The construction workers don't bother to whistle at hot-looking women walking by in South Beach. Their lips would be in a permanent pucker.
When people criticize the idealistic models in magazines and say, "Real women don't look like that," they obviously have not spent much time in South Beach, Miami. Here the six-pack-abs guys on the cover of Men's Health aren't some unattainable ideals to strive for. They're locals.
There are basically three types of people in South Beach, Miami. Models, beautiful people, and the imperfect. That last group could appeal for minority status. You expect the lifeguards and the personal trainers to be attractive, but here the hot factor touches everyone: bartenders, waiters, European tourists, bike shop workers, Brazilians, MILFs, nannies, and the three cops who pinned down a chubby man in front of me and handcuffed him. Was he arrested for being fat and ugly? No, turns out he'd been filmed impersonating a parking lot attendant and collecting money. In a lot with automated payment kiosks.
The beautiful people in the majority seem to mostly bike, jog, lift weights at Crush, and wear outfits from Under Armor and Lulu Lemon. At night they have dinner in chic restaurants before hitting the clubs in Prada and Versace. Ads on the side of city tour buses feature Guess jeans models and the shared bikes at city kiosks define Miami with a photo of a woman in a bikini looking at modern art in a gallery.
When I walk along Collins Avenue at dusk one evening, a 20-something woman sashays down the sidewalk in my direction, the folds of her low-cut silk blouse and perfectly cut raincoat swaying just as they would on the fashion runway. I am struck not by her inherent beauty or curves—both practically a given here—but by her seemingly impossible proportions. With a height well north of six feet and legs looking like they would come up past my belly button, she is too fashion-mag perfect to be believed. I am tempted to ask to take her photo, but I am afraid I'd have to pay royalties to a sketch artist.
I hear seven languages during a five-block walk and wonder, "What must these foreigners think?" If my only impression of the USA was from a visit to South Beach, I'd think this was the most fit nation on Earth. Everyone is healthy, in great shape, and sexy. Where's this obesity epidemic I've been hearing about?
Another American metropolis may be nicknamed Sin City, but here sex and sin seem closer, more accessible, and within walking distance of any hotel. Half the souvenir t-shirts have some reference to sex. Shops like Liquored Up and I Love Liquor are within blocks of the Lush bar, Miami's Vices, and the World Erotic Art Museum.
There are sex museums in many spots in the world, but few that allow you to view thousands of years of fornication like it's a day at the Louvre. Founded by sweet Naomi Wilzig, now 75 years old and still on the scene, it's a mind-boggling collection of sex through the ages and around the world. "I grew up in a Jewish Orthodox family," she tells me, "and I only got into this because my son knew I liked shopping for antiques and asked me to pick up some erotic art for his new apartment." It took a while for the dealers to believe she was for real. "You have to ask the dealer to bring out these items from a back room," she explains, "they're not usually displayed on the shelves where children can see them."
After meeting her son's decorating needs, she kept at it and amassed a collection that includes historic artifacts, sculptures, movie props, and works from the likes of Miro, Dali, Picasso, Rodin, and Botero. "I've got all 20 of Rembrandt's erotic etchings!" Naomi says with pride. Oh, and more modern photo works from Robert Mapplethorpe and Helmut Newton.
The museum is a strong reminder that depicting sexual organs and the act itself are not some new development in a degrading society. Love and making love have been depicted in art through time and worldwide. The exhibits are mostly grouped by theme ("This is the gay room"), mythology ("Orgies with the satyrs and centaurs in the woods"), and origin ("The Chinese paintings have normal sized genitals, in the Japanese ones they're enlarged, like a close-up"). They span Indian Kama Sutra temple carvings, graphic Southeast Asian fertility symbols, stone Chinese dildos from 1,000 years ago, and varied collections of stories depicted in art—like Lady Godiva and Zeus seducing Leda as a swan.
There's something kind of jarring and exciting about seeing depictions of acrobatic orgies from a millennium ago and photos of couples going at it from the very first years of the camera. Some of the displays are from Victorian times and contain a secret. Pop a hinge or turn the porcelain woman upside down and you see private parts or a woman getting serviced from underneath. One section has naughty Disney characters that were definitely not approved by Walt.
All the while, as I move from one spot to another, Naomi is tossing out descriptions and explanations that would make 75-year-women in other cities blush. But hey, this is South Beach, where there's a wild nightclub and a sex shop on the same block. It's all natural.
After watching a few Ferraris and Porches go by, driven by people who don't look like they need to compensate for anything, I drive my far less glamorous car out to Dezer Collection. This car museum, just opened in 2011, is billed as "the greatest classic car showroom on Earth," a claim I thought might be pure bluster until I walked inside. And walked. And walked some more. The place holds more than 1,200 vehicles packed in tightly, from the dawn of the Model T to a DeLorean from Back to the Future.
It's obvious from the cars, the innuendos in the movie posters, and even the costumed mannequins inside the vehicles that it didn't take long for car designs to go from automobile to autoerotic. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the James Bond collection room. The world's best-known spy has traveled to more than 50 countries in his pursuit of evil maniacs and when on the move, usually drives a very sexy car. The Dezer Collection has a whole series of them, including six gadget-equipped Aston Martins (one valued at $1.25 million), a Lotus with a ski rack from For Your Eyes Only, and the "Wet Nellie" Lotus that transformed into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me.
The movie posters and other memorabilia draw the formula clearly: drive a cool car, drink martinis, and look suave. You'll get the girl all right. Just to bring the point home, there's a naked golden mannequin on a bed above one of Bond's cars.
After just two days of seeing men who spend half their days pumping iron and women who only look at the salads section of the menu, I start to understand why the beautiful people have trouble standing out. Perhaps that explains the flashy string bikinis with a thong adorned in fake diamonds for sale at one boutique or the running shorts that only come halfway down the perfect asses of women jogging down the boardwalk. It does catch my eye when a naturally busty woman appears on the beach walkway with a black string bikini that is little more than strings. As I watch for a few seconds through my dark sunglasses, her mother suddenly appears, scolding her for not putting her cover-up on after leaving the sand.
A man could get in trouble in a place like this.
I head back to my South Beach hotel, pack up my things, and drive downtown to the Viceroy Hotel, a place I'm reviewing for a lodging website. There are some beautiful people there too, but they're no longer the majority. They wear clothing covering more than ten percent of their body. They spend less than ten percent of their waking hours sculpting their bodies.
We're still in Miami, but the beauty looks like it requires more effort. I walk across a balcony looking down on the co-ed hot tubs in the Philippe Starck spa and see a Left Coast looking couple that's my age, but is doing their best to look younger. His dyed hair is expensively cut, her boob job done by the finest surgeon. Their lack of laugh lines when they talk is telling.
Here in the downtown district, they've still got one eye on South Beach though. The peer pressure from days of seeing perfect bodies drives me to work out in the hotel gym my last morning, where a sign advertising their personal training program says, "Get a permanent beach body!"
Thanks, but no thanks. I'm happy drinking my craft beer, ordering what I really want on the restaurant menu, and making exercise one thing on the to-do list instead of the thing that dominates my day. I'm one of the imperfect, which in every other place is the majority.
It's been fun South Beach, but I've gotta go back to somewhere I belong. I'm not too sexy and I know it.
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Sex, Lies, and Desert Dust at Burning Man by Brad Olsen
The Days Before Travel Was Tamed by Tony Perrottet
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