Day 1: Welcome to the Company of Women

BECOMING begins

Dear Ella,

Today we have seen some amazing places. Amazingly old, with amazing architecture, and history, and significance. I’ve saved this letter for now, because I want to explain where we’re headed next. It too is old. Built in 1584 by Mimar Sinan, the best known architect in Istanbul. We are going to the Cemberlitas Hamami, a Turkish bath.

I first went to this Hamam in 1997 with some visiting Americans. I think I wore my bathing suit, even though they gave us wraps, because I was horribly modest. The Hamam works like this: you are given a wrap, your own loofah scrub, and soap. Women and men are separated entirely. We will head to our own private changing room and then into the women’s side. I will let you be surprised by how amazing and exotic it is, but I want you to picture a large marble room, not a bathtub. I will explain and show you what we do once inside, but at some point a large Turkish woman (topless quite possibly) will come and scrub us and give us a massage. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, but feel wonderful. There will probably be other foreigners and they might be completely naked. Be prepared. But this is why we’re going...

Ella, you are entering the company of women. You are transitioning from child to teen and eventually woman. Your body is already changing and soon you will get your period. As women, we share this reality. We all have breasts and periods and growing hips and unwanted blemishes. But we are all beautiful because the female body is beautiful.

In the Hamam you will see bodies of all sizes. Large breasts and barely noticeable breasts. Large hips and narrow hips. Flesh and rolls and scars and moles. Some of us have born children and our flabby stomachs bear witness. Some spend hours working out and their lean muscles show it. You and I, we’re modest. Though I bathed with you as a baby, we haven’t “seen” each other in a long long time. But today, well today I want to encourage us both to embrace our bodies. Let us resist shame and enjoy the beauty of womanhood!

Let us have fun in this crazy historic Turkish bath, where women used to congregate and eat and dance all night long. Where bridal parties still come to celebrate an upcoming wedding. Where women through the centuries have lingered far from household responsibilities, as a retreat from their lives. May we too, retreat.

Where have we come from, Ella? We’ve come from a sisterhood which knows how to laugh and accept and enjoy each other without shame. Let us join them.

Love, Mom

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