Rosemeri da Costa emerges as Brazil's bare-breasted folk hero after spending eight hours in jail for slipping off her top.

Published February 11, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

The itsy bitsy teeny weenie bikinis worn by Rio de Janeiro women consist of two tiny threads so diminutive that they're nicknamed "dental floss." Many sunbathers even regard the upper portion of this ensemble as excessive, preferring to go topless.

Rosemeri da Costa, 34, has been doing it for years, but last month while tanning her teats she was hauled off the beach by police, guns drawn, sparking a national debate entangling the Roman Catholic Church, feminists and politicians.

Costa, who was relaxing on the beach with her companion Antonio Saraiva, 62, was rudely awakened from her mammary-baking reverie by a contingent of raiding police, reports the International Herald Tribune.

Rosemeri and Antonio tried to argue with the anti-torso antagonists, but the cops responded by slapping Antonio, wrenching his arm behind his back and then dragging Rosemeri off to jail
for eight hours. The entire incident was videotaped and subsequently publicized on local TV stations.

The puritanical police insisted that they were just trying to enforce the city's laws, but their choice of de Costa remains mysterious; she'd been airing her areolas for months surrounded by an abundance of other bare-bosomed women, including European tourists.

The archbishop of Rio, Cardinal Dom Eugenio Sales, responded to the arrest with sanctimonious approval: "The human body is sacred. We cannot expose it for the purpose of sin." But the majority of the public was enraged and took its wrath to the beach.

Rio's beaches were packed with protesters two days after Rosemeri's bare bust was busted. Women's rights activists waved placards proclaiming, "Down with sexism, up with pleasure," and men paraded about in bikini tops to demonstrate their solidarity. On the following day, Rio politicians officially ended the anachronistic topless ban, with Mayor Luiz Paul Conde announcing, "This is going to be the summer of the topless."

Rosemeri and Antonio's escapade has jiggled the pair into semi-stardom as folk heroes. When they enter nightclubs now they're roundly applauded, they're invited to celebrity parties and they estimate that they've given at least 50 interviews.

At the pet supply store where Antonio works, he complains,
"All people want to talk about is what happened. I can't get any work done."

Back at the beaches where Rosemeri's breasts pointed the way
toward personal pectoral freedom, she's now approached by reverent admirers who shyly request her photograph.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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Brazil Latin America