Summer is just around the corner, and over the last few weeks the hot weather many associate with Brazil has made a welcome return. Not only does this mean that soon I will be contending with the mosquitoes that find me irresistibly delicious, but I’ll also be making frequent trips to the beach in an attempt to bronze my lily white body. Three years have intervined between me arriving in Brazil and now, so here is the dilemma I find myself in: Should I finally embrace the one aspect of Brazilian culture I’ve consciously done my best to avoid, it’s speedo culture?
It was during my first ever trip to Copacabana beach that I became acquainted with it. As I stepped out onto the world-famous sandy beach, I looked around and was a little taken aback by what I saw. On this particular day there were women walking around in these tiny dental floss bikinis and men sporting pretty tight speedos (or sunga as they’re known over here), all parading their flesh as far down the beach as the eye could see. Almost everyone on the beach was just a slither of fabric away from being naked.
I, on the other hand, had walked onto the beach wearing a white vest and pair of knee length board shorts. I really felt like I’d been summoned into another world, one in which I was pretty overdressed.
Fast forward a few years and I’m still wearing the same sort of clothes to the beach. Despite being aware of how different I look to most of my friends (a small percentage of whom are with me on the board shorts…until it’s time to go into the sea, where they whip these off to reveal their budgie smugglers underneath), the voice inside my head telling me not to join the lycra club is still screaming at me pretty loudly. What it’s telling me is ‘don’t even think about it!’ But…should I listen? I would never even entertain the idea of wearing a pair of speedos if I wasn’t in Brazil because in the UK it’s just competitive swimmers (and of course Tom Dailey) who get away with wearing them. There is a pretty big stigma attached to wearing a pair back home and as a result some public pools have even banned them. When you’re around women and children, the lump and bump enhancing speedo isn’t really considered appropriate.
The same rules clearly don’t apply over here though, and my reluctance to wear the sunga is often met with smirks.“Oh look, Andrew is still wearing his foreigner shorts” said one at the beach last year (in his ball-crushingly-tight sunga), before flashing me a teasing smile. The trouble is when you are the only one NOT wearing speedos in a group of your mates, its difficult to argue that you’re the one who doesn’t look ridiculous.
So why do so many Brazilian men feel so comfortable wearing them? Well this was a question I found myself asking one of my friends not long after arriving here. “If you wear these surely everyone will be able to see….everything?” As soon as these words came rolling off my tongue, his face stretched into a mocking grin. “Andrew. If people can see my dick through my speedos and don’t like it, this isn’t my problem it’s theirs! And why would they want to look anyway?”
And I guess this is a convincing argument. That is until you’re relaxing on a reclining chair on the beach, and suddenly the sunlight you’re enjoying becomes eclipsed by your friend’s body. That’s when you’re instinctively going to look up to see what’s going on. Then you may well find yourself coming face to face with a less then subtle outline of your friend’s genetalia staring right at you.
I also asked some of my male students about why they wear speedos, and the question was met with a knotted forehead and a puzzled look. “Well, why wouldn’t we wear them?” was their response. Then they looked at me in genuine confusion like I’d just asked them to explain water.
The reality seems to be that a whole load of Brazilian men wear speedos simply because they are comfortable in them. But this makes me more aware that my, ‘I’m foreign, so I don’t wear sunga’ argument is starting to wear thin on every visit to the beach. So I’m wondering if its time for me to get over my cultural hangover? Should I just embrace the lycra and get it over with?
To sunga or not to sunga…that is the question!