Welcome to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, the vainest city in the world – I imagine even models feel self-conscious there. Unfortunately, I didn’t fit the part when I first arrived in Rio back in 2011. A freak haircut in Buenos Aires the week before had left me nearly bald, which says nothing of how exhausted and out-of-shape nearly two months in South America had left me. And pale – most of said trip had been in the Andes.
Still, I proudly marched down to Ipanema Beach my first day in Rio, resolved not only to enjoy myself, but to feel as sexy as the Gods and Goddesses who turned their noses up at me. Except, no one was really turning their noses up at me.
In fact, in spite of how disgusting I felt (and, according to all the mirrors I’d made the mistake of gazing into, looked), people were being extremely friendly to me. By the time the sun set that evening, in fact, I felt so comfortable – and I was so drunk on caipirinhas – that I didn’t look in a single mirror on the way back to my hotel.
(This is a very good thing.)
You see, the sunscreen I’d bought on my way down to the beach that morning had apparently not agreed with my skin, and so in addition to my pale body being scorched the color of the umbrellas that run the length of Copacabana, my face was dotted with no less than 100 blemishes, each of which would’ve been insignificant on its own, but had the combined effect of completely unraveling the confidence I’d built up since my arrival in Rio.
As the next few days passed, I found myself once again surprised at how friendly and even flirtatious locals acted toward me, in spite of me feeling even more unattractive than I’d even felt before. Their company and words (and, occasionally, hands and other body parts) were so warm that I occasionally forgot about my leper-like appearance long enough to enjoy myself.
But as I waited for my flight back to the U.S. at Galeão International Airport one week later, I felt run down like the facilities, not triumphant like the gate agent, who yelled out the boarding announcements because her intercom had stopped working.
With my return to Brazil looming just 48 hours in the future, I can’t deny how happy the thought of walking on the sands of Ipanema tan, in-shape and with a luscious head of hair makes me feel. I’m righting a wrong that has irked me every time I think back on my first trip to Brazil. The real issue, to be sure, is not whether Rio de Janeiro is the vainest city in the world, but the extent of my own vanity.
Only it’s not an issue – at least not this time around, thankfully.