Brazil’s Best Pro Surfer Can’t Get Sponsors Because She Doesn’t “Look Like a Model”

During the very month dedicated to strong, intelligent, and passionate women, we can’t think of a more deserving recipient of our praise than Silvana Lima, the best pro surfer in Brazil.

In a fantastic BBC video feature titled “The Surfer Who Wouldn’t Take No for An Answer,” the 31-year-old star shines light on her inability to secure sponsorships despite wild success.

“I don’t look like a model. I’m not a babe. I’m a surfer, a professional one,” she says in a raw interview played over epic workout b-roll. “When it comes to women, [the surfwear brands] want both models and surfers. So if you don’t look like a model, you end up without a sponsor, which is what happened to me.”

In our visual society (peep this piece on the sexualization of Mexico’s weather women and this one on Bolivian golfer Susana Benavides), Lima has seen her career opportunities curtailed, this despite the fact that she’s the eight-time best surfer in Brazil and two-time best surfer in the world.

At one point in 2014, her situation sunk so deep into the ocean blue that Vice World Champion actually created a #FreeSilvana campaign in order to raise funds for her to participate in surf competitions. Lima breeds French bulldogs to get by. She takes Mia Hamm’s vision of a champion – “someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching” – to the next level, doing whatever it takes to keep her dreams alive on and off the water. A queen who embodies strength, endurance, and bravery.

American surfer (and “occasional fashion model”) Anastasia Ashley was quoted saying that “sponsors are attracted to a total package, which could be a combination of looks, talent and personality.” She thinks “a lot of people mistake looks for getting ahead rather than charisma.” (Tellingly, Ashley is blonde and/or the sponsorship world’s dream). A lack of charisma? Really? Come on.

Today and everyday, we celebrate Lima and the women whose representations in mainstream media go above and beyond their perceived desirability under the male gaze. She is so much more.