The Girl from Ipanema: Still a Brazilian Beauty at Age 73

The Girl from Ipanema: Still a Brazilian Beauty at Age 73

Helo Pinheiro was just a 17-year-old girl enjoying her summers at the Ipanema Beach in Brazil when she caught the eye of songwriters Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes in 1962. By 1965, she was the muse and subject of the Grammy-winning, international hit song “The Girl from Ipanema,” launching her into a spotlight that she is still maintains in 2019.

The Real Girl from Ipanema

Helo (full name at the time: Heloísa Eneida de Menezes Paes Pinto) was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro on the Rua Montenegro, just a short walk from Ipanema and a beach bar called Bar Veloso that would soon be a site of musical history. Ipanema Beach was a trendy part of southern Rio de Janeiro and the perfect spot for spending mornings and afternoons lazily watching the ocean and sunbathers while chatting and eating with friends. In 1962, teen Helo was a regular fixture at the beach, walking by the Bar Veloso on a daily basis to and from home. While this routine was commonplace to her, certain bar patrons found her anything but commonplace.

Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim, a Brazilian Jazz and “Bossa Nova” composer, was celebrating an already very successful year in his career; he had recently received acclaim for his song Desafinado and would be invited to perform it at Carnegie Hall later in the year. Jobim spent many a day with friends at Bar Veloso and was taken with Helo from the moment he saw her. Helo would pass by, sometimes in her school uniform and sometimes in a bikini, looking “tall and tan and young and lovely” and would regularly be catcalled by the bar patrons. What was particularly striking about her to Jobim was that she never even so much as glanced at the bar patrons, let alone responded to them. She walked with her eyes straightforward, undeterred, giving off an air of confidence.

As an adult, Pinheiro has revealed that she was, in fact, a shy, self-conscious teenager who worried about her teeth being crooked and her figure being too skinny.

Regardless, Jobim was infatuated with young Helo. As a 35 year old man with a wife and two kids, he did not dare approach her, but he did convince his friend and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes to sit with him at the bar and wait for her to pass. When she inevitably did, he remarked to de Moraes, “Isn’t she the prettiest thing?” who responded, “She’s full of grace.” This exchange would very shortly become the basis of de Moraes’s Portuguese lyrics for Jobim’s composition “A Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema).”

An Everlasting, International Sensation

The song first took off in Rio, then the whole of Brazil, and by 1964, the rest of the world took notice. It was translate into English, performed with both English and the original Portuguese lyrics, and was only outsold by The Beatles. It went on to win a Grammy in 1965, and continues on today as the second most recorded song in pop, second only, again, to The Beatles and their song “Yesterday.” Among just a few of the stars who recorded their own versions of the song are: Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, and Cher.

Over half a century later, the legacy continues. “The Girl from Ipanema” was voted the 27th best Brazilian song by Brazil’s Rolling Stone in 2009. It rose in popularity again in the U.S. to #5 on Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart the week after the 2016 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, and in the days following the ceremony, Spotify reported that the song was played over 40,000 times per day, over a 1200% increase.

The Hunt for the Girl from Ipanema

The early fame and popularity of the song naturally brought plenty of attention to Ipanema, with everyone in 1964 Rio wondering who was the real girl from Ipanema. The sensation prompted many women to claim the title, and even more people to try to capitalize on the mystery; many people would sell alleged photographs of “the girl” to tourists.

Meanwhile, Helo had heard rumors that she may be the famous girl from Ipanema, but shy as she was, did not actually suspect this was the case. It wasn’t until mutual friends introduced her to Jobim himself that she learned the truth. Jobim courted her briefly and, still infatuated with her, proclaimed his love for her on their second date and proposed that she marry him. Knowing he was already married and twice her age, she gracefully turned him down. Even after her refusal, he confided that she had, in fact, been the inspiration for the groundbreaking song.

Helo’s role as muse was still relatively unknown by the next year, but de Moraes was growing tired of the rumors. Prompted by a concern that a competition to select the “girl from Ipanema” would soon be underway, de Moraes decided to hold a press conference, inviting Helo to stand at his side as he officially announced her as the song’s inspiration:

“She is a golden girl, a mixture of flowers and mermaids, full of light and full of grace, but whose character is also sad with the feeling that youth passes and that beauty isn’t ours to keep.  She is the gift of life with its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.”

Pictured: Lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, left, with Helo Pinheiro in 1965.

Becoming the Woman from Ipanema

Now internationally recognized, the Brazilian beauty could not pursue her overnight stardom, instead in 1966 marrying Fernando Mendes Pinheiro, whom she had been dating since she was 15 and to whom she is still happily married today. She reflects in her 1996 autobiography Por Causa do Amor: “The middle class philosophy was to discourage and even repress any attempts to do anything other than bringing up children and being the perfect housewife.” In 1960, less than 12% of all jobs in Brazil were held by women and only 20% of all college students were women.

In 1978, this philosophy would have to change. Pinheiro’s husband lost his job and the family fell on hard times. With four children to care for, Pinheiro decided to finally capitalize on her connection to the hit song, even though it was never her intention to “exploit” it. As she states, “It was a romantic thing, a gift of love. I never wanted to commercialize it.”

Despite her hesitations, she soon became a celebrity and successful businesswoman in her own right. She began modelling, became a radio talk-show host and a gossip columnist, and later started working with the up-and-coming Brazilian beauties. She organizes pageants, has her own modelling agency, and has endorsed over a hundred products. Her career spans four decades, and even while officially retired from modelling work, she still makes several significant appearances, including, most notably, bearing the torch at Brazil’s 2016 Summer Olympics ceremony.



She currently focuses most of her efforts on her fashion boutique, aptly named Garota de Ipanema.

A Brazilian Beauty and Icon at 73

Now a 73-year-old grandmother, Pinheiro still makes heads turn. The self-conscious days of her teenage self are clearly gone, as she steps out confidently on Ipanema Beach in bikinis, with her toned figure and youthful skin that women 20+ years younger envy. At the late age of 42, she became a Playboy Playmate, and then again at age 58, when she posed along with her then 26-year-old supermodel daughter, Ticiane Pinheiro, making her their oldest model yet.


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Hoje uma pose ousada kkk👀👀👀👀😃

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What’s Her Secret?

Pinheiro’s secret to aging so gracefully actually isn’t much of a secret—at least, not to Brazilian women. Natural beauty is only one small part of a much grander cultural interest in health and skin care. Having the expansive Amazon Rainforest in their backyard doesn’t hurt either; Brazilian women are known for their DIY, at-home skin care treatments crafted from the best of nature around them. With over 40,000 different species of native plants, the Amazon is nature’s pharmacy, and in turn, nature’s largest beauty store. The list of nourishing plant life includes, but is certainly not limited to: açai berries (colloquially “beauty berries”), camu camu, jambu, acacia trees, cacao (yes, the Amazon is responsible for even chocolate), and so many more, with many left undiscovered and unstudied.

Of course, even with natural remedies at their fingertips, Brazilian women still seek out medical solutions. It’s common to hear from Brazilian supermodels that they have been seeing a dermatologist since their preteen years, well before modelling was even a passing whim. Seeking medical attention for cosmetic reasons doesn’t carry the same stigma as it does in the United States, perhaps because Brazilian women are willing to do the hard work for their overall health in addition to the cosmetic treatments. Brazilian dermatologist Dr. Andrea Godoy says of her patients, “They constantly ask me for skincare products with natural ingredients, anti-oxidants, ‘food for their skin.’” The focus is less on altering their natural beauty and more on preserving and nurturing it.

This is only scratching the surface of the Brazilian skin care; their lifestyle choices contribute to their long-lasting youth as well. Exercise, spiritual practices, and the propensity to be upfront and genuine can all contribute greatly to reducing stress, which in turn reduces the likelihood of developing poor habits (such as smoking, getting too little sleep, poor diet) that can lead to premature signs of aging. Dr. Godoy addresses these factors as well in her book Ageless Brazilian Beauty: The Skincare Secrets of Supermodels Revealed, in which she delves into all the practices that keep her patients looking young and healthy. Her book, available as a free digital download, includes in-depth information on the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of Brazilian women as well as the ingredients and products that keep their skin in tip-top shape. A quintessential and iconic Brazilian woman, Pinheiro has surely grown up and evolved into the successful woman she is today by embodying these tenants of self-care.


When other models would have been forced to retire decades ago, Pinheiro continues to flourish in the spotlight. More than ever before, she truly embodies “the girl from Ipanema,” with the self-assurance and confidence that Jobim and de Moraes saw in her as a teenager. Her youthful energy is apparent in everything she does—as though she hasn’t aged since the days she strolled the beaches of Ipanema.

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