casa e cuide das crianças e das obrigações do lar. Não lhe agradam essas mulheres que tem fama de inteligentes e que se destacam em tal ou qual acto ou por esta ou aquela qualidade. O homem não se casa pela inteligência da mulher; o que procura não é uma mulher brilhante, mas simplesmente uma esposa.

[What, in truth, gratifies the man is a spouse that stays at home and cares for the children and the household obligations. What does not please him are these women of famed intelligence that highlight themselves through this or that act or quality. The man does not marry for the intelligence of the woman; what he seeks is not a brilliant woman, but simply a wife.] (Welchimer 19)

Welchimer is clear that the woman who bases her identity in modern pursuits is likely to end up without a husband and that feminism’s future is a dead end. In articles like “O feminismo do futuro,” O Cruzeiro predicts a bleak outcome for women who seek economic and political self-determination. By the end of the 1930s, the magazine wails against the female infiltration of “male occupations” by “the irresistible force of feminism” (“Cabello ou barba?” 14) and the rampant spread of “imbecile feminism” (Rochelle 31). Eventually, feminism became such a byword as to disappear from the magazine during the first four years of the 1940s and appear infrequently thereafter. This period also corresponded to shifts in fashion, with women regrowing their hair and returning to more modest and voluminous clothing styles. Within five years of winning the right to vote, Brazil’s feminist movement was flagging and the Mulher Moderna faded from the pages of the country’s most popular magazine. While the term Mulher Moderna continued to be used in advertisements for beauty products, the image of the independent, strong, cigarette-smoking, woman-about-town, with all her radical potential, was largely relegated to commercial use.

1.The flower is the ipê-amarelo, which was adopted as the national flower in 1961.

2. The Brazilian National Library’s efforts to make these periodicals available online also promises future scholarship on the magazines.

3. All translations by author unless otherwise noted.

4. Brazilian women advocated for their right to vote to be written into the republican constitution of 1891 but were unsuccessful. The Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte gave women voting rights in local elections in 1927. Ultimately, the populist dictator Getúlio Vargas settled the question by writing female enfranchisement into the electoral code of 1930, which was ratified in 1932 and constitutionally confirmed in 1934. Significantly, illiterate people—male or female—were excluded from voting until 1945.

5. There was very little discussion of homosexuality in O Cruzeiro throughout its run, and none of that coverage appears before 1945.

Works Cited

“A missão da mulher.” O Cruzeiro, 13 Apr. 1929, pp. 1+.

Accioly, Silvia. “A elegancia natural.” O Cruzeiro, 26 May 1934, pp. 20+.

---. “Gymnastica, saude, força, belleza.” O Cruzeiro, 2 Jan. 1932, pp. 27-29.

Álvarez de Azevedo, Josefina. “A familia.” A Família, 18 Nov. 1888, pp. 1-2.

Beetham, Margaret. A Magazine of Her Own: Domesticity and Desire in the Woman’s Magazine, 1800-1914. Routledge, 1996.

Belmonte. “O fim das andróginas.” O Cruzeiro, 8 July 1933, p. 12.

Blitzstein, Madelin. “O que nossas filhas não sabem.” O Cruzeiro, 3 Aug. 1935, pp. 56+.

Blumberg, Natália Simanke. “Da mulher para a mulher: o papel feminino na revista O Cruzeiro.” 2013. Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, BA dissertation.

“Cabello ou barba.” O Cruzeiro, 28 Jan. 1939, pp. 14-15.

Carula, Karoline. “A imprensa feminina no Rio de Janeiro nas décadas finais do século XIX.” Estudos feministas, vol. 24, no. 1, 2016, pp. 261-

“Cinelandia: gordas ou magras?” O Cruzeiro, 14 May 1932, pp. 29-30.

“Como você os quer?” O Cruzeiro, 28 Jan. 1933, pp. 28-29.

Conor, Liz. The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s. Indiana UP, 2004.

Costa, Helouise, and Surgio Burgi. As origens do fotojornalismo no Brasil: O Cruzeiro: um olhar sobre 1940-1960. Instituto Moreira Salles, 2012.

“Dona na sociedade.” O Cruzeiro, 26 Jan. 1929, pp. 47.

Hahner, June E. “The Beginnings of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in Brazil.” Signs, vol. 5, no. 1, 1979, pp. 200-204.

Heeren, Alice. “Affective Rhetorics of Contagion: Augusto Malta in Belle Époque Rio de Janeiro.” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture, vol. 2, no. 2, 2020, pp. 47-73.

Iracema. “Carta de mulher.” O Cruzeiro, 15 June 1929, pp. 42.

López-Dúran, Fabiola. Eugenics in the Garden: Transatlantic Architecture and the Crafting of Modernity. U Texas P, 2018.

Lucia, M. “Por que fumam as mulheres.” A Cigarra, May 1940, pp. 102-103.

Loredano, Cássio, et. al. J. Carlos: originais. Instituto Moreira Salles, 2017.

Neves Alves, Francisco das. A Revolução de 1930 em revista: registros iconográficos (O Cruzeiro, Jornal das Moças, Nação Brasileira e Vida Doméstica). Lisbon: Coleção Documentos, 2021.

Perelet, Victor. “Midinettes em crise.” O Cruzeiro, 4 Feb. 1933, 11-12+.

Peregrino, Nadja. O Cruzeiro: a revolução da fotorreportagem. Livraria Dazibao, 1991.

Peregrino Júnior. “A beleza ‘standard’ da mulher moderna.” O Cruzeiro, 7 Nov. 1931, p. 3.

---. “Dona na sociedade.” O Cruzeiro, 14 June 1930, p. 44.

Pires, Julio, and Edgard Medina. “$400,000 por mês!” O Cruzeiro, 13 May 1939, pp. 6-9.

“Psychologia das pernas.” O Cruzeiro, 25 Oct. 1930, pp. 28-30.

Rachum, Ilan. “Feminism, Woman Suffrage, and National Politics in Brazil: 1922-1937.” Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 14, no. 1, 1977, pp. 118-134.

Rochelle, Drieu La. “O dom.” O Cruzeiro, 25 Jan. 1936, pp. 31-33.

Schwartz, Rosalie. Flying Down to Rio: Hollywood, Tourists, and Yankee Clippers. Texas A&M UP, 2004.

Serpa, Leoní Teresinha Vieira. A máscara da modernidade: a mulher na revista O Cruzeiro (1928-1945). 2003. Universidade de Passo Fundo, MA thesis.

Sneed, Gillian. Gendered Subjectivity and Resistance: Brazilian Women’s Performance-for-Camera, 1973-1982. 2019. City University of New York, PhD dissertation.

Weinbaum, Alys Eve, et al. The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization. Duke UP, 2008.

Welchimer, Helena. “O feminismo do futuro.” O Cruzeiro, 29 June 1935, pp. 19+.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth. Vintage, 2015.

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