One of the many benefits of travel is that you get to explore diverse cultural traditions from around the world. So, this post is focused on visceral pleasures from across the globe that enhance your femininity and sensuality. What is more pleasing and stimulating than the act of caring for and beautifying yourself and making yourself feel good? In the spirit of encouraging self-care, beautification and confidence for all women, I decided to share my list of favorite feminine beauty traditions from around the world. There's no particular order, but you may notice two themes. One, I love Africa and the Middle East and two, I think layered stimulation (color, smell, texture, taste) is key to enhancing your femininity and sensuality. Check out the list, indulge your senses and enjoy!
1. Exotic Scent - I always have to be in possession of incense, bukhor, or oud! Whether it's earthy thiouraye from Senegal, bukhor helou laced with sandalwood from Sudan, ancient Frankincense and Myrrh from Ethiopia or the variety of exotic blends of agar, perfumes, etc. from the Middle East, I'm crazy for these mood altering aromas. Most traditional incense requires a lit piece of charcoal to burn it on (placed on a mubkhar) and allows you to scent your room, body, hair and clothes.
2. Sudanese Dukhan or 'smoke' - Utilized primarily to prepare a bride for her wedding night and also by married women, this is the traditional sauna at its best. The way it works it you stand or sit over a pot (often in a pit in the ground) of special burning wood. Your body soaks in the perfumed scent and is tinted a tantalizing golden color by the smoke. The more often you partake in the dukhan treatment, the longer the effects last...sometimes days or even weeks. The heat and smoke warm, purify and relax the body and promote reproductive health. Add the layers of exfoliating body scrub (dilka) and intensely strong, homemade traditional perfume (khumra) and you'll experience the height of sensuality and femininity.
3. Moroccan Hammam - This is the the original bathhouse where steam, eucalyptus based soap and vigorous scrub leave the body soft and renewed. Pores are opened and dirt, toxins and dead skin are exfoliated away. The result is silky soft, even-toned skin, as well as cleared nasal passages for easy breathing. Top it off with enriching Argan (Moroccan oil) for the ultimate in healthy skin treatment.
4. Amla Hair Oil - Made from Indian gooseberry, it's a great tonic for hot oil and pre-wash treatments. Another Ayurvedic gem, it's used to strengthen the locks, stimulate growth, prevent premature graying and encourage all around healthy locks. You can also mix it with a little coconut oil for ultra healthy tresses.
5. Shea Butter - Increasingly recognized for its moisturizing and healing properties and used in many mainstream cosmetics. But, why not get pure, unadulterated Shea butter straight from the source, Mama Africa? Used therapeutically, as a cosmetic, and even as a food item, Shea butter is an all purpose miracle. And daily use kept this mama from getting any stretch marks during pregnancy! Many ethnic markets sell it in case you can't get to the motherland. Just be sure that it's 'pure' Shea butter.
6. Arabian Perfumes - from Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, the Persian Gulf perfume houses make some of the most exquisite perfume scents imaginable. After these, you won't need Chanel, Givenchy or J'adore. As much as I like Ajmal Perfume, others such as Yas (the Royal Name of Perfumes), Syed Junaid Perfumes and Al Haramain Perfumes all make the cut. I'm in heaven when I visit their boutiques in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and usually can't decide on just one. Whether it's simple sandalwood or jasmine oil or signature perfumes such as Teeb, Sarah or the Musk collection, you won't be disappointed by these long-lasting Arabian blends. Dab behind your ear and on your wrist, or spray your garments after they've been scented with bukhor (see above).
7. Halawa - This is one of the best natural, homemade hair removal techniques. This is easy to make at home with sugar, water and a bit of lemon and is gentler to use than hot wax. Hardly any part of the body is off-limits with this ancient Middle Eastern technique, applied in small patches over the body. However, I would avoid the face area and stick with threading for the eyebrows.
8. Henna - Is very familiar to most people by now, but it's so amazing that it had to make this list. Nothing signifies femininity, sensuality and beauty like hennaed hands and feet. I love the diversity of designs, symbols and application techniques throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. I became so intrigued with henna years ago that I studied the art of applying beautiful henna designs myself.
9. West African Bine Bine and Bechos - Talk about layered stimulation. Hardly a woman in West Africa would be caught without her bin bin (waist beads). Not everyone can see them, but they come in varying sizes and colors, providing protection as well as feminine adornment. It's best to wear several at once to create a wonderful rhythm as you walk or move. I'll let you picture the rest... And, bechos are the hotness!. A decorative lappa (traditional wrap skirt) worn under a house outfit or reserved for the bedroom, bechos are the original lingerie. Who needs Victoria's Secret when you have a pretty, scented becho and a beautifully crocheted undergarment ensemble, topped off with gorgeous bine bine?
10. Real Powdered Khol - Before L'Oreal, MAC or Bobby Brown, women dating back to ancient Egypt knew how to create dramatic eyes with this natural mineral powder which has also been used to protect against bacterial infection and the evil eye.
Well, there you have it, my eclectic but far from exhaustive list of favorite feminine and sensual enhancing traditions from around the world. Pamper your senses and beautify yourself inside and out. You deserve it!
Dr. Nicole Maisha Monteiro is a psychologist and researcher by training and global traveler and culture observer by passion. She has been crossing borders and oceans since childhood. She is the author of Global Insights - The Zen of Travel and BEING in the World and Global Bites - Delicious and Healthy Recipes from Around the World