Emerging as a Butterfly

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Nervous giggles erupt as we slowly undress; first pants, then shirt, and then, when there is nothing left, we take our bras off too. “This is normal. This is normal. This is normal.” I quietly repeat these words over and over again, somehow trying to rid myself of the uncomfortable feeling nestled in the pit of my stomach. The Hammam (a traditional Moroccan bathhouse) is stifling, the air as thick and hot as if we were in a sauna. Our Moroccan friend, Fatma, has already undressed and is waiting for us, somewhat perplexed by our fits of embarrassed laughter. For her, a trip to the Hammam is a weekly occurrence, as ordinary as going to the grocery store or making a trip to the swimming pool. As much as I try to convince myself though, there is nothing normal about this for me, and I know the same can be said for the four other American girls with me.

A chipped blue bucket and a rough black scrubber are given to me, and for a moment I panic, my hands, now occupied, unable to cover myself. A blue and white tiled room with a domed roof opens up before us, a multitude of pipes and individual spigots stretching along the walls like the bones of a tired skeleton. Everywhere, my eyes are greeted with women of all shapes and sizes, sitting with their backs to us, scrubbing and being scrubbed. We join these women, lathering ourselves up with black soap that smells like my Grandma’s Chinese medicine cabinet. When our turn arrives, we lie down and are scrubbed from head to toe by several buxom middle-aged women.

A sense of unfathomable freedom suddenly descends on me as I lay on the hot tile floor, the first layer of my skin being enthusiastically rubbed off. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon it has spent much too long in, I feel like I am becoming a new creation, reborn. For those two blissful hours we spend in the Hammam, any insecurities I have about my body slowly fade, scrubbed away with my dead skin. I wonder what kind of world it would be if people everywhere were given the chance to love their bodies like this?

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