Last year my Brazilian friends and I took a trip to the beach with one of my friends from back home in tow. After an hour or so of sun bathing in the heat, she told me that she was going to take a dip in the sea to cool off. As soon as she’d walked out of ear-shot, my friend Carlos quickly sat up in his reclining chair, looked at me and asked me quite urgently; “why is your friend wearing an old woman’s bikini? On the beach?”
I looked at him like he was about to deliver his punch line. I mean, where else was she going to be wearing her bikini? But he was looking at me very attentively as if this was a perfectly reasonable question that demanded a perfectly reasonable answer. Perhaps sensing that I was at a bit of a loss for something to say, he continued. “Everyone is looking at her, you need to talk to her and tell her she needs to buy a new bikini, a smaller, Brazilian one”.Can you even imagine that conversation? “Look, I think we need to go shopping, it’s your bikini. It is offensively modest!”
Now I’m no expert on bikinis, but the one in question looked retro and nothing at all like I’d expect an old lady to wear. Yet admittedly, compared to the other Brazilian bikinis on the beach it had clearly been made with much more generous portions of fabric. As a keen runner my friend also had a toned body yet obviously just felt comfortable in what she was wearing.
My friend however, didn’t.
“This style is quite normal for English people”.
“Andrew, here is Brazil not England! Tell her to buy a new one!”
Another one of our friends (whose tight Lycra was accentuating his recent love of fast food) was listening in and was keen to confirm what Carlos was saying. “She should maybe buy a new bikini Andrew, you should tell her. Women don’t wear bikinis like this on the beach in Brazil”.
Only in Brazil would you be criticized for wearing too much by someone whose gut is spilling out over his speedos.
This incident made me wonder just why these tiny bikinis were worn by so many women here. I mean, aren’t they worried that their bikinis don’t tastefully conceal any lumps or bumps? Most women I know back home would never consider wearing a dental floss bikini, even if they’d spent months dieting or working out to feel comfortable in one on their summer holidays.
“Why do women wear such small bikinis?” I asked my Brazilian friend not long after spending my first summer here.
Her crumpled face betrayed the fact that she thought this question was pretty stupid; as if I’d just asked her to explain something obvious, like water.
“Well” she began with an air of toleration in her voice, “I wear mine because it’s practical; I know that when I wear it I’m going to get an even tan, it is going to be comfortable and also light to walk around in. Much lighter than I imagine those heavy board shorts foreign men like to wear”.
I was convinced that this response was a one off; I’d never heard of women wearing a bikini because they are ‘practical’ before. Believing I hadn’t got an answer that was reflective of what most Brazilian women thought, I then asked the same question to other female friends. And when they answered that they also found these small bikinis to be ‘practical’ I became suspicious; as if everyone had somehow collectively conspired to hide something from me.
I just didn’t get it.
Weren’t women wearing them because they were inviting you to look at their bodies? I guess me wondering this said more about me as a Brit than it did the Brazilian beach culture. You see, in the UK outside of ‘lads mags’ or tabloids you don’t see women sporting such small bikinis (which admittedly is down to the less than tropical weather we get!). And perhaps because the women on the front cover of ‘lads mags’ exude an aura of sexual confidence, recently magazines have started to conceal these images and selling the magazines in ‘modesty bags’.
These thin sheets of dark plastic ensure that images of the women wearing very little are kept hidden away from those who find these images offensive.
There is after all, nothing modest or tasteful about a woman in a tiny bikini, right?
Well if you’re walking onto a beach in Brazil with this mindset, you might just find yourself asking why Brazilian women didn’t get this memo! Dental floss bikinis don’t seem to be nearly as sinister over here, as instead they seem to be staple beachwear.
Which I imagine is great if you’re a woman with a toned body, but as I mentioned before, far from it just being the attractive and toned women on the beach who demand your attention in these bikinis, it’s also larger women who do this too. In one of my earlier blog posts I mentioned how I’d seen an overweight woman in Rio sporting the tiniest of bikinis.
“She emerged from the sea, legs looking like bags of old meat and rolls upon rolls of skin over her bikini bottoms and I was absolutely mesmorised. She looked like she didn’t have a care in the world”
At the time I remember contemplating how I’d expected her to look. Embarrassed? Ashamed? Apologetic? Well she wasn’t at all. Looking back I’m pretty ashamed at myself for thinking this, she looked at ease with herself on that beach had every right to wear whatever she felt comfortable in. But I guess the one thing took me by surprise was that she wasn’t as self conscious as I’d have expect her to have been.
Nowadays I have come to respect and even admire that many women on the beach sporting the dental floss bikini have less than toned bodies. They seem to be free of the morbid insecurities that affect so many Brits. But it was for this reason I initially thought that people here just didn’t care what they looked like on the beach.
Well, I was wrong!
Larger women walking around like this don’t represent all Brazilian beach dwellers, as I discovered when discussing with a student how refreshing it was to see them wearing practically nothing.
“Andrew, fat people on the beach in tiny clothes belong to a certain class of people; the lower classes. Very overweight middle and upper class Brazilian women wouldn’t dream of going to the beach in a small bikini and walking around like this”.
Here we go again, I thought. Sometimes I feel like I could be forgiven for thinking the lower classes exist purely to rile the hell out of the middle and upper classes here.
“But what if YOU gained 20 pounds and your friends invited you to the beach?” I asked.
“Well, then I just wouldn’t go, or I’d cover up! But I care about what I look like, me and my friends like to look good on the beach so we work out when we can. We do our best to never gain weight in the first place”.
Then I became incredibly confused. What I was hoping to do was identify was one homogeneous Brazilian beach culture, but the deeper I dug, the more I realised it was more complicated than this.
But what I do know to be true is this; whilst some in the UK might be too conscious to dress in a way that their Brazilian counterparts would dare to, the way most Brazilian women embrace the dental floss bikini isn’t a reflection of how ‘hot’ they think they are. Admittedly there will be some women who will runway-walk down the beach in their bikinis like nobody’s business, showing the world what their mama’s gave them. But are all Brazilian women in their bikinis like this?
Despite what it might look like to the untrained, unaccustomed foreign eye; Brazilian bikini wearers are certainly not ALL wearing them because they are sexy and they know it!
What do you think about the beach attire on the beaches in Brazil?