There’s only one thing that rivals Brazil’s obsession with the beautiful game, and that’s its quest for a beautiful body.
The country breeds Victoria’s Secret models like we churn out tax avoiders.
And sure, Gisele, Adriana, Alessandra (need we go on?) scooped the genetic lottery, but they’re the blueprint for a nation chasing the ultimate in body perfection.
Echoes of their honed, toned, Amazonian curves glide along the Ipanema shoreline, as commonplace as drunken hen parties in Blackpool.
“For us, it’s always bikini season,” says Cristiana Arcangeli, the Brazilian entrepreneur behind Beauty’In collagen drinks and sweets, and to Brazil what Karren Brady is to England (smart, rich, gorgeous).
“We embrace our bodies in a way other women don’t. Brazilian women aren’t ashamed to look sexy. Vanity is not a bad thing here.
So while we might not be ready to embrace their barely there swimwear preferences, their health and fitness secrets are another matter. Come on, ladies, spill the black beans…
While #strongnotskinny may have been the hashtag of many since 2014, it’s a mantra that’s long driven Brazilian body culture.
“Women here have never had the desire to be skinny,” says Arcangeli. Skinny just isn’t sexy and it’s sex appeal that defi nes attractiveness.
“Brazil still has a culture of machismo and Brazilian women want to look good for their men, not other women.”
So the curves are there to stay – and the motivation is to make them as toned as possible.
Cue a healthy gym habit. Memberships are cheap (good gyms are around £20 a month) and public areas like beaches are often fitted with free-to-use equipment, too.
In a country where the boom-boom (bum) is queen, there are entire sections devoted to butt toning.
Kickback machines, which work the glutes, are one of the most popular pieces of kit and women feel perfectly at home in the weights room.
The lunch hour is a basic human right and often the main meal of the day. “Because we actually make the time to eat, there’s less of a demand for convenience food, so we eat very naturally. We don’t have much that’s processed,” explains Arcangeli.
While we might arrive home late from work to a bottle of Pinot and a rogue bag of Mini Cheddars, it’s a little different in Brazil, where even the middle classes often have maids.
“There’s no doubt eating healthily is easier when you have someone to prepare food for you,” admits Arcangeli.
Outside the home, Brazil’s food industry is both cause and effect of a body-aware culture. The climate means fruit and vegetables are plentiful and cheap.
Acai – a superfood indigenous to the Amazon basin– was a staple in your average Brazilian juice bar long before we were hunting it down in Whole Foods.
And the weigh-before-you-pay salad bars are handy for fostering self-restraint.
In Rio, like other beach cities around the world (think Sydney and LA), healthy eating choices and cutting-edge fitness trends are born from the demands of a population that spends much of its downtime getting semi-naked in public.
They might be bred of vanity, but their upshot is health.
“Most of my female clients base their diets on lean proteins, such as eggs, queijo minas [a soft, very light white cheese], yoghurt, meat, chicken, fish and seafood.”
And this is where we meet the shining paradox upon which our obsession with Brazilian beauty rests. This may be the country of body confidence, but it’s also the home of lipo and butt implants.
Brazil has the second highest rate of cosmetic surgery in the world (after the US), with an estimated 1.5 million cosmetic procedures yearly. A staggering 38% of them performed on women aged 19 to 35.
Its cosmetics industry is the third largest in the world (soon to overtake Japan in second place). Weekly manis, pedis and waxes are standard and extreme procedures such as chemical peels are on par with a trip to the dentist.
So why does a culture that seems so comfortable with flashing more than a little skin feel the need to go to such lengths to perfect it?
It’s come to be seen as a routine, self-esteem-boosting part of life.