There really is a right way to wash yourself.
I’ve been cleaning myself for 37 years now and I always thought I was quite good at it. I love a bath, I own a few fancy body washes and sometimes I even dry brush (Ha! As if! no one actually dry brushes, that’s just something beauty editors always say to do. Who has time for that craziness?)
Anyway, then I went to Turkey and had my first visit to a hammam (Turkish bath) and I realised I’d been doing it all wrong the whole time. I mean, first of all I was washing myself. What a rookie. But, it wasn’t just that… it was the ritual of it, the ‘treat yo’self’ time, the bubbles. The whole thing is one big fragrant-smelling dream. It’s also very confronting if you’re not used to getting your vagina out in public (which, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say is most of us), but did I mention there were bubbles? Lots of dreamy bubbles?
For those who haven’t been, let me enlighten you. The hammam I chose was the super-traditional, but still very glam looking Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamman in Istanbul. It was recommended to me by my good friends The Internet, and also a real life friend… and even a Turkish guy we met who said Kiliç Ali Pasa was the best Hammam in Istanbul. Also, I liked the pictures and the marble looked pretty.
Anyway, you go to the hammam at the designated ladies time, which was kind of weird at first because I was alone and most gals were hanging with their buds. But, I think that was probably just my FOMO talking. You’re given a Turkish towel (real name: pestemal) to wrap yourself in, and a glass of hot sherbet drink which sounds gross but is a delight. Then you enter the wash room… and the wrap (and your modesty) are left there. You sit down, and the towel is sort of draped over your nether regions and a few buckets of warm water is poured over your head.
Did I say I was wearing mascara at the beginning of this? I was. Please refer to aforementioned rookie status. Anyway, at this point I realised being nigel no friends here is a blessing becauase as much as I love my friends they probably don’t need to see me in my full glory. So, when you look sufficiently like a complete hot mess/ drowned rat you get led to the big, glorious heated marble slab in the middle of the room where you can lie/ doze off for a while before some delightful Turkish woman called Fatma takes you by the hand and leads you to your nook in the room. Your nook isn’t private. It’s essentially a marble seat built into the wall, but there’s another girl a couple of arm lengths away. You’re facing the marble slab, and even though you think it might be weird to make eye contact with other naked women, everyone is so blissed out (or perhaps having their own awkward internal monologue) that it’s really not.
Then Fatma pours a few more buckets of water over you, and it’s time to get scrubbed like you never have before. I mean, she uses three different types of exfoliating gloves! I didn’t even know three types existed! And I worked in beauty! So after you’re feeling slightly raw but in that really satisfying, smug way (like when you just pop a pimple) because you know that there’s not a single dead skin cell left on your entire body. Which means new, fresh skin cells! All the plumpness! Looking 15-ish again!
And then comes the real magic. Using what can only be described as a weird pillowcase contraption, Fatma dips in into this special solution (I’m not sure what, but I think it’s definitely made by tiny sweet baby angels), and then she pulls a Tai Chi style move and somehow it fills with bubbles… and those bubbles are gently descended upon your entire body like light, feathery, cherubic kisses. Several times. Anyway, after an hour of being properly washed and bubbled you forget that you’re sitting naked in a room full of random women, and instead marvel at how soft and glowing your skin is. You then get a robe (because, modesty) and get to lounge with tea and biscuits in the next room while you emanate clean vibes and vow in your post-hamman haze that you shall do this ritual at least once a week in NORMAL LIFE.
I was so serious about this new beauty ritual I even bought one of the exfoliating gloves! So many good intentions, so much lazy. Alas, “weekly” has now become a half-assed monthly scrub but every time I use that mitt (which, by the way is very gentle and lovely and I rate much higher than an actual loofah) I do think of the goddess that was Fatma and her magical unicorn cleaning hands. And I will say this: I’ve had a lot of beauty treatments in my time. In my beauty heyday sometimes multiple a DAY. Outrageous, I know. But nothing is quite as unique as this. If you can put aside your prudishness it is definitely something I feel everyone should experience in their lifetime, if for no other reason than to be kissed by silky angel bubble clouds. So, if you ever find yourself in Istanbul, or anywhere with a hammam, get amongst it ladies. Clean will never feel the same again, trust me.