Postcards from Purgatory: Brazilian Thong Hell

When we were in the seventh grade, my friends and I decided to follow the latest fashion craze by strapping on itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikinis just like the song. The string bikini was less a fashion statement than, to our delight, just another way to piss off our parents. With a Florida beach at our back door, we paraded around celebrating our latest adolescent morphology: itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny breasts beneath stringed fabric like a halfway loaded double sling shot.

I recall pulling and tugging to keep the stringy itsy bitsy pieces in all the right places, which was nearly impossible after I discovered French fries. One day while swimming, a rogue wave hit me just right and my top broke free, rolling up on the shore like a wounded two-headed fish with tentacles. I was horrified as it took off—a yellow-polka dot octopus swimming toward Cuba. After that, my bikini days were officially over, but my search for the perfect bathing suit never ended.

In later years, I had the opportunity to visit Brazil. I couldn’t wait to hit Rio and Ipanema Beach. I spent the flight humming, “The girl from Ipanema goes walking…” Here, finally, I thought, were nude beaches, where all are finally free from the torture of finding the right bathing suit. I soon learned that there weren’t any safe “publically accessible” nude beaches near my hotel. In fact, from what I understood from the Portuguese waitresses, the only topless women were either stupid European tourists or prostitutes, all of which were bound to end up in jail anyway.

Though itsey bitsy bikinis were born in Rio most guys would be giddy to know that thongs now rule, much to my dismay. After trying on and tossing five bathing suits designed to “make you look ten pounds lighter” out of my hotel window, I set out for Ipanema Beach in cut-off shorts, flip flops, and my trusty Led Zepplin t-shirt.

Strolling the beach with my eyes adjusting to the sun, I was suddenly blinded by waves of butt cheeks being shamelessly flossed by thongs of all colors. Mounds of butt flesh—all ages, makes and models, bounced around like beach balls mating in the sand. Some were pocked with cellulite and acne while others were lobster red or white as the moon. Dragon and butterfly tattoos struggled in the never ending battle between good and evil. Stray body hair, from back to buttocks, stuck on skin like sad little worms. I needed a beer.

As I walked to the boardwalk vendor, the male bartender, with his “boys” held captive in a painfully tight and tiny thong, came running at me screaming something in Engligese: Portuguese and English: “No, no! You no get up, we bring! We bring!” So, despite craving a cold American beer, I took his offer of an agua de coco with cacacha. I had no clue as I settled down to watch.

Grabbing a green coconut from the small cart’s shelf, Mr. Tiny Thong— with Norman Bates swiftness— was suddenly wielding a frighteningly long machete which he used to whack the coconut into two pieces. (I will never look at those painted pirate coconuts the same way again.) Then, he added a hefty shot of cacacha and handed me half a coconut filled with milky liquid and no ice.

Cacacha, I soon discovered, was some type of fermented Brazilian sugar cane nearly chemically identical to Drano and similarly dissolves hair and internal organs on contact. I tipped fifty cents, and from Mr. Tiny Thong’s reaction, I could tell tipping wasn’t expected. That’s when the stalking began. Once my coconut was half empty (or half full I can’t remember), Mr. Tiny Thong was right there with another as if I were singularly capable of reviving the entire Brazilian economy.

As I sat at my thong-watching spot sipping my Brazilian Drano cocktail, my mind slipped back to the “old” days of itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bikinis. So much flesh was shocking at the time. I can imagine our mothers, fainting dramatically or slitting their wrists in shame, if, as teenagers, we had decided to wear itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie thongs.

My concentration was broken by a large, 80-something-year-old man in front of me. Apparently, from his restlessness he was having a difficult time getting comfortable. This was probably due to the fact that his fossilized family jewels kept trying to escape from his thong. Unfortunately, now I can truly envision what age and gravity actually do to a male body over time.

It was then I decided that there were two types of people: thong people and non-thong people. Sort of like beer people and wine people or the Catholics and the Jewish. Sure, beer people could switch to wine and Catholics could convert to Judaism, but it just didn’t work the other way around. People who looked good in thongs (e.g. anorexic fitness freaks and male underwear models) could easily convert to non-thong suits, but plainly non-thong people couldn’t, and shouldn’t, convert to thongs.

Then, a real thong-clad “girl from Ipanema” stopped by with so many body piercings that it looked like she had fallen face first into a tackle box. Being what I would classify as a “non-thong-pierced-beer-belly person,” she stopped and tried to sell me some type of fried fish. They looked like whole sardines with sad cloudy eyes, tired from watching little fly satellites that constantly bombed them. I politely declined and decided I had seen enough.

When I got up, I sauntered along, singing, “The girl from Ipanema goes walking… and when she passes…each time she passes they go ‘Ahhh!”. As I went by, I cast a glance at the newly wealthy Mr. Tiny Thong, giving him a universal “thumbs up” for his tireless service. Maybe it was the heat, Drano cocktails, or sudden-onset thong blindness, but suddenly I tripped over my own feet and landed face down, butt up in the sand. It’s then I really wished I were an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny (polka dot or otherwise) bikini happily swimming toward Cuba. But, mostly, I was just thankful I left my thong at home.

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