By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Big and beautiful: A model walks the runway at the first ever Miss Brazil Plus Size Beauty Pageant. Demand for flattering, larger-sized bikinis are soaring
The Girl From Ipanema has put on a few pounds, and for many sunbathers on Brazil's beaches the country's iconic itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini just doesn't suffice anymore. A growing number of bikini manufacturers have woken up to Brazil's thickening waistline and are reaching out to the ever-expanding ranks of heavy women with new plus-size lines.
That's nothing short of a revolution in this most body-conscious of nations, where overweight ladies long had little choice but to hit the beach in comely ensembles of oversized T-shirts and biker shorts.
Not for wallflowers: Shoppers are shunning the famous 'dental floss' bikinis of Copacabana beach but don't want to 'look like old ladies' in black cover-ups
'It used to be bikinis were only in tiny sizes that only skinny girls could fit into. But not everyone is built like a model,' said Elisangela Inez Soares as she sunbathed on Copacabana beach, her oiled-up curves packed into a black U.S. size 12 bikini.
'Finally, it seems like people are beginning to realize that we're not all Gisele,' said the 38-year-old mother of four, referring to willowy Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.
wimsuit designer: Elisangela Inez Soares rinses off at the beach and says that bikinis used to come in tiny sizes but 'not everyone is built like a model'
Clothing designer Clarice Rebelatto said her own swimwear-hunting travails prompted her to found Lehona, an exclusively plus-size beachwear line.
'Honestly, the problem went way beyond just bikinis. In Brazil, it used to be that if you were even a little chunky, finding any kind of clothes in the right size was a real problem,' said Rebelatto, herself a U.S. size 10.
Sun worshippers: Business for plus-size brands, such as Lehona, are cashing in on a lucrative market that high-end bikini-makers are too snobby to attract
'It used to be that people would stare at me,' said Soares, the voluptuous sun-worshiper on Copacabana beach.
'Now when I come to the beach I see women who are much bigger than me - and lots of them are wearing bikinis - so I'm not self conscious any more.
'God makes some people thin but he made me like this,' she said, rubbing down the well-oiled bulge of her stomach and thighs.
'So who am I to think that he was wrong?'