Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mary Kay, Underwires & Beauty

I’ve understated it all before and I’ll attempt to do it again today: Arab women are beautiful. [And a little awkward.] Drop dead gorgeous. Their strong features, their skin tones, their olive oil soaked hair, their big [usually] brown eyes, their shy, yet gregarious personalities. They’re just incredible.

And I get to represent the entire Western world to them. However I dress or do my hair or makeup is how they think EVERYONE in America does it. Then they get on my Facebook and look at my old pictures from college and start comparing me on an average 100 degree Tuesday to how I looked when at a bridal shower for a friend 5 years ago.

“Ya Sarah, why you no look pretty today?
I see you on da Facebook
and you look the sooo prrrreetty.
Why today no?”

Hmmm…….. Thanks.

I learned really quickly that Arab women love to wear “too much” makeup [it’s all relative, isnt’ it?] and like it when I do, too. At this point, I would like to invite you to think of 90% of the women I’m around each day as Mary Kay consultants. [Disclaimer: In the world of loose powder, I’m married to Mary Kay.] But ya know how Mary Kay consultants are ALWAYS done up, with lip liner and ridiculously meticulous eye shadow, etc.? That’s what I’m surrounded with. They don’t really understand my “daytime makeup” effect I’m trying to go for, especially since I’m out on the streets, in taxis and by myself as a “shagra” [blonde girl] most of the time.

As they kiss me hello, they inspect my eyebrows and “mustache” and jaw for extra hairs. They pity my short eyelashes and comment on how thin my eyeliner is. They playfully pat my belly and check my nails. For women who cover everything up and seemingly hide from the outside world, engaging in a friendship with them is like entering a beauty pageant.

“Ya Shagra, [no one knows my name]
are you wearing an underwire today?”

This all goes down as an ordinary pat down. I keep smiling and talking and treasure it in my heart.

My most epic “feel-skis” came when I was imitating my best friend, Amina. She commands a room upon entering and walks with the confidence of a movie star. Ain’t no paparazzi out today, girl. Chill. But she has a special way of making everyone feel loved. I pranced around the salon, tucked in my shirt, went up on my tiptoes and put on sunglasses, pretending to wave at people across the room, while incessantly flipping my hair. And as I was unnecessarily tripping over Amina and her sister, “Fatima” grabbed my calf. She then moved up my legs, disturbed by the muscle I had in them, comparing them to her own. Before I knew it, I was in a stance similar to the one you take at airport security when they “wand” you, only my shirt was pulled up to my neck and they were poking my stomach and ribs.

Yes. I was standing in a living room, with two women in their 30’s, my arms spread wide and my shirt pulled up around my chest. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there, like at a doctor’s office, waiting for it to end. [I told you they were awkward…]

Suddenly, I heard giggles. From little boys. Watching from the balcony. How. Humiliating. Fatima’s sons, ages 7 and 4, were watching this, and only God knows for how long. Amina and Fatima yelled at the boys like they were mad, chasing them away, but when I turned back to them, they were laughing and calling the boys, “Sweethearts.” Right.

Though I’m not regularly this intimately examined, it is a daily occurrence. It’s a small, yet ever-present concern of mine: being accepted. Being found worthy. Mostly, I think I’ll never measure up, because the expectations are too high, genetically impossible or mostly, unknown. “I’m so different.” But I’ve come to find that in my friendships with women, there are things that just go beyond language and culture. There’s a core to us as women: We desire beauty. And we want to be found beautiful.

Sometimes, being “blonde” or “white” or “just foreign” in the land of Arabs proved to be… the worst thing ever. Ha. But, it was mostly God’s goodness to me, His favor in my life. It came in the most peculiar ways, but His favor is great and I am grateful, and my friends and I were always laughing.

I think it may be true: that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Friends dressing me up. :)

After all, when someone tells you, “You’re beautiful,”
in Arabic, your response should always be:
Your eyes are beautiful.”

And then we say, “Alhumdilallah.”
Praise be to God.”

The Creator of all Beauty.


  1. BLess your heart,Sarah. Next term of service you should come to my corner of Mexico where wearing make-up is NOT the norm, and no one has heard of such a thing as cute shoes or well-fitting bras. Ha!

    Your story reminds me of a time I came out of an outdoor shower room wrapped in an almost-too-small towel for my very pregnant body, running to the warmth of our village house in Guatemala. Turns out the neighbor boys were hiding in a tree next door, giggling - likely inviting their friends for the show. Ack! The indignities of life on the field.

    It's funny the things you "cherish in your heart." You have a lifetime of memories. Keep writing!

  2. My most recent assessment from my Quechua friend was, "Hermana (they don't know my name either) where are your boobs? How will you ever feed your children?" Not the most encouraging thing to hear... oh, well. I agree, treasure those things/people anyway. Take care, girl!


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