Turkish women know how to take care of themselves. They have their legs waxed, facial hair removed, eyebrows shaped, and their hair styled at the salon. There is a kuaför on every corner. They do their nails and have perfect pedicures. They pay careful attention to their makeup and wear nice clothes, shoes, and accessories.
This can leave a casual American woman feeling frumpy.
When I first came here, it did not take me long to realize that my denim skirts and tennis shoes looked downright dowdy next to the tailored skirts and black leather shoes local women wore. My tourist uniform was practical for walking around Istanbul, but I stood out like a sore thumb. I began to change the way I dressed, just to blend in.
Twenty five years later, weddings here are still a trauma for me because I never know what to wear. Many Turkish women have beautiful floor-length gowns. To my practical mind, it seems like a luxury to buy an expensive dress that I will wear only once or twice a year. Last year, I noticed to my horror that every picture taken at a wedding for the last ten years showed me in the same dress. I got rid of it, thinking I would be forced to buy a new one. I was wrong. I never seem to find the time or the extra money to go dress shopping.
Last September my husband and I went to a neighbor’s wedding. Just one hour before we were supposed to leave, I was feverishly pulling clothes out of a suitcase in the bottom of my wardrobe, looking for something to wear. To my surprise, I rediscovered a dress I had forgotten—and I found an old gift from a friend, a fancy necklace with rhinestones and enamelware that I had never worn. It matched my dress perfectly. For once, I went to a wedding dressed appropriately. I felt great, but I was still the only woman at our table who had actually done her own hair. I was also the only woman not wearing high heels.
How do I reconcile my casual approach to appearance with local standards? Compared with some of my local friends, I am a mess. I have, however, learned positive things about caring for my personal appearance from Turkish women, like the simple fact that I look a lot better on the days I wear makeup, do my hair, and throw on a necklace. I suspect that taking more care with my appearance is an important part of being a good witness here, but I do not want to be a slave to standards others set for me.
This week I came across a great reminder:
What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in (1 Peter 3:3,4).
This assures me that I can be free to be myself, and that a gentle inner disposition goes a lot farther than any makeup ever could in making me beautiful. Just ask my husband. A shining, smiling inner beauty speaks a lot louder to encourage my local sisters than having the latest clothes and hairstyle. So, I am smiling today, even though my hair is a wreck and my clothes are wrinkled.
What are the local standards of beauty where you live? Have you changed to blend in with the local culture?