Is this what it means to be beautiful in Turkey?

A light-hearted reading from Istanbul’s Spoken Word on April 12, 2016.balik etli

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This is a story about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with beauty in the eyes of the Turks.

Well, the truth be known it’s actually my own struggle.

I just spent three months in Australia where I performed in a dancing show. With a month of intensive rehearsals in the heat of an Australian summer I naturally lost weight – about three kilograms.

Though, when the curtains came down on the show, “weight” was definitely not on my mind.  I was, “get in my belly” with chocolate, burgers and biscuits for a few weeks as my dancing feet rested. Binge, binge, binge. Nom, nom, nom. I no longer had to watch my waist line because I am happy with my curves – and I enjoy food!

That said, about a week before flying back to Istanbul I began to feel apprehensive about my weight. Because, I knew I had to face my Turkish friends. And, I knew EVERY TIME I land in Turkey I’d get an honest opinion about my weight:

“Hello my friend? How are you? ………..Have you put on a little bit of weight?”

In Australia, you would NEVER, EVER say: “Have you put on weight?” To say such a thing would be highly insensitive, perhaps even insulting to anyone insecure about their extra kilograms.

But no, no, no – not in Turkey. Apparently to say: “Have you put on a little bit of weight?” could actually be a compliment. (But, more on that later).

I bet there’s a few people right now sizing me up as they read this. Maybe thinking…”it sounds like she’s carrying a few extra kilograms”…is she balık etli!?

What does that mean? Some of you may ask. Well let me tell you.

I was introduced to this term six years ago when I came to Istanbul.

I met a Turkish guy at bar in Taksim. He was in his mid-30s. Had dark long locks and kept himself fit. We exchanged pleasantries – all in English, because my Turkish was terrible. He was kind of cute and charming. I was enjoying the conversation – right up until he started looking me up and down, and said, “You look like…”

He gazes at me with “sexy eyes”.

Sexy eyes (2)

I hold on for a compliment that will make me swoon for this dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty.

Perhaps he will say I look like Reece Witherspoon. Because I used to get that all the time – when I was thinner. Or may be he thinks I look like Ginger Spice – the mid-1990’s, curvier, union jack sporting version of “Ginger Spice” – because I used to get that too.

He repeats himself and pauses, contemplating his words: “You look like….

……balık etli.”

My eyebrows raise. I’m speechleess. I’m stunned as I interpret those two words in my mind to:

Fish meat!

“I look like fish meat!?” Ne! (What!?) I shifted uncomfortably with the anger resonating in my body. My western brain that would never compare a woman to fish concluded this guy was rude and insensitive.

Although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps I did not hear right, or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought. I asked him, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

What does that mean?? My mind went berserk as I searched for words to respond. I mean, what fish could I possibly be?

Am I hamsi (anchovies)? Short and slender. I do have pale skin. Maybe I was shining under the lights of the bar?

Hamsi

Am I hamsi (European anchovies)?

 

Am I çupra (sea bream)? Chubby in the face and mid-section. Skinny  in the “legs”.

Seabream

Maybe I’m like cupra (sea bream)?

 

Or perhaps levrek (sea bass)? Sleek and in proportion.

Seabass

Perhaps I’m like levrek (sea bass)?

 

Oh my! Am I turbot!? Flat, round, bumpy and rather unattractive to look at (but pleasant to devour).

turbot.jpg

Turbot, with a face only a mother could love.

 

Seeing the disgust on my face, my new friend at the bar was quick to explain what balık etli meant to him.

Apparently, in Turkey, to be “balık etli” is to be voluptuous. To have curves in the right places, and Turkish men do love curves (he reassured me several times).

His confident explanation soon had me believing that I had indeed just heard the most oddest compliment ever received.

But since then, many people have said otherwise. That perhaps when people say: “You’re like balık etli” it’s actually a warning to avoid that next chocolate, burger or biscuit!

Regardless, given this experience and many others I’ve had in my travels, I do feel beauty is defined by the culture and society we live in.

Do you like your ladies lean, voluptuous or lumpy and bumpy? Like your preference in fish – beauty comes down to personal taste – largely shaped by the society you live in. What’s attractive in one society may not be in another. And, as long as I enjoy my food, and I enjoy my curves, and Turkish men find balık etli  “tasty” I guess I’m not moving to another country anytime soon!!!

…..So….. who’s up for a spot of fishing? <insert cheeky bream grin here>

Skinny-Mirror

(Balık etli kadını sonunda bulduk = Finally we found the balık etli woman)

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