Li and Lu Medeiros both weigh in at 200 pounds and neither’s head reaches the shoulders of most showgirls on the Strip. Yet, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night the sisters slip into full showgirl gear — fishnets, tassel bikini tops, feathers and all — to strip their Las Vegas audiences of their Las Vegas expectations.
Before the Zumanity show begins, in typical Cirque du Soleil fashion, cast members have fun with the audience. Warm-ups for the Medeiros’ characters, the Botero Sisters, include finding the lap of male audience members and serving them strawberries as juicy as the plentiful flesh their barely there costumes reveal.
The knee-jerk reaction of their prey usually inspires an uneasy shock, but the nervous gentlemen always manage to overcome their preconceived notions of what a Las Vegas performer should look and feel like.
"Oh, they clap, they yell, they hug us," said Lu, adding that sometimes spouses get in on the action. "We’re short and fat, but they look at us like real showgirls."
And why wouldn’t they? The sisters exude sex — and lots of it. "It doesn’t matter if you’re fat, or skinny or tall or short. If you feel sexy and beautiful, you will be sexy and beautiful," said Lu, the more talkative of the two.
The Medeiros sisters come from a long line (seven generations before them) of circus performers. Neither attended public schools. Instead, a circus tent took the place of a school and juggling and dance masters served as teachers. In their hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the sisters didn’t have to endure taunting and teasing from schoolmates, but they paid their chastising dues professionally.
"It wasn’t easy. It was …," said Lu, 37, looking to Li to complete her thought. The younger sister by two years, took her cue. "They thought artists on stage are supposed to be skinny," she said.
Similar to the surprised, uneasy men they use as lounge chairs in Zumanity, their peers eventually warmed up when the sisters proved their juggling, clown comedy and dancing abilities. The rest of Brazil wasn’t so quick to embrace the ladies. In fact, the sisters say the United States, even silicone-saturated Las Vegas, provides a relief from the size discrimination exercised in their native country.
"It’s much better here," Li said. "They push people in Brazil to be skinny. They push. The TV, the magazines."
Her gripes about Brazil sound similar to those that plus-size women in the United States claim. But there’s one major difference: "They don’t have stores for big girls because they don’t want to support that. That’s why people have to be skinny," Li said.
The options in the United States may seem sparse, but the Medeiros’ feel they’ve found plus-size retail heaven here. When they traveled back to Brazil three years ago wearing their Torrid dresses and Victoria’s Secret lingerie at a shopping mall, full-figured women donning tent dresses stopped them, pleading for their shopping secrets. "Sorry," was their reply. "We bought it in Las Vegas."
Even the women who fit the thong bod prototype looked at the girls differently. "They don’t laugh at us," Li said. "The skinny girls looked at us like, ‘Oh my God, that’s nice’ because they don’t see that in Brazil."
The unfair treatment toward women of their size only makes the two more fond of the United States and less enthusiastic about visits home, where they can barely make headway with the public, let alone the media. Here, the two say they feel like sex symbols. And, as sex symbols in Las Vegas, their size may be different but one fascination remains.
"They always ask, ‘Are these real?’ " said Li of her ample bosom. "Can I touch?"style file facts Style Icon: Queen Latifah Most Fasionable City: New York City and Sao Paulo, Brazil. "(Sao Paulo) isn’t for us but the clothes are beautiful for Gisele Bündchen," said Li. Most Valued Possession in Closet: For Lu, "My watch my sister gave me. I can fit it with everything." For Li, "I have a cross, gold with rubies, from my great-grandmother." Fashion Pet Peeve: Low-rider jeans. "They’re not sexy at all. I hate them on boys but I really hate them on girls," said Li.