One bit of pampering I recommend unreservedly to all women visiting Turkey is not a trip to a hamam, but a trip to the kuaför (coiffure) for a wax. This recommendation may surprise anyone who has seen me in a pair of shorts, but my attitude toward body hair has everything to do with apathy and very little to do with politics or making a statement. I like to be (relatively) hair free; it is only my laziness which stands in the way. Waxing in Turkey is perfect for me—cheap and quick and with long-lasting results.
Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, a country in which cleanliness is very important and body hair removal is a big part of personal hygiene. It is a country in which, as I discovered to my surprise, men shave their armpits and a woman with body hair gets stares and even gasps as she walks through a hamam. When epilation is the norm, said epilation tends to be widely available, democratically priced, and of high quality. Therefore, every time I pass through Turkey, I make sure to visit the kuaför.
I recently took a trip with my beloved mama to the Turkish city of Hatay or Antakya (known in ancient times as Antioch) and I knew that in preparation for a move to the tropical climate of Thailand I wanted to get waxed one last time. We wandered away from the touristic strip (not hard to do in Antakya as, despite its wonderful museum and food, not many tourists visit here) and struck gold when the first kuaför we passed had a sign outside advertising “İndirim komple sir ağda 15 TL”. Full-body waxing for only 15 lira ($10)! Though I planned to only wax my legs, based on the price for the sir ağda (not strictly full-body, as it is limited to legs, pits, and pubes), I knew this was likely the cheapest option in town.
My mom, having never been waxed herself, was especially curious to see how waxing is done in Turkey so we both walked into a partitioned, dimly lit room in the back of the salon and I lay down on a padded table, similar to what you might find in a massage parlor. Without fanfare, the esthetician applied warm wax from a roll-on applicator to my lower legs and got to work.
Here's the truth about waxing: It will never be completely painless, but the Turkish esthetician knows how to minimize the pain. She is brutally efficient. She doesn't coddle you; she doesn't carefully or delicately spread the wax over your skin; she doesn't even pull your skin taut as she removes the strip. Instead, she applies the wax liberally, covering quarters of your legs in one go, then with remarkable deftness rips your hair out by its roots, never pausing to allow the pain or even the thought of pain to sink in. No, she forges on, and before you really know what has happened, she's put her wax applicator away and is rubbing your legs down with a strawberry-scented oil.
Within eight minutes the esthetician had removed all my leg hair—from ankle to thigh—and when I indicated a some hairs on my stomach (the delightfully and aptly named “happy trail”), she switched to a different kind of wax and a hand applicator. This should have alerted me, but before I could think twice she began applying the wax to my stomach, making quick work of those hairs. Her next application of wax was a little lower. Rip. I thought she was done, but in a flash she was spreading the hot wax lower and lower, never pausing to give me time to stop her.
The sting of lower-leg hair removal is nothing—akin to the prick of a needle. The hair is sparse and has shallow roots. Pubic hair, on the other hand, is dense with roots that run deep, so when the esthetician removed this strip of hair, I flinched and, though I hate to admit it, cried out. My mom (still watching the process) held my hand in sympathy. I asked the esthetician to stop, but she rightly pointed out to me that the remaining hair was uneven, and indeed, it looked a bit like a crude drawing of a staircase, one side much higher than the other. I gave her permission to even things out and braced my whole body again as she ripped off the strip of wax.
My mom had been fascinated by the process and was impressed with how quickly it was done. She decided she wanted her legs waxed too (“But not my bikini area,” she made sure to add) so I explained to the esthetician in Turkish. My mom flinched and yelped just a bit when the first strip of leg hair was removed. We both laughed and the esthetician smiled, but never slackened her pace. As the hair on her upper thigh was ripped out by the roots, my mom let out an involuntary yell and we both burst again into laughter. Another strip of wax, another yell. This time I doubled over and even the esthetician began to laugh with us, but, ever the professional, she never paused in her work. She pushed on, tearing off strip after strip, and my mother admitted that the pain really wasn’t so bad, especially on the lower legs. All the same, she was happy when it was over and when the strawberry-scented oil was applied. The total price for our epilatory experience was only 15 TL ($10) and though our time in Antakya was packed with interesting sightseeing and delicious food, our trip to the kuaför truly was a highlight.
My mother with our sweet and efficient esthetician
Now things are as they were before. My mother and I are on opposite sides of the globe, over 9000 km apart, and Mother’s Day is approaching. This is the new normal, and one of the few drawbacks to my itinerant lifestyle, for I have a wonderful family but rarely get to see them. So it’s memories like this—three women laughing in a small back room in a Turkish kuaför, my mama holding my hand and then I holding hers, tears of pain and joy mixing together, the bonding that inevitably takes places when women strip down for a sticky grooming procedure—which stay with me and fuel me through moments of homesickness.