If “orange is the new black,” it certainly seems to be working for 24-year-old Rita Mattos of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The street sweeper became a viral sensation on WhatsApp and Instagram after she posted a number of pictures of herself in her fluorescent orange work jumpsuit. The images immediately caught fire in social media circles, drawing global attention for both her beauty and the fact the way she makes a living has nothing to do with her looks. Mattos has been quick to point up this fact in the press and online.
“At first I thought it was all a joke in bad taste,” Mattos said of her newfound Internet celebrity. Dubbed “Sweeper Babe” by the wags and pundits of Instagram, she went from relative obscurity to 50,000 Facebook followers and another 40,000 on Instagram nearly overnight. “People think that by being [a] street sweeper we have to be ugly,” she continued, responding to comments in her social media feeds that said she was too pretty to be making her living that way.
Mattos has used her sudden celebrity to comment about her goals and dreams for the future, which currently favor college over the catwalk and challenging stereotypes of what beauty can and cannot do over challenging the established queens of the fashion world for their titles. She noted to a Brazilian news outlet, Extra, that she currently has no plans to quit her job, and prefers to conquer her own mountains. “I am very independent,” she said, adding that she has worked since she was 16. However, she has also noted that she would be interested in a modeling career in the future.
When the pictures first took off, she initially thought people were criticizing her, which in a way was true. “She’s too pretty to be working in a job like that,” ran the conventional wisdom of the Web. But as the images began to make their way from social media into traditional headline news, Mattos recognized and seized an opportunity to take aim at stereotypical ideas of gender roles and beauty.
“Apart from working hard, I have a lot of fun, too,” Mattos remarked. She is quick to assert that she takes pride in her job and sees real value in the public service she provides, a career path that many people worldwide would view as the ultimate dead end for someone of her indisputable physical attractiveness. Her working-day pictures tell a different story, though. They show a young woman enjoying her day and goofing off for the camera, simply being herself. In one image published on the Huffington Post, Mattos poses in front of a cluster of empty jumpsuits, creating a surprisingly dynamic composition for a selfie and hinting at an artistic eye, yet another quality not commonly associated with menial laborers.
Mattos isn’t all work and no play, though. She also posts images of herself in regular “civilian” attire, showing off the woman beneath the jumpsuit. In one series of pics, she poses in a blue cat suit that shows off her dusky olive complexion and smoldering gray eyes to perfection, a surprising juxtaposition between the workaday woman and the woman about town. It’s this apparent disconnect between facets of femininity that has got the Internet buzzing, and leaves Mattos puzzled.
“They think I’m too pretty for this job, but I didn’t think anything of it,” she said. She sees no reason why an attractive woman should not work in what is typically seen as a menial position, and has no problem with pulling weeds or manning a broom. While many of her followers hope she’ll move on to bigger and better things, Mattos has her goals but is in no rush to achieve them.
What will the future hold for the sexy sweeper? Only time will tell. For now, it seems certain that women worldwide have a new role model, one who knows that beauty and hard work need not be mutually exclusive. For Rita Mattos, her rapid rise to fame is surely just the beginning.