RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Geisy Arruda is dancing proof that nowhere is transformation more achievable than in Brazil's Carnival, ripe with fantasy and metamorphosis.
The 20-year-old college student from a poor family gained worldwide attention last fall when she was expelled for wearing a miniskirt to class. Three months and four plastic surgeries later, she will parade Monday at the helm of a top-tier Rio de Janeiro samba group's parade float - her third high-profile spot in this year's three largest Carnival parades.
Holding court with the media before her samba group's parade
began, Arruda sat atop a gilded Carnival float resembling a massive
English palace. She flaunted her short, red sequined dress, a
design inspired by what she was wearing the day she was booted from university.
Her face dotted with gold sparkle and red imitation gems, Arruda
bantered about the joys of hitting Brazil's biggest parties this
week, and how she turned a bad episode in her life into something
Above all, she emphasized how she loves having her photo taken,
and was looking forward to parading before 80,000 spectators and
hundreds of photographers.
"I confess, I'm a vain girl, and the changes I've made have
given me the confidence I need to dance in these Carnivals,"
Arruda told The Associated Press. "The entire world is looking at
every part of you. They demand a lot of Brazilian women during
Carnival, you have to be perfect, impeccable.
"I'm getting there," she added, "but it is a difficult level
On Oct. 22, Arruda was forced to cover herself with a
professor's white coat and was escorted from class by police amid a
hail of insults and curses from other students. Videos of the
incident went viral on the Internet.
The uproar caused her college to take disciplinary action -
against her, not those who belittled the jovial blonde. She was
expelled for what officials called provocative behavior in a
country widely known for revealing clothing.
A national outcry ensued, and Arruda was quickly reinstated.
But she never returned, saying initially that she feared for her
safety. Instead she went under the wing of a few stylists and
hairdressers in Sao Paulo who saw her battle as one against sexism
and discrimination in Brazil's macho culture.
Arruda's physical transformation came through liposuction that
removed 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of fat from her abdominal region.
Part of that fat was then injected into her face to make her
cheekbones more prominent, and, this being Brazil, much of the rest
was added to her rear to give it more oomph. She also had breast
augmentation surgery and countless other non-surgical aesthetic
All was paid for through donations collected by her hairdresser,
She first danced Saturday in Salvador in Bahia state - which
vies each year with Rio for the wildest Carnival - atop a massive
truck outfitted with giant speakers, wearing a low-cut, tight,
white top and short gray skirt.
On Sunday she hit her native Sao Paulo for the city's parades,
wearing a large, purple feather headdress and little else.
But her crowning Carnival achievement comes late Monday, when
she performs with the Porta da Perda samba group as Elizabeth I,
the Virgin Queen, who faced significant hurdles during her reign as
a woman who would not marry. The overall group theme is the history
of clothing and what women are submitted to in the pursuit of
That Arruda is even in the limelight is a testament to the
ability to recreate oneself in Brazilian society, some argue.
Others counter that she is a reflection of a reality television
culture in which any bizarre incident can turn someone into a
"I totally agree with her taking complete advantage of this
situation to give herself a better life," said 23-year-old Sabrina
Bispo, who was getting some sun on Ipanema beach. "She comes from
a humble family, and I challenge anyone in a similar situation to
say they would not do the same."
But Amanda dos Santos, 27, dismissed Arruda as a flash in the
pan and said she does not seriously represent any statement against
sexism in Brazil's culture.
"It's far too easy to become a celebrity in Brazil these
days," she said, snacking on a sandwich in a Copacabana cafe.
"There are other prejudices that Carnival would be better to
address, such as that against blacks and handicapped people."
Brazilian newspaper columnist Fernando de Barros e Silva says
there's nothing wrong with the attention being paid to Arruda.
"There still exists, perhaps, the temptation to criticize the
fascination of the girl and her disposable fame," he wrote in
Monday's edition of Folha de S. Paulo. "But why? She's not more
vulgar than the media's appetite for her. She's not more frivolous
than celebrity journalism and its consumers."
All of which, perhaps, is over intellectualizing the situation -
especially given Arruda's happy-go-lucky attitude.
While she says she was disgusted by being driven from school and
plans to return as soon as possible, in virtually the same breath
she reveals she is enjoying her accidental fame.
At the end of an interview, she paused for a split second, then
asked: "Will you be needing any photos for this story? There are
old ones of me floating around in the media, and I definitely want
you to have more recent photos that show the new me."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)