Both Zweig and Castro are also preoccupied with the eroticism of the beaches. For Zweig, writing in the late 1930s, the beach is the place where dress codes relax, a place ‘devoted exclusively to luxury and sport, to the enjoyment of body and eye’. For contemporary commentators like Castro, the eroticism of the beach has come to subsume everything else. Copacabana (along with its prolongation, Ipanema) is the only place in a metropolitan city where it is entirely acceptable for diners to enter an expensive restaurant almost naked, in ‘bathing costume, no shirt, in sandals or barefoot, with the vestiges of the Atlantic Ocean still on their bodies . . . 

Cariocas’ familiarity with their own bodies must have no parallel in any other metropolitan city.’ Castro goes on to describe the casual eroticism of the beach: Carioca women weaving their way in bikinis through crowds of men on their way to the office, the constant and all-pervasive ogling of bodies, a system of visual pleasure (an ‘art form’ in Castro’s words) in which the one doing the looking and the recipient of the gaze are both knowing participants. So, in summary, in myth Rio’s beaches are suffused with the eroticism one might expect: they frame an eroticized social life.

It is a myth that is attractive and useful for both Brazilians and visitors, not least architects. But it is a myth: the eroticism has nothing much natural about it, and is the result of a lot of hard work. For Regina Guerrero, a former editor of both Vogue and Elle in Brazil, the beach is eroticized to the point where any semblance of normality has disappeared. A disillusioned and disenfranchised populace has become fixated on the body to the exclusion of everything else. A beautiful body, regardless of the social or economic cost, has become a matter of survival: ‘our unique motivation is sexuality, beauty, health, form, and depending where one is, eternal youth . . . getting old, fat, or letting oneself go, it’s suicide. All doors close, those of work as well as those of love.
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