In Rio de Janeiro, the beach isn’t just a bonus or a tourist attraction – it’s a way of life. The Cariocas that inhabit this city are just as keen to get down to the beach as the gringos – the suntan is the all-important accessory in this part of town. It is not uncommon to see girls and guys on the beach applying suntan lotion with a paint brush, delicately coating each centimetre of their skin in this substance that will ensure they leave the beach with a golden glow.
But while us gringos may be sitting there on the beach sweating in our bikinis or baggy Bermuda shorts, peeling and slowly turning an unattractive shade of lobster red, they somehow manage to do it in style, always looking gorgeous and stylish. Our bikinis that looked so sexy when we tried them on in the London changing room somehow still manage to look frumpy and prudish when compared to their miniscule Brazilian counterparts.
For Brazilians, swimming costumes are an internationally renowned institution. For the ladies, there are the ultra-tiny dental-floss bikinis (the fio dental), and for the gents, the ultra tight and fairly small Speedo swim shorts (sungas). Going topless is not allowed in Rio as it is in Europe – as a result, these tiny swimsuits emerged as a way of allowing maximum exposure of the skin to the bronzing rays of the sun, minimising white patches, and also to show off the body to its full extent. These sexy swimsuits are not just restricted to the large proportion of Cariocas with gorgeous bodies however. Larger ladies and gents are frequently seen wearing them too, without the slightest trace of discomfort or self-consciousness. I can’t help but envy these ladies.
The body is something to be admired on the beach in Rio – in fact, these sandy shores are practically a shrine to the human form, and this is probably part of the reason that Rio is such a hot destination at the moment, particularly with male tourists, be they straight or gay. Women wear the tiny swimsuits because they want to be looked at, and the same is true of men. They also like to look and appreciate the small swimwear for this purpose too – it is considered polite that if you offer your body to be looked at, then the favour should be returned.
A young Brazilian guy who we met at a nightclub met us down at the beach the next day. The sun was going down, the air was crisp and cool, and the sea looked rough. We were all fully clothed and had absolutely no intention of getting into our swimsuits and going in the sea. Bizarrely enough, however, he had different ideas. Standing in front of our group, he gradually peels his clothing off to reveal a turquoise pair of Speedos beneath. We note this from the corner of our eyes, but he doesn’t move. The sea is right there, but he doesn’t seem to be heading towards it. He seems to be stretching his muscles, flexing them, standing about in different poses. We notice him looking over at us, as if waiting for something. Then we realise… It’s a reaction he’s waiting for. He wants us to show our appreciation of his body on full display in these tiny Lycra shorts by looking him up and down. I don’t think I can cope – the poor guy is only young, and let’s face it, his body is nothing to write home about. We chuck him a quick glance and smile at him quizzically. It seems to do the trick, as he runs down to the water Baywatch style and dives into the waves. The water is freezing, but he doesn’t seem to mind.