The Glamor of the New Turkish Woman in "Resimli Ay"

guest contribution by James Ryan

When one usually ponders the image of the canonical republican Turkish woman, a few stereotypes come to mind. The woman of the Kemalist imaginary is often older, stout in both heart and physique, and donning a headscarf in the style typical of a village teyze, somewhat loose and knotted under the chin, as opposed to the neatly put-together look of today’s pious Turkish woman. This image served a particular function in the Kemalist ideology--this was the woman who sacrificed her time and her livelihood to win the war for independence, who birthed, literally and figuratively, the citizens of the new republic and would represent the Anatolian backbone of a movement that was otherwise western and urbane in both style and substance. By perpetuating this image, however, we forget that this image had significant competition, and that the question of what the new republican woman looked like was once unsettled.  In this post, I’d like to highlight some of the alternatives that were on offer in the pages of one of the most adventurous publications of 1920s Istanbul, Resimli Ay (Illustrated Monthly).

[1] Resimli Ay No. 2, 
March (Mart) 1924. 
Resimli Ay was the brainchild of the husband and wife team of Zekeriya and Sabiha Sertel, both journalists who had previously been associated with various Ottoman-era journals like Vatan, Tanin, and Büyük Mecmua.  In 1923, the Sertels returned from a three-plus year trip to New York City, where they spent the years of the Independence War getting an education--she in social work and he in journalism -- from Columbia University. The new journal was in many ways inspired by their experiences in America, very much reminiscent of Vanity Fair or Vogue of the same time period, with covers featuring glamorous illustrations (such as those from March 1924 [1] and December 1927 [2]), and long-form articles on everything from child poverty to the latest dance crazes.  The magazine was a hefty publication for its time, typically around forty large-format pages, and cost twenty five kuruş, which was at least five times the cost of an average daily newspaper.

[2] Resimli Ay December
(Kanun-i Evvel) 1927.
In focusing strictly on the covers and other images of women featured in this magazine, we see how Resimli Ay was one of the first to capture the image of the glamorous, cosmopolitan woman that was bursting onto the scene in post-war Istanbul. This woman was ultra-modern in the sense that she wore the latest fashions of Paris and London, showed off her hair, which was cut short in a bob or similar style, and could been seen by day out and about in Beyoğlu shops and by night cavorting, dancing the foxtrot and even drinking in the neighborhood’s garden bars and nightclubs.

A series of articles in the first few issues of the magazine, entitled “Bügünkü Türk Kadınlar” (“Today’s Turkish Women”), focus on this new woman.  Alongside images of women at work in factories or attending schools are profiles of two prominent Turkish actresses, Bedia Hanım (later Bedia Muvahıt) and Münire Hanım (later Neyyire Neyir aka Münire Ertuğurul), who were fresh off of their performances in the screen adaptation of Halide Edib Adıvar’s war novel, Ateşten Gömlek (The Shirt of Flame), which, coincidentally, was the first instance of a Turkish woman on screen. The celebration of the performative presence of women in public and the celebration of glamor and contemporary fashion were one and the same in the pages of Resimli Ay.

This ultra-modern cosmopolitan image was certainly germane to the world of Istanbul’s urban elite in the early 1920s, but by the end of the decade, the idea that Turkish women were as fashionable and beautiful as their counterparts in Paris or New York became a national (and nationalist) affair.  Outdoor beauty contests were common enough in Taksim square by the mid-1920s that the New York Times submitted reports with headlines such as “Turkish Flappers Find their New Freedom Entrancing” (Dec. 20, 1925) and published articles by “Turkish Feminist” Halide Edib Adıvar on the new Turkish woman’s “Inherent Consciousness of Queening” (Oct. 7, 1928).  The idea of a Turkish beauty queen created what historian A. Holly Shissler has called a “veritable craze” by 1929, and elevated a Turkish woman to the Miss World contest by 1932.

[3] Zekeriya Sertel, “Turkey’s
Fiery ‘Joan of Arc’; Doubles in
 her Role as Leader” Nov. 26, 1922
Why then did the image of the teyze ultimately trump that of the flapper?  While there are many explanations for this, it might be worth reflecting on the role that the Sertels themselves might have had in creating that very image, if not for their audiences in Istanbul then certainly for the Americans who were paying attention. During their sojourn in New York, Zekeriya Sertel occasionally wrote for the New York Times and other publications. His first piece was a report on the progress of the independence war focused on the feminine heroism of his close friend, Halide Edib. The article, entitled “Turkey’s Fiery ‘Joan of Arc’; Her Double Role as Leader” was accompanied by the illustration at right (Nov. 26, 1922). [3]  The article details Halide’s shift from Istanbulite author of a new Turkish literature to something of a female Anatolian “rough rider”, camping out in a small country cottage, riding horses and learning to shoot a rifle. This, even for Zekeriya Sertel, was the image of the ultimate Turkish patriot, “an ever-burning volcano, throwing flames of patriotism around her.” 

However dazzling the flapper was in the new Turkish imagination, one has to admit that the image of the teyze, rooted in the formative experience of a violent and tumultuous period, has had an undeniable persistence.  Yet, it is important not to forget that this revolution paved the way for a creative wave in print and fashion that has been just as formative for modern Turkish culture.

**Copies of Resimli Ay can be found at a number of libraries and archives worldwide.  The most accessible location in Istanbul would be the library of the Basın Müzesi at Divanyolu Cad. No: 84, Çemberlitaş, Fatih Istanbul

JAMES RYAN is a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at the University of Pennsylvania. 

SHISSLER, A. Holly. “Beauty is Nothing to be Ashamed Of: Beauty Contests as Tools of Women’s Liberation in Early Republican Turkey.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 24/1 (2004): 107-122.
BARAN, Tulya Alim. “Resimli Ay’da Kadın.” Toplumsal Tarih 11/63 (1999): 6-10

Citation: "The Glamor of the New Turkish Woman in 'Resimli Ay,'" James Ryan, Stambouline (July 29, 2013).

View Larger Map



Popular Posts