In praise of female friendship
Seared into memory
My straitlaced mother would be scandalized. She’s rolling over in her grave right now because I’m publicly admitting that at one time, I went partially nude in public.
It’s true. I skinny-dipped in the Aegean Sea…well, almost skinny-dipped. On a trip to Europe, two friends and I were swimming far, far out from the shore through brilliant turquoise water off the coast of Greece.
My friends were remarkable women, both were old enough to be my mother — only not nearly as uptight. They were, without doubt, the most fun women I’d ever had the pleasure to be around, capable of grabbing life by the neck and jumping on for the ride.
These friends taught me that it’s okay to loosen up and be just a little wild.
I’m forever grateful.
The siren song of the sea
On a group trip, the three of us decided to ditch the planned activities and took off to find a beach. The turquoise water wooed us, seducing us into relaxation. We were all strong swimmers and were naturally drawn out far out from the shore. We moved through the dazzling water, more like manatees than mermaids, until we stopped and faced each other, treading water while we shook our wet heads and threw jewels of glittering water drops from our hair.
Something came over us, and in a contagious wave of uninhibited glee and utter abandonment, we all took off our swimsuit bottoms and waved them wildly overhead, laughing hysterically, just to prove — as if on some invisible dare — that we COULD and we WOULD.
We treaded water and swirled our suits, three professors from a midwestern community college.
We thumbed our nose at advancing age, proving that getting older couldn’t keep us from being wild and carefree.
Three traveling, middle-aged friends on a sun-sparkled day skinny-dipping in the topaz water…(You know, it just doesn’t sound the same if I said, “three bobbing heads of old women swinging sodden underpants where no one could see them.”)
Years later, I remember that crazy swimming experience — Warmth and light and joy, and the kind of female friendship that frees you. Friends who enable you to let your guard down and be uninhibited.
The Turkish Baths of Istanbul
But as much fun as our swimming escapade was, it didn’t hold a candle to our night in a Turkish Bath in Istanbul.
“While in Rome…” right?
“While in Istanbul…”
My swimming partners, my office mate, me, and one of our almost-adult-teenaged granddaughters decided to take in the cultural cleansing of a Turkish bath. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t total nudity in front of my friends.
We were welcomed in, told to strip down, and doused with hot water before being scrubbed with a coarse kind of loofah. I began to understand what a carrot feels like scoured with a brush before being dumped into a boiling pot.
After our liberal soaping and aggressive skin rubbing, we all lay face down on the warm stones, being massaged by the several hefty female attendants. My body was flushed with heat, both relaxed and invigorated. My mind drifted in a haze, wondering about the strange freedom that comes from having friends you trust enough to be nude with.
I know nakedness is not a big deal for men, but in my conservative upbringing, these experiences were a leap of faith into a new liberation and an understanding of the power of friendship.
Friendship and warm acceptance
Roxane Gay expresses what female friendship is NOT:
“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.” ― Roxane Gay
Good friendships are based on mutual experiences and warm acceptance. Nudity has nothing to do with it, but if it happens, true friends won’t make a big deal of it, comment on the flaws of your body, or demean the experience by gossiping about it. Experiencing true female friendship is like being buoyed by the waves of a turquoise sea or being enveloped by the warm steam of a Turkish bath.
“Women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures, and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men, but women understand. The odd thing about these deep and personal connections of women is that they often ignore barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, culture — all the barriers that, in male or mixed society, had seemed so difficult to cross.” — Gloria Steinem
Nothing feels as good as knowing you can be yourself at any time, in any place in the world, in any circumstance — and knowing that years in the future, the memories of shared adventures will still be with you.
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