Girls in Brazilian bikinis line the beaches in Rio de Janiero. (Photo: NoComments.gr)
With a month to go before the Olympics, among the million topics that have come up among my Rio roomies and I, is the beach. More specifically– what one wears to the beach: a Brazilian bikini.
I emphasize Brazilian.
This differentiation is important, since a Brazilian bikini involves either a string of material stretching down between one’s butt cheeks, or a patch of material partially covering the centre of the butt, leaving most of the cheeks exposed.
It can best be described as the most unflattering thing I have ever pondered.
And until this trip, I never had reason to look this fear in the face. Or the butt.
‘Size of a napkin’
The subject was brought up in a FB message with Jenn, a girl from Montreal who I’ll be living with in Rio, like this:
“Training so hard! Gotta get that bikini body back! Napkin, Lindsey, they’re the size of a NAPKIN.”
My message reply box remained blank. Like my face.
“You don’t understand. Everyone wears them, even old people. If you don’t have one you’ll look you’re wearing a diaper or something,” she continued.
Shock took hold. And a whole new world of worry. Not only was I having to worry about Zika, polluted water and how to avoid being robbed, I now had to consider butt floss or fear social exclusion.
“Seriously. I got one month,” she continued. “I’m on that GRIND!!! You have no idea! I’m pulling two workouts a day in the gym, hahaha.”
Hahahahaha– No. Wait. What?
And with that, she was gone. Off to do a thousand squats and spend her day “on that GRIND” as a personal trainer while I sat for eight hours a day at the office. I knew even my attempt to sit on an exercise ball at my desk was nothing compared to her “grinding it” at the gym all day. The girl also used to play football for Canada’s national team. You could probably bounce a quarter off her rump.
Eight to 80
Those who know me will quickly say, “but you work out all the time”. Yes, yes I do. But any inch of me that does shake or wobble– resides in my posterieur. I work out every day, I play soccer and volleyball, I bike to work– but did I have a butt I wanted to bare to the world?
But. Time passed. Research into Brazil continued. And, along with looking up info on Zika, security, gun violence and so on, I also Googled to find out more about Brazilian bikinis. And, unfortunately, what Jenn was saying was true. According to a Google Image search, everyone, from eight to 80, was wearing one.
A few weeks from that initial convo with Jenn, I found myself reluctantly biking after work to a store on Queen West called Lumieres De Baia – Toronto’s only Brazilian bikini store.
I forget exactly how I came across it- but at some point, while researching for my trip, an ad for it popped up on my screen. When it did, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll go and check this out.’ (Lord knows I was not going shopping for a g-string with the co-ed group of strangers I was meeting in Rio. This excursion did not need witnesses.)
So, off I went. I parked my bike on Queen and began scanning storefronts amid a mess of construction.
Bikini with your software upgrade?
Finally, a sandwich board with girls in bikinis caught my eye. It was in front of a narrow storefront. I looked the building up and down, but was this it? Apart from the sandwich board, the only other indication that this place sold bathing suits seemed to be a few more pictures of bikinis four feet above the door. There were also signs in front of the same storefront that seemed to be advertising…what is that…mobile phones? I wasn’t sure.
As I approached the door and looked in, I could see bikinis on clear plastic dummies along the wall. As I opened the door to walk through, a customer was hunched over a computer on the counter immediately to the right, speaking to another man on the other side of the counter.
Is this a computer store? Do I have to try on bathing suits in a computer repair shop?
I continued walking toward the back of the store where more bikinis lined the wall. An early 30s-ish guy in a grey t-shirt and board shorts greeted me. He seemed friendly, had a slightly darker skin tone and an accent. Is he Brazilian? I wondered, though, his accent didn’t seem to be that of a native Portuguese speaker. Photos of girls in string bikinis were everywhere. A flat screen TV over the cash flashed images of perfectly tanned girls with swatches of bright coloured fabrics criss-crossing their bodies. I did my best to focus on the man’s greeting but was still processing the fact that the bathing suit shop was also half computer repair.
So, it began.
The interaction between Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt and I.
He asked what I was looking for.
“Well, probably a dumb question, but do you have anything here that isn’t quite Brazilian style?” was my opener. I needed to plant the seed: this girl wants coverage.
“No, no, we are Brazilian bikini store, but some styles have more coverage,” he said.
Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt was picking up on my cue.
Then he asked if I needed one for anything specific. When I told him I was actually going to Brazil, he laughed.
“But this is what they wear in Brazil! These are from Brazil,” he said, motioning to a wall of merchandise.
“I know, I know, but I just don’t think I can do it,” I said.
Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt said he would get me to try on the styles with more coverage, and asked for my size.
“How do the sizes work?” I asked.
“We have medium, which is like small, and we have large, which is like medium,” he said.
“What about extra large which is like large?” I asked.
I then began telling Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt that I was “small on top” but “bigger on the bottom”.
He tried to visually size me up from the waist down and seemed to insinuate that my lower half description was in my head.
“No, trust me,” I said.
I was dying inside. “Don’t you have a female associate?” I wondered, panning the back wall hoping to see a door to a back room where I hoped a female sales associate would emerge and step in. That did not happen.
Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt insisted again that large-which-was-like-medium would be just fine and began pulling bathing suit bottoms and tops from the racks.
I looked toward the massive mirror at the back of the store. No chance I was stepping out to use that– not with a sales dude and two random computer guys hanging around.
“You have mirrors in the change room, right?” I asked.
He laughed and confirmed that they did. Sensing how uncomfortable I was, he offered to bring the fan into the change room for me so I could have that in there too. (It was also 30 degrees out with no AC in the store. I guess if you’re going to get naked in a store this was the right one?)
I assured him the fan wasn’t needed and proceeded inside, checking at least three times that the curtains slid completely to the edge of the door frame.
Trial and error
The first one I tried on was off barely before it was on. It only covered half my butt crack and had a little pink patch at the top.
I went to the next one. Similar story. Either the waist of the bikini was too tight on my hips, making whatever fat I have bulge over the side, or it only covered my butt halfway up, or it was so low in the front I was nearly exposed.
I put my dress back on and emerged, defeated, and handed all 10 or so of Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt’s suggestions back to him in the basket he’d provided.
“I’m sorry, none of them work,” I said.
“What do you mean they don’t ‘work’?” he asked.
“Well, I can get them on, and they’re probably what they’re supposed to be, but I just can’t do it,” I said.
That’s when I died again.
“Show me,” he said. “Show me how it doesn’t work. Then I can see what’s going on.”
I immediately envisioned my best friend from grade 7, Sarah, howling.
Did I seriously have the nerve to try on one of these things and step out for this guy to assess?!
He handed me a new contingent. I took the basket in hand, stepped into the change room and laughed at myself for a good 30 seconds.
I knew I could leave. I wasn’t being forced to do this. But the last thing I wanted was to have to go through the same process in Brazil.
A moment later I had pink floral bottoms on that kiiiiind-of-okay-sort-of-ish fit. At any rate, they were the best I’d tried on thus far.
I opened the curtain. Cautiously.
“Woah! It’s perfect!” he said, moving toward me to get a closer examination. “What are you worried about?”
I stared awkwardly into the mirror.
“What do you mean it doesn’t work? I thought maybe you had a problem,” he said.
I LOL’d for the millionth time that half hour.
“You look better than half the girls that come in here,” he continued.
Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt was becoming my body image therapist (which I never thought I needed until I began trying on Brazilian bikinis).
“I had a girl in here today, she had lots of fat, here, you know?” he said motioning to my hip. “You are much more fit. What are you worried about?” he said.
My LOL’ing continued silently.
Sales-Guy-in-T-Shirt began grabbing more styles for me to try on. At one point, he said a colour I liked only came in small.
“I definitely can’t do it then,” I said, still trying to communicate I needed a bigger size.
“Ya, now I understand,” he said. I LOL’d again.
“In Rio, you will see, everyone wears this,” he said, holding up a few strings on a hanger. “Old men, old women, girls– you will see girls playing soccer on the beach in this.”
I envisioned girls with perfectly rounded butts sprinting across the sand. Not I.
As he gathered more items for me to try on, I decided that since he’d already assessed me with my butt cheeks exposed, we should probably be on a first name basis.
His said name was Sebastien* and that he was from Iran. I laughed in my head, immediately envisioning his emails home to friends: “I work in a bikini store and help women try bathing suits on all day”… (He had also spent time in France, he said, so maybe the cultural transition hadn’t been so extreme?).
Then, Sebastien handed me a newly filled basket and I was back to the change room again.
Next one- a definite no-go. Bulges bulged in new places. This is the most unflattering thing I have ever had on, I thought.
But Sebastien did not care.
“Let me see,” he insisted.
I knew I didn’t have to, but I hesitantly emerged.
It was clearly not my best option thus far. And Sebastien agreed.
“The other one is better. I see what you mean, you see here, you see your fat, it sticks out,” he said motioning to my upper thigh and butt.
Please don’t hold back, Sebastien, I laughed to myself. But I 100 per cent agreed, and was grateful, too, that I had a strong enough backbone (clearly, lol) to take Sebastien’s honesty.
I continued trying on a few more bikinis. Eventually, I reverted to the pink floral one I first emerged in.
“This one looks the best,” he confirmed. “You should see the girls who tag us on Instagram. Some have fat and they don’t care. Look,” he said and pulled out his cell phone to show me pics of women in bikinis who had tagged his store.
“Even me, normally, I wear board shorts. But when I went to Rio, all the men were in these little speedo things,” he said, motioning to his pelvic region.
“So I bought one, and now, now it’s the only thing I wear on the beach. You feel so free,” he said, throwing his arms in the air.
And so, after nearly an hour, I thanked Sebastien for his help, but said I needed time to think, and that I might be back for the one that sort-of-kind-of-maybe-fit-ish.
Everyone says that once I get to Brazil, I’ll feel way more comfortable since everyone else is baring it all too. That may well be the case. But for now, I have a feeling that the diaper look might be my thing.
*Not his real name