From the beautifully-bronzed to the tightly-toned, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is teeming with good-looking bodies.
But how much of it is cosmetically-enhanced?
Paulo Menezes, the artistic director of one of Rio’s best-known carnival troupes, has put anecdotal evidence forward.
His group put out a casting call for this year’s Rio carnival, asking for topless dancers. But with one caveat – only those with natural breasts need apply.
“It wasn’t easy,” says Paulo Menezes, of Mocidade Independente Padre Miguel, one of the 12 top-tier troupes that will march in Rio’s carnival, which starts on February 28. “Most of the women who want to take part in something like this have all had some surgery.”
Beauty-obsessed Brazil boasts one of the world’s highest rates of cosmetic surgery. With two-thirds the population, it runs a close second to the United States in its number of plastic surgeons and the number of surgeries performed, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.
To find its 22 implant-free participants, who will preside over the first of the school’s nine parade floats, Mocidade last October put the word out via social media. Applicants were asked to submit a photo, basic personal details and their body measurements, necessary for tailoring the skimpy, but costly hose, harness, boots and headdress that those chosen will wear.
Each costume, at a cost of about $1,200, is bedecked with rhinestones and studs and further adorned with pheasant and rooster feathers. The cost, along with that of the floats and other expenses, add up to a $2.5 million budget at Mocidade, which is financed by television revenue, government cultural subsidies and the backing of school supporters.
At first, the response was slow. Many applicants did not quite understand the requirements.
A few submitted photos that left no doubt of surgical intervention. Some applicants only sent photos of their breasts – not enough for the school to make an informed decision. Other applicants, including a 60-year-old, did not quite fit the profile.
“She wasn’t exactly what we were looking for,” said Menezes, in his office above a cavernous warehouse where the school is making final parade preparations. Dozens of workmen below are still welding and painting floats and giant sculptures of oxen, farmhands and other rural caricatures that will adorn them.
What Menezes did want among the applicants was variety. It took several months, but he got it.
Those chosen range in age from 18 to 46. Some are tall, some are short. None have the Photoshop features that leap from magazine covers.
“I never thought I would be able to take part in something like this,” says Duza Alves Barbosa, the eldest of the women, who works as a vendor at a jewelry store. “I run, I take care of myself, but I don’t have one of those bodies you see on TV.”
The women are just the tip of a long and diverse procession. And Mocidade officials insist they are not trying to make any sort of statement against cosmetic surgery.
In fact, Menezes said the woman who will carry the Mocidade flag, a key figure in any Carnival procession, has implants.
Jessica Gomes dos Santos, the youngest of the unaltered, says she might even join the augmented once she finishes psychology studies in college. “I could use a bigger bumbum,” she says, tapping her trim hips.