Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head
Two and a half years after leaving Istanbul, I came back to visit with one main theme: defiance.
And I’ll leave on Tuesday with the wind rather knocked out of my sails.
I was adamant that I was going to wear whatever the hell I pleased. Bare shoulders? If I bloody well felt like it! Skirts and heels? If I wanted! Tight jeans and tops? Bring it!
When I lived here under the oppressive regime, not of Erdogan, but of a Black Sea Turkish boyfriend, I was criticised and outright told off for wearing anything like the above.
It would not do to draw attention to myself or look sexy as that was an indirect (or direct I’m still not sure) invitation to other men and therefore a direct affront to my boyfriend as a man. If his girlfriend was still advertising herself, what kind of man did that make him?
The trouble was exacerbated by the fact I have blonde hair and the kind of figure where there’s always a curve escaping the cover up somewhere. Often an outfit that had received approval at home, apparently, caused glances and I’d have to swelter away under a jacket. It was a constant source of stress. Not only did I have to dress appropriately, I also had to “wear good”. So not looking smart enough, not wearing make-up, not wearing perfume invoked more criticism. And that’s not counting the constant comments about my weight. (Size 8-10, for the record).
The other side of this concern was that I’d be putting myself in danger. Turkish men, he assured me, were not like British men. They couldn’t control themselves, although this was somehow women’s fault not theirs, and I was not strong enough to protect myself should there be a testosterone explosion at the sight or suggestion of flesh.
My wardrobe gradually became more conservative, even down to beachwear. On holiday in Cyprus about 7 months into the relationship, I put my bikini on to go to the hotel pool. It was too revealing – one of those typical triangle affairs. I covered up with a vest top, bewildered. It was a bikini, they don’t cover you up. We got down to the pool where there were mainly families and I pointed out women wearing bikinis exactly the same as mine.
“Yes, but they’re English.”
“I’m English,” I whined. Yes, whined. Because when you let someone tell you what to do all the time, you deprive yourself of the right to speak your mind or act accordingly.
Anyway, Istanbul 2013, own mind restored, I packed with the intention of wearing just what I wear in Spain but I resigned myself to paying for it in the form of comments, hassle, maybe being followed. I figured most of the time I’d be with other people and I was in the mood to take the consequences and be thankful I live somewhere more evolved.
So, day 1 from the airport in heels, a knee length fitted skirt and sleeveless blouse, daring enough already, but with a fairly low top button. I had to deal with the airport, the crowds in Taksim and wandering off the top of it to navigate the hole that now occupies the main square, down some back street to find my accommodation and then the hordes waiting outside Burger King on a Friday night.
In fact there were plenty of Turkish girls dressed way sexier. And this is an interesting thing as when I lived here, I was convinced Turkish girls didn’t dress like that. That it was only misguided Western girls asking for trouble. Friends would insist I was wrong but I just became more convinced I knew better because I was dating a local and had his word on it.
Day 2, navigated myself alone through the labyrinth of alternative pedestrian routes around the hole and by metro to Osmanbey in a shorter dress, bare shoulders and a little higher cut but wider decollete.
Day 3, walked to Eminonu, a route that’s heaving with men and is by the main road so surely I was going to be kerb-crawled, beeped and shouted at in my skinny jeans and tight vest top.
Well, OK, I can’t say I attracted no male attention at all. But only what is perfectly normal, not intimidating, not insulting, not in any way intrusive. It seems the danger was all in my head, put there by him. Perhaps not intentionally or calculatingly as, I suppose, a controlling personality doesn’t go through those processes.
But, what was I doing letting someone dictate my wardrobe and fill me with the fear of bogey men around every corner?
Where was that defiance when I needed it?