To burqini or not to burqini: A sea change floats my way

Another image of a burqini - an Islamic bathing suit with many names - burqini is the registered trademark from

…and there it was,  a young lady in her burqini, sweeping and swaying her way across the deck of the Kos Island-bound feribot I wrote about when I last saw you (you can catch up here). As we tried not to be too obvious in our examination of the art of walking in a burqini, M. and I felt rooted to the ground via our smooth, white plastic chairs that were bolted to the deck in all of their pseudo-modernist glory.

Our water bottles moved slightly back and forth on the table with the rhythm of the water.  I was reminded of how one’s eyes look at a tennis match, first here, then there, as the ball passes across the net.  This was, I realized, a metaphor for my own back and forth, to burqini, or not to burqini?  This was my question, my question of the hour.

Of course, Karagöz was there to rhyme it up and egg me on.  “Do it, blue it, they will boo it! Whee-hooo!”  And, of course, the chorus of dancing ladies commenced their “cluck-clucking” and “tut-tutting,” from the confines of the purse.  Kenne, now joined by Khadijah on my right shoulder, was busily ensconced in some needlework and ignored the whole curfuffle.  From the corner of my eye, I could see that the two little ladies were working on opposite ends of some large piece of fabric, embroidering up a storm.

Shooting them a thought with my eyes, as I knew they could read my mind, I said “you ladies, are, umm, awfully busy today?  Doesn’t the rocking of the feribot make you a bit ill?  Sort of like reading in a car?”  Kenne just waved her hand in dismissal, quipping “just enjoy your time in Kos, we’ll show you what we have made on the way home tonight, dear/canim.”

Unaware of the lady side conversation, M. stopped complaining about his headache and breeze-born illness, and announced “I will never censor you.  I love you and once again, if you need to do this ‘burqini street theatre’ to put these snobby ladies in their place, be my guest.  I am not convinced that it will put them in their place, but if it helps you to feel better about you, ok.”  Now, most women faced with such a show of support from their man would be thrilled.  Why, then, did I feel so dismayed.  I delivered a big kiss and thanks, but felt a bit empty inside.

Once on Kos Island, we wound our way off of the harbor on a long, brick promontory towards town.  As we decided which direction to go, what to see and do first, I scanned the newspaper seller’s shop for English-language news.  After purchasing a much sought-after copy of the International Herald Tribune, my eyes zeroed in on the newsstand when I saw an old copy of the feminist magazine “BUST.”  This zine, in my opinion, embraces what I think of as an in-your face, third-wave feminist stance on all matters concerning women.

Rental bikes on Kos Island in Greece - a short hop across the sea from Bodrum

Somehow, after just seeing those magazines when I had left Turkey for the day helped me to re-center.  I realized I could – and should – just be myself despite my insecurities about my body AND be as respectful as possible to the situations I was in – without giving it all up, or needing to protest in a burqini street theatre extravaganza.  “Loser!” Karagoz cried with screeching fury, as soon as he heard my thought “fraidy-cat, wimp!”  He stormed off to the ferry, mortified that I would not spin with my own form of anti-establishment protest.    While the street theatre might have been a kick, I decided to leave well enough alone for now.  As my Granny always said, “pick your battles, and be courteous.” The dancing lady chorus sighed with approval.  Kenne and Khadijah just kept on sewing.  They even continued to sew as M. and I rented bicycles to toodle our way around the island a bit – now that’s a balancing act, sewing while biking.  As the day unfolded into our exploration of Greek Orthodox churches, cafes and the fuchsia flowers of Bougainvillea vines over whitewashed adobe-like structures, I temporarily forgot my call to burqinism and my lingering question.

Per the Textile Museum "Domestic embroidery, made for sale or personal use, accounted for a large percentage of all textile production in the Ottoman Empire. Both men and women embroidered." See

As the late afternoon blue of water and sky sped by the feribot window, I felt full with sunshine and the fun of a day’s worth of exploring a new place. As we approached Bodrum harbor for our return, I could feel the frantic pace at which Kenne and Khadijah were sewing – what were they up to, anyway?  Khadijah answered with a hurried and a little bit tense sentence, saying “We are, m’lady, famous for our needlework and embroidery, don’t you know?”  “Yes,” Kenne said, cutting a bit of thread in her teeth as she rushed, “Ottoman embroidery is world-famous, and even our men get into the act, when it is time to sew with gold and pearls.

Before I could inquire further into the gender equity involved in 14th century embroidery, the feribot pulled into the harbor and we were instructed to prepare for passport control.  Forgetting about the mad sewing on my shoulder, I jumped off the boat, received my passport stamp and headed back through Bodrum town.   While I was already winding down towards binning my burqini street theatre plans, I did find that I looked somewhat lovingly at the Islamic bathing suits swaying in the breeze along the roadway.  They came in every imaginable color – pink, orange, tropical fish patterns – and the more demure black, grey and blue.  At one stall, I mustered up the courage to inquire about whether there were burqinis in my size.  The gentleman in question called over an English-speaking vendor who explained to me that he did not have burqini in my size “all gone,” he said apologetically, “all gone for summer.”  My fantasy of shocking the swim parade began to crumble a bit more just as Hacivad made his appearance with a softly-worded observation, “It is only a few more days that we will be here, yes?  Not too much more here to do in the gated community before striking out for more adventures in Anatolia.”

We hopped on the dolumuş  at the Bodrum Otogar, site of a previous escape, and I lapsed into my mind yet again.  Wishing for the pragmatism of my best friend, a stalwart Austrian feminist who generally doesn’t give a hoot nor holler what others think of her, I began to think my fabulous burqini-based street-theatre plan was for the birds.  Maybe, I thought, I should consider that this is my first meeting with M.’s family – diplomacy should perhaps prevail.  Maybe, just maybe, I should just stick to being me.  Arriving back home, a peace settled in, and I realized I was done with the burqini fantasy.  Not only because M. accepted me for who I was body-wise, or because it would potentially upset the familial apple cart (so to speak) – but because I realized that I was just me, and I was ok with that.  As Tasha Fierce pointed out in her recent essay, Sex and the Fat Girl: Subjectivity and Self-Image, “let a partner be a complement to your positive self-image, and not the key.”

“Now that’s the right idea, m’lady!”  Khadijah pronounced with a declaration fit for the Sultan himself.  “And you are coming around to this right attitude at just the right time!”  Before I could wonder what was what, I felt the tiny tug of my earlobes and hair as the little ladies commenced dragging their needlework masterpiece to the top of my head.  “What on earth,” I cried, “ladies, I get that you are way into your needlepoint, but why are you climbing up there?”  At this point, a humming, swooning honey-like sound began to ooze from my purse, and I realized that the little ladies of the dancing girl chorus were repelling out of my bag and up to the top of me by any means necessary.  Clearly, this was a lady puppet revolution.   Transfixed as if an insect that has given up on being caught in a spider’s web, I waited and watched. Even Karagöz was mesmerized.

An example of silvery Ottoman-style embroidery from

Slowly-by-slowly a thin, silvery-smooth embroidered lacy film dropped down over my body.  I felt the cooling of it’s touch, it’s protection still keeping me warm, I felt the pleasant glow of healthy skin augmented by sparkle and glitter.  Raising my arm, I marvelled at the intricate bird and flower designs that were melding to my skin as the material seemed to magically emblazon itself all around me like cling-film.  “Your question, m’lady,” Khadijah whispered, “was to burqini or not burqini. So, we made you a magic, invisible burqini that will lift your spirits, enhance your sparkle, glitter your twitter and inure you to further catty comments from the swim parade on cement beach.”  Here you have it, a burqini on your own terms.  Walk with your head held high, and the confidence within that you know you deserve.  Do not fall prey to the ladies of the day, they will get all they deserve in good time.”

Alighting the car, I felt the glow of feeling-good-in-my-bones throughout me, as if an aura of well-being had descended, and indeed, I think it had.  “My, my,” M.’s sister in law said, “you look really beautiful tonight!” Clearly, something had shifted.  For the first time, M.’s sister and I took a long walk that night, sharing stories and listening to the sea.  It was a sea change.

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11 Responses to To burqini or not to burqini: A sea change floats my way

  1. pisisultan says:

    Hello,here is Turkish manufacturer’s link

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this!!!

  3. Liz Cameron says:

    BTW – forgot to say, what a nice website, the music is lovely and the haşema designs are interesting! I am all for women doing what makes them feel comfortable in life, in the water or out. In the end, I think my own debate was about making peace with myself, and I am also glad that I did not choose to do something that might have been offensive to women who do choose to practice modest dress with a haşema, burqini or other!

  4. Sandra Y. Espinoza says:

    It’s fascinating to see the similarities in cultures…where you think there will not be any. Even more eye-opening is to have the various reactions I do–and have conversations in my head with, I wish I could say something akin to Karagosz puppets, but really, at this point, my own mind–about those reactions. As Liz said, thank you for sharing this…

  5. Alan says:

    Hmmmmm! Still wish you’d ‘got ’em!’

  6. Liz Cameron says:

    Alan, I knew you would say that! Been dreading the awful truth. 🙂 Might go fictional in the ultimate manuscript, it’s tempting!!!!

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