NIMAR fotoselectie 0014
NIMAR fotoselectie 0014
"Just like the layers of dead skin that were scrubbed off, our insecurities seemed to be washed away with the water in this steamy room."
Amaya, student about her experiences of the Nimar-Minor:

A hamam expierence

When talking to my female friends an often-discussed topic is the insecurities they feel about their bodies. Our hips are too wide, our noses too small, our skin isn’t unblemished: we often compare ourselves to the images we see in magazines and movies and thus feel over-conscious of our ‘physical shortcomings’. So for all of us the thought of taking off the protective layers of clothing we wear was an intimidating and uncomfortable one. Yet this week, we decided to overcome this trepidation and experience a truly intrinsic Moroccan phenomenon: the hammam.

Whispering secrets of the Hammam

Hammams in Morocco originate in Roman times – the oldest hammam (8th century) can be found in Volubilis – and have since then been adapted to the Islamic need for ablutions. This is why they are often found close to mosques. Hammams are, however, much more than solely places to cleanse yourself: they are also important places for social interaction and in the case of women they function as spaces to escape the constant catcalling and street harassment. For this reason they are extremely popular in Morocco and locals often visit their neighborhood hammam at least once a week.

Women (and men at different hours) of all ages, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes frequent the hammams. Within the steamy rooms you will find little girls sitting in large buckets of water next to their grandmothers, young pubescent women gossiping with their girlfriends, and older women chatting while scrubbing each other’s backs. A lot of the women seem to know each other and jokes or small talk is exchanged with neighbors. The fact that this all happens while people are completely naked or solely wearing underwear seems not to matter at all. And in fact, after the first five minutes, we too forgot that we were undressed.

Rituals, Traditions and Customs

The hammam we visited was unmarked and located in a small alley in the medina. Possibly for this reason, we were the only non-locals there. We entered through a narrow passage, which led to a large room where people were in various states of undressing. Here we could deposit our clothes and pay for our entrance (10 dirhams) and a lady to scrub us (50 dirhams). We then followed the scrubbing lady through three consecutively warmer, white-tiled rooms and were seated in a corner of the last room where buckets with warm water were scattered across the floor.

Perfect Imperfections of our bodies

This caused me to reflect on the dichotomy in the Western world between our expression of sexuality through increasingly revealing clothing on the one hand and the taboo of complete nudity on the other hand. We continuously relate our bodies with the perfect images we see in magazines and are confronted with our own shortcomings. This seems to me almost always to be in relation to men and sexuality. In the hammam however, my body was not in any way a sexual entity but solely a natural part of me. Here I didn’t have to worry about my hips being too wide or if I was too fat because my body was perfect. It felt extremely liberating and safe.

Just like the layers of dead skin that were scrubbed off, our insecurities seemed to be washed away with the water in this steamy room. The hammam served as a reminder of our shared womanliness. So the next time I hear someone talking about their insecurities, I’ll recommend a trip to that unmarked treasure hidden in the alleys of the medina.