Feminism | Posted by Chelsea L on 04/3/2013

On Witnessing Beautiful, Real Bodies

A Moroccan hammam

I recently spent two weeks traveling with a group in Morocco and was fortunate enough to have the experience of going to a hammam. A hammam is a type of spa where women and men (separately) go once a week for 2+ hours to perform ritual cleansing. It’s relaxing, exfoliating, and a great time for female bonding. The “catch”? You must be completely naked. Maybe for some people this isn’t a big deal, but for me it was horrifying. My body has been a constant issue for me. I’ve done crash diets, Weight Watchers, lost weight, gained it back, struggled with days of self-loathing and through countless workouts. I have done many things to feel comfortable—much less beautiful—in my own body, and yet I found unexpected inspiration in this hammam.

As soon as we walked into the hammam we were immediately instructed to lose the clothes. It was one of those moments where we all kind of paused, thought “I’m really going to be naked in front of all these people,” and then dove into the process. We went into the first room, the coolest of the three steam rooms, and began scrubbing our bodies with this grey-looking olive oil scrub. I took a moment to look around the room and realized how rarely I actually see real, naked female bodies. Women in American rarely, if ever, see each other naked. Throughout my life, I have only really seen one female body: the one presented to me daily by the mainstream media. I assumed that most women had this body under all their clothes. I was ashamed of my body for not fitting this image. I was so, so wrong. No one in that room had a “perfect” body, and yet we were all absolutely beautiful.

There’s a prevailing idea in the West that women of Eastern cultures are oppressed and ashamed of their own bodies, hiding their femaleness and beauty under layers and layers of clothing. But these same women think nothing of getting naked in front of each other—the naked female body is, at least in the hammam setting, normalized. I do not want to generalize about Western v. Eastern women, because I’m sure body issues are relevant on both sides and there’s of course no single “Western” or “Eastern” woman. But I think it’s interesting that, at least for me, it took going to an Islamic country, getting naked in front of all of the women in my group, and allowing a naked Moroccan woman to scrub every area of my body to feel truly beautiful and comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. I felt more liberated in that hammam in Morocco than I have ever felt as a woman in the United States.

Think about this: if you are brought to a hammam once a week for at least two hours every week of your life since early childhood, if you have seen every woman that matters in your life—much less countless other women—naked, how would you see yourself? If you have seen these different bodies and curves and creases and breasts and hair, if these things were normal to you, how would you see your own body? How differently would American women’s body image be if instead of being bombarded with images of one “perfect” female body, we weekly experienced the vast differences between naked women? Would it be obvious to us how absolutely beautiful and unique and wonderful our bodies truly are?

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  • On Witnessing Beautiful, Real Bodies | thefeministblogproject @ at 1:32 pm, April 4th, 2013

    […] http://thefbomb.org/2013/04/on-witnessing-beautiful-real-bodies/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… […]

  • Terri cobb @ at 8:40 pm, April 4th, 2013

    What an amazing experience to realize
    The beauty of ones own body. How fortunate
    For you to have this experience at such a
    Young age. Don’t ever forget how beautiful
    You truly are. Great article and well written.

  • Ariel @ at 10:04 pm, April 6th, 2013

    It would be great if things like this were opened in america. We would likely get over our body image problems in a few years. Well, maybe not so soon, BUT if these were in every spa across america, it sure would help.

  • Kyley @ at 2:47 pm, April 7th, 2013

    Thank you for this thoughtful post! I had a similar experience at my state-side women’s only gym, which has a rather nice spa and lots of locker-room nudity. On some level I had honestly never realized that all these other women didn’t have the body sold to me in ads and glossy magazines. Seeing beauty in other women’s “imperfections” gave me a huge boost of of confidence and did remarkable work at overcoming some of the negative body image I’ve been carrying around.

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