arpoador beach

The Bikini Dilemma: Exploring Brazilian Beach Culture

In Blog, Brazil, South America by Kay14 Comments

An opportune shot of me in my new Brazilian bikini!

An opportune shot of me in my new Brazilian bikini!

Breaking The Rules

The day that I left for Brazil, I frantically searched for all of my swimsuits. Realizing I only had two (of which I could find the matching pieces), I decided to splurge and buy a third swimsuit at Target. I resolved to spend as much time as I could at the beach, which is only about a 3 minute walk from my house. I only had one rule for myself when I left the house for Brazil:

I will NOT, under any circumstances, wear one of those tiny revealing Brazilian thong bikinis!

I was adamant about my choice. I felt perfectly comfortable wearing my normal American bikinis, but I wasn’t about to show even MORE rear end than I needed to. After all, I was nowhere near in shape to wear a Brazilian “dental floss” fixture on my behind.

The first sunny day in Rio de Janeiro, my friends and I decided to hit the beach. We all wore our swimsuits to school then walked to the beach right after classes finished. We were beach-ready, sunglasses and sunblock in hand, not a single cloud in the sky.

Let me just say, when we walked out onto the sand, there were more bundas (the Portuguese word for butts) in plain sight than I have ever seen in my life.

All of us Americans sat down in the sand after buying these Brazilian-style sarong towels called cangas. We must have looked like such foreigners because when the vendors passed by us, they started speaking English! American swimsuits in tow, we were the only people not showing off our Brazilian rear ends. Unfortunately enough, this awkward situation called attention to us. People stared and laughed about the grande biquinis that we were wearing.

brazilian bikini

My old bikini (pink) versus my new one (orange)…see the difference?

My female friends and I all gave in and ended up buying Brazilian bikini bottoms to match our American tops, thus breaking the only rule I set for myself to begin with. We didn’t want to look like tourists, or even worse, American tourists any longer, so one afternoon we all went and tried on some Brazilian-style bikinis.

It took some getting used to. I ended up buying a more conservative choice, but even that was about half as small as my normal bikini bottom. Not only that, but wearing the Brazilian bikini initially left me and my friends with the most AWKWARD tans. Teenage boys walking around the beach would cat call or make jokes about some of my friends’ “bum buns brancas.”

Luckily, my Filipino genes saved my butt (literally) and my tan was never too noticeable.


Debriefing Bikini (And Beach) Culture

If there’s one thing women in Brazil love to do, it’s showing off their butts to the rest of the world. (Cue: I like big butts and I cannot lie…) The beach is the perfect place to find this phenomenon – the bikinis here cost the same but show 75% more skin than any others. There are three main kinds of bikinis: normal bikinis, triangle bikinis, and dental floss bikinis. I’ll spare you the details, but they are quite EXACTLY how they sound.

Men, too, often like to show off their rear ends – but in a little bit more conservative fashion. The Brazilian men’s speedo, called a sunga, is an extremely popular option for men at the beach. Not only do men like to wear these at the beach, but also take pride in walking the streets of Rio back to their homes in only their sungas also. While the sunga definitely covers more than the female swimsuit, it was still a huge shock to us when we arrived in Brazil, as opposed to the large swim trunks used in America.

arpoador beach

A typical, non-crowded day in Rio’s beaches.

Some other things you’ll see at a Brazilian beach that you won’t in other beaches:

  • Agua de coco natural (natural coconut water straight from the coconut!)
  • Beach vendors yelling at the top of their lungs (or sometimes even with a megaphone)
  • PDA. Looooots of PDA. (See my article about Brazilian kissing culture to find out more about this one.)
  • Beer! In Brazil it’s legal to drink alcohol outdoors, so many people drink beer and caipirinhas at the beach.
  • Futevolei. This is a game played with a soccer ball, kind of like juggling except people can use arms and shoulders too.
  • Helicopter rescues. Cool to watch, scary to think about.
  • Butts, all kinds of butts, all SIZES of butts…enough butts to last you the rest of your life.

And so, another culture shock moment in my life ensued and consequently resolved itself. Brazil, you’ve definitely thrown me a loop in terms of what you’ve shown me and given me. Soooo, with that said…who’s ready to hit the beach?

Have you ever been to a beach where people showed a lot of skin? Where? Tell me your stories (and your opinions) in the comments!

Did you enjoy this article? If so, follow along on Twitter and Facebook for more crazy stories, weird culture shock moments, and funny photos!


  1. I loved going to the beach in Rio. I made it a goal to wear a bikini for the first time, and I was kind of nervous about it, especially at my age. The thing I loved about the beach culture in Brazil was that it seemed like you could wear whatever you wanted, and be whatever shape or size you are, and no one really paid any mind. It was very freeing and a stark contrast to attitudes in North America. I was totally comfortable strolling along Copacabana beach in my bikini. It probably also helped that I don’t know Portuguese and so if anyone was making smart remarks about me, I was totally oblivious!

    1. Author

      Yay Steph! What a great outlook. I feel the same way now, too – any woman can get out on the beach and wear whatever she wants without weird judgment. It’s great because the idea of a “beach bod” here is universal – anyone who goes to the beach has one! 🙂

  2. They’d think I was a total weirdo, I never swim in less than shorts, a long sleeved rashie and a hat. At the moment I’m wearing an old micro fleece as a rashie, I left mine on Ko Samet, even weirder! Comes with spending time in Australia, we hate the sun!

    1. Author

      Haha, I totally feel that. Here I think the only people who wear rashies are the surfers, although there are many of them so you’d never be alone 🙂

      1. My wife & I Have been together for almost 15 years but we are still in our mid thirties. (Together since we were in our teens). I love when she shows off a little skin on the beach (or anywhere for that matter). So I have spent years begging & pleading & generally wearing her down to show more skin with skimpy Halloween costumes etc. & especially on the beach.
        Well this new trend with the ladies wearing these tiny bikini bottoms has worked out great for achieving my goal of showing her off a little bit & it’s eased her mind on showing so much of her butt.
        This new standard is very prevalent here in the U.S. We noticed that in the summer of 2014 that approx. 40% of the women we saw on the beach that summer were dawning those cheeky bottoms, & last year i’d guess that about 50 to 60% of the females had their butts showing. It’s not restricted to any particular age range or demographic either.
        We have been noticing more and more ladies (Young and Older) wearing these very revealing bikini bottoms. So now my wife doesn’t sigh when I buy her a skimpy bikini bottom. I have bought her at least one per year for the last decade. Long before this fad, my wife was wearing these hybrid bottoms with my constant urging and she eventually got used to it. The main reason for all of this typing is to help other women along who are hesitant about joining this hugely popular trend while on the beach or at the pool. When a woman thinks she is “out of shape” or “fat” or she worries about her tanlines etc.
        the only person who will notice will be the occasional other female because they too subscribe to this notion that men actually care if your legs aren’t tan or that you have put on a little bit of winter weight. This idea of women having to look like models or celebrities in order to let their hair down and enjoy the beach for a weekend is completely in your heads. Men DO NOT even notice these things, and if we do…….we don’t mind one bit. We just like the fact that you are showing some skin. This isn’t just my opinion, this is the kind of stuff we men all agree on. So show some skin, be proud and have fun at the beach or on Halloween or wherever and whenever you like. Life’s too short to worry about someone seeing your butt. It’s the one sexual body part that both men and women have alike. So if someone see’s your behind while you’re relaxing on the beach, so be it. What can they look at that they see everyday in the mirror.

  3. I would normally not go for the itsy bitsy bikini, but I think if everyone else had one it would be better then standing out as the American with the overly concealing one! Now, the guys walking around the street in their bathing suits would take some getting used to.

  4. I understand the situation for women; I’m not sure how my wife would handle this. I don’t like the idea of what a guy has to wear. Not sure I could do it. I’d have to train for a marathon for six moths, stop drinking beer and go on a serious diet to feel comfortable wearing one of those suits.

  5. LOVE THIS, KAY. MISS YOU! Can’t imagine wearing less than I already do on the beach, especially since my very white butt would show the worst tan lines…..good for you!

  6. Skin to win! When I first moved to Rio de Janeiro I was shocked at how little the bikinis (and speedos) were on Copacabana and Ipanema beach, but now it’s just part of the (beautiful) scenery. Great post!

  7. I have heard and read that brazilian women wear the smallest bikinis and love showing butts, its puts me off going i just wouldn’t be comfortable around so many almost naked people.
    My partner is in brazil at moment for the world cup, i know he would never cheat on me or anything like that just feel really uncomfortable with him being on a beach around so many naked butts ;o(

  8. Enjoyed ur write up. Im definitely converting to brazilian bikini this summer even if my jiggly bits jiggle. Last summer so many bigger women were wearing them qith confidence. My turn. Im lucky enough to have dark skin thats all I can say. Lo. X go brazilian girls u only live once.

  9. Great article, I’ve worn conservative brazilian bikini’s (WAY bigger than the one you show in the picture) and never gotten any funny looks here in Canada. Now you’ve given me the confidence to try that “conservative” one you tried, or even a triangle one. I would show my butt everywhere if it wasn’t so tabu, and why is it tabu anyway? Does anyone REALLY care if someone shows their butt?

    Headed to the pool tomorrow, kisses.

  10. Great post, I’m brazilian and my dream is visit Miami Beach. If I go there I’ll use my brazilian swimsuit, but I think americans will talk about me, but I can’t use that big one.

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