Once there was and once there wasn’t a lady who went on the search for the perfect burqini (a.k.a. hashema, odema in Turkish, per a reader, thanks again!). If you are wondering what in the world I am talking about, you may need to read my previous posts here and here to understand what the heck this is all about. A ‘burqini’ is actually the name of a specific product, it terms out, made by the Ahiida company, but is also becoming a term that is used to sell a range of “Islamic bathing suits.” Taking Fatima Mernissi’s explanation of Islamic feminism as a frame here, the use of a burqini is one ‘arm’ of hijab, or the practice of modest dress in Islam in which the goal is to allow for people to focus on the content of character and words of a woman vs. their body.
Basically, I had been spending the past two weeks in a locked beach compound near Bodrum, with a lot of very well-off folks and a range of ladies that would in 2011 parlance refer to themselves with what I am surprised to say is actually an honorific – “skinny bitches.” See the bestseller info here. Although this took place in 2004, as I am recounting this in retrospect, I take the liberty of using this term so embraced by the likes of Bethenny Frenkel, and others. It has, I realize, become an accepted term of honor in the pop culture of the day, along with skinny jeans, skinny milk and skinny cocktails. These skinny ladies had a lot to say about my weight, thus my dreaming of burqini post.
In any case, it was 2004, and I must admit, although I think my body was just fine at the time, I really got into a complex as a result of the actions and comments made (and not made, but intoned) by the lovely ladies at the cement beach. And this is what led to my interest in donning a burqini for my very own self – so that people might focus more on me and my words than on my bikini body – or lack thereof. I had become interested in the burqini as I had seen ladies at a public beach outside of the gated compound wearing them…M. had snorted at the sight, thinking it was ridiculous. I, of course, had run to the Internet café to learn all about it, and to try to relate it back to Fatima Mernissi’s work on Islamic Feminism (see my previous post here for more information on all that).
However, let me focus on my search for the perfect burqini for now. So, after hitting on the idea of the burqini as a central element to some sort of feminist-revenge cement-beach-located street theatre, I spent a great deal of time pouring over my memories of the community activism I engaged in during the 1990s in New York City during the infamous welfare reform era. As part of a student activist group, we had hoots and hollars worth of fun planning and conducting street-theatre protests with large-scale costuming events, quirky and poignant hand-made signs and interesting chants. All I could think of was watching the reactions of the ladies on the swim parade to my donning an Islamic bathing suit, a.k.a. a burqini and strutting my stuff in exaggerated form over to the water before throwing myself in with abandon. If I was really this ‘obese,’ at 5 feet ten inches and 160 pounds, maybe a burqini would save my fellow females from the horror of having to check me out on the way to the water each day (again, you can get the recap here).
While I was thinking these thoughts one day on the couch, having forgone the day’s activity of to-ing and fro-ing from cement beach in favor of a trip to Kos Island with M. I was waiting for him to catch up on the latest gossip about his futbol team with his brother, so that we could make our exit. I took out my Turkish grammar book while I waited, and caught the din of the shadow puppet dancing lady chorus began biting their nails. It was a sound that was new to me – and quite alarming en masse as it was. The tiny chomping and soft chipping of shredding nails reverberated off of the adobe-like walls of the outdoor living room in which I was ensconced, studying my Turkish verbs and gazing out at the view as I repeated them in my head. “Gidiyorum, Gidyorsun, what was the next one again? I wonder if I could make a verb for ‘to burqinify’.”
Bending over to take a pen from my purse to work on my verb conjugation, I caught sight of one of the shadow puppet dancing lady chorus. “We’re all for performance, m’lady, don’t get us wrong, we love us some performance,” the frog-voiced leader said with conviction from the usual spot inside my cavernous purse, her filmy veil floating a bit in the breeze, “but this does not sound like a very NICE performance for your audience.” A murmur of agreement ensued from the pockets of my purse, so I shut it fairly quickly. I made a mental note that not only did the dancing lady chorus have the ability to use their x-ray vision to see events beyond the purse but also had the magical ability to hear my thoughts. “This sounds,” a meeker voice said, “like you really want to show up all of these ladies because they are so appearance-focused. Isn’t that the point of being a lady? To look pretty and please those around you with your kindness? This street theatre thing, it does not sound very kind to polite society.”
Before I could respond to the little ladies through the top of my purse, slouched next to me on the white canvas couch, Kenne made her appearance. “I will not tolerate this notion of a burqini street theatre protest, as you call it,” she said with the firm conviction of a matriarch on parade. “You will fit in here, if that means losing weight to be as skinny as they are – even if you are judged just right elsewhere. When I had to join my husband’s family’s home upon my marriage back in the year 1382, I had to make do with the expectations in that household, and this is the lot of women, really, isn’t it?”
Trying to tamp down her anger (perhaps disgust?) at me, I saw Kenne was taking a different tact, she was working hard to gently twist her face and words into a kind and engaging approach designed to draw me out, and towards her side in the matter, clearly. “You need to go to that salon again,” the lady chorus cried with renewed conviction, as if they had hit on just the right solution that had eluded them before, “perhaps another waxing? Or hair dyeing? Or eyebrow shaping? Maybe you need to tattoo some eyebrows on that right-side, it is a little thin by nature, a thyroid problem, perhaps? The salon always leads us to feel better and not worry so much about what is the natural parade of women checking other women out.” They have a point, I thought, I do always feel better after the salon visit, but perhaps without the wax torture. Why does it take the salon for me to feel ok about myself around here?
“Ready to go?” M. asked me – stretching out his hand to pull me back from my self-infused reverie. “Yes, I’m ready, um, do you think we could do a little shopping on the way home today – I could use a new, ahem, bathing suit.” The chorus of dancing shadow puppet ladies sighed as we walked up the steps to the car.