On beauty

Maybe it is largely Gisele’s fault. Or simply because Brazilian women like tiny – and I mean TINY – bikinis, and 30 or 40 years ago, the willingness to bare that much bum flesh in public was enough. Perhaps there’s a small cohort of very beautiful and stunningly-accessorised Brazilian women who have very international lives, and who have perpetuated the myth globally. But you know what, here on the streets of São Paulo, they ain’t all that.

They wear very tight clothes, I’ll give them that. Unfortunately there’s a significant proportion of womanhood from anywhere in the world that just shouldn’t be wearing lycra, so the propensity for jeggings doesn’t do the whole any favours. I had to exercise a great deal of my luckily-deep reserves of stubbornness when dress shopping the other day to be able to buy the one I thought fit me, rather than the one the size below, which I could technically do up, and which the shop assistant appeared to think looked wonderful on me. It didn’t.

The feminist side of me admires the confidence, the ‘hell yeah, I’m hot enough for hot pants’ approach to life, even if groundless. I just think buy clothes that fit, not for which you need a spare tub of margarine just to get them on. I can’t think about how they get them off.

The confidence of course has significant downsides, in both genders. If your average 60-year-old saggy greying grandparent thinks nothing of a string bikini with postage stamps posing as panels of material, or pulling the wifebeater up to rest on the top of the used-to-be-a-pot belly, the better to show off the rolls and the hair, imagine what an actual fittie is like. However hot you think the washboard stomach and perfect tan is, it can’t begin to match how wonderful they feel about being able to take themselves home every night. And yes, the boys are much worse in the narcissism stakes.

Perhaps the international stereotypers have confused the geographic with the individual, and that the country’s undoubted and vast natural beauty has been supposed to infect its people, without a particular level of truth under the myth. Maybe it is just an ‘eye of the beholder’ thing, and they look at me and the other gringas and wonder why the hell we insist on wearing clothes two sizes too big. What one culture finds gorgeous, repels another, as Pacific Islander v Fashion Week approaches to dress size, or the Kiwi obsession with fleece as against, well, normality, proves.

But then I went to a beach I couldn’t help but find beautiful on Sunday, and every Brazilian I say that to snorts with derision. The city and industrial port of Santos might not be about to win any Condé Nast awards, but you know what, the sun was out, we swam in the sea, the mountains flowed to the ocean, the sunset was beautiful, and I had a bloody fun day. Maybe I’ll change my mind as I get to know the splendour of this country better, but right now, I don’t care. I think it is beautiful, and that’s all that matters.

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