A lesson about beauty from Turkey

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The way in which Turks deliver compliments has always made me giggle…at least after I get over the initial shock.

The chilly winter is making way for warmer spring days and so, the layers of winter clothing are starting to peel off – uncovering the extra love handles beneath.

In the west, a couple of kilos will go unnoticed. But not here in Turkey.

In the west, people would say, “Hello? How are you? You’re looking good.” If the person looked like they had put on weight we would never mention it. We have grown to dislike weight gain in the west – it’s evil and we beat ourselves up for gaining a little here and there. To acknowledge a friend’s extra weight (especially unprovoked) would be considered insulting.

But in Turkey, acknowledging weight seems to be a compliment and “Hello? Have you put on some weight?” is akin to saying, “You look great!” or, “You look healthy!”

I never bought scales in Istanbul, I just rely on my Turkish friends for their ongoing assessments. It took me a long time to accept this and I almost learnt the hard way…

Three years ago I was introduce to a Turkish man at bar. Within 10 minutes of exchanging pleasantries he said, “You look like…balik etli.”

Stunned, I translated the words in my head to – fish meat.

Fish meat! What!? I shifted uncomfortably in anger and looked for an exit from the conversation. What a rude man. I did not know what to do. Perhaps I did not hear right? Or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought so I said, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

Sensing my disgust he was quick to explain that to be balik etli in Turkey is to be voluptuous – to have curves and the Turks do love curves. His confident explanation soon had me believing that he did just indeed compliment me on my body shape.

I have been labelled balik etli three times since and I am always met with the same complimentary explanation.

So fast forward to yesterday when I bump into a young turkish friend. Pointing to his belly he politely said, “Sister, have you put on extra here?” I giggled.

I smiled and said, “Yes I have. Thank you for noticing. Thank you for the compliment. You’re right – I do feel great!”

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7 thoughts on “A lesson about beauty from Turkey

  1. LOL, I love it! Fish meat! It’s so great to hear of a culture that appreciates reality. I think for me living in the US, when I look down deep into what would make me uncomfortable about someone making a comment about my weight, it would be the fact that somehow that number on the scale is tied to the “approval” society gives me. Specifically men. We watch so much TV, both men and women have been brainwashed to believe that only skinny is valuable. BUT WOW! So good to hear that’s not the case there. Thanks for sharing this. Oh, and I LOVE that photo!

  2. Turkish people don’t hold back, whether it’s a compliment or not: “You’ve lost weight!” “You’ve gained weight!” “You’ve got zits!” “Your hair looked better before you cut it!”
    And if you act annoyed by these comments. . . You’re the rude one.

  3. ”Balık Etli” may both be a compliment and a criticism in disguise. 🙂 While some of Turks indeed prefer balık etli women, some of us will just call you ”balık etli”, trying to refrain from calling you outright as a fat person.

    So basicly it can mean:
    1. You have great curves. I love it!
    -or-
    2. You are one step away from being fat.

  4. hey… its not always compliment u know.. its comliment when you are a little bit fat. but its not when u are more then chubby.

    so for example i am 170cm with 70 kg weight. i am at the limit of being consiered nice. if i be more than that, then “hey u gain weight” becomes a warning.

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