Monday, March 5, 2012

Brazilian Woman and Body Image


Brazilian women and body image: what we can learn

by Lexi Thoman

When Americans think of Brazil, they typically think of three things: beaches, parties and beautiful women. 

Even though I would have to say that all three accounts are, in fact, very true, people tend to forget that every Brazilian woman doesn’t look like a carbon-copy of Gisele B√ľndchen. And while Brazilian-cut bikinis might look dynamite on people with her figure, if you put the same suit on someone else, the results might not be as visually appealing.

Regardless, this is what you see when you visit any beach in the southern zone of Rio de Janeiro: women of all shapes and sizes squeezed into microscopic bathing suits that you would never see in the United States. While I had been warned long ago that I should leave my conservative gringa bikini at home, I never would have expected Brazilian-cut bathing suits would be a prerequisite for each and every female beach-goer, regardless of age or level of physical fitness.

I am not going to lie; the first time I visited the famous Copacabana Beach in January, I was pretty shocked by what I saw. For every young and beautiful Brazilian woman in a bikini on the beach that day, she was handily outnumbered by women with far less flattering figures. I couldn’t understand how some women would ever think about wearing such absurdly tiny bathing suits while a more conservative one-piece would be more flattering on their body type.

And I am ashamed of my reaction today.

After living in Brazil for nearly two months now, I have come to recognize a thing or two about Brazilian women that I think American women could stand to learn. Brazilians don’t grow up trying to hide their imperfections or flaws — they are taught to embrace them. It is because of this that a woman in her 60s can stand on the beach next to a 20-year-old bathing suit model and feel completely comfortable in the same bikini.

I know plenty of friends back home in the states who are already weeks into their extreme diet/exercise regimens for the perfect spring break beach body, and they are all completely miserable. 
I tried to explain the concept of spring break crash diets to my Brazilian host mom, and she just started laughing. “You American women all want to be perfect! It makes you so uptight. Relax. Life is too short to worry about that kind of thing!”

It is very hard to argue against that logic.

In the United States, girls are bombarded from the minute they are born with images of rail-thin models and perfectly toned celebrities. And if their bodies do not fit into either of those two categories, they are taught that they should be ashamed of themselves, hide their imperfections and slave away on a treadmill until they are perfect. 

I can’t count how many times I have been at the pool or the beach in the United States and heard someone say some variation of, “She really shouldn’t be wearing that bathing suit.” I must admit, those words have left my own lips before as well, but I realize now just how superficial and vain I was.

If my time on Brazilian beaches has taught me anything, it is that it doesn’t matter what bra size you wear, what number is written on the tag of your jeans or if you are 17 or 70. What matters is that you have the confidence in yourself to not care what others think about superficial things like your bikini body because in the end, it really isn’t important.

So be yourself, laugh often and go ahead and have that second piece of cake.

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