Saturday, December 12, 2009

Skin Whitening and its Grey Faced victims

I'm so upset. Sad and angry, pissed really. Ive been harbouring these feelings and I need to get them off my chest. Last night, while visiting a respected friend a ignorant comment was made; "your daughter is so white (pause), shes lucky mashaAllah". I honestly didn't know what to say.  I sat there, with a fake mona lisa smile, what was I supposed to say anyway? Thank you, youre right my daughter is lucky?

White, Lucky?? I was burning inside though translating "white=lucky, white=lucky, white=lucky????"

So if she was brown she wouldn't be so lucky huh?
Our conversation took a quieter tone, more pauses, less words.  I was busy, unsupervised in my head. I let the thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences all flood. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. The rest of my visit went fine, although I couln't wait to leave so that I could think, uninterrupted. I am not angry with my friend, afterall, shes just another victim.

I think it was my first week here, many moons ago, that I noticed something strange.

I was confused as to why so many women (whose faces I could see) had grey complexions. Now that I am aware of the 'why' it’s actually quite sad to see. Initially I resigned to thinking it was because they covered their faces and so they simply needed some sun. But this is not the case. Soooo many women, young and old, here in Salalah, are victims of the supremist idea that “white is better, more beautiful”. Most don't even realize that they've been brainwashed.  For those quick to judge, dont get me wrong, I'm not remotely anti white and this problem is most certainly not just here in Salalah, or even  the middle east, its a global problem. Back home though, it takes more subtle forms. No one will outwardly admit they they think white is better, as they do here, even though they may truly believe so. It took moving here, and meeting locals, to realize the obvious damage that has been done. I guess I just naively expected Muslims to see beyond color? Apparently,obviously there are no boundaries and we suffer like the rest of humanity.

It’s not hard to spot. There she is, ringing up your items at almost all the local markets, her face is clearly painted over in some white make-up, leaving her looking on the grey side. It takes only one glance to realize that her hand is a beautiful brown while her face is a ghost grey. If you dare look a little closer you can see the white residue stain on the sides of her hijab. You can see the unnatural white contrast through the slit in her niqab/burqa. She is thinking that now she is more presentable, now she is worthy. Again, her hands, nearly always, betray her.

Every time I see it, my heart beats faster and I have this dire urge to approach the deceived woman and somehow relay to her that she IS beautiful just the way God made her. I want to put my arm around her shoulder and let her know that she is loved for so much. I want to scream in the supermarket and tell all the people that we must stop sacrificing our women in the name of so called beauty!!!!. Why in God’s name would you try to change the complexion of your natural skin?! How beautiful we are, in all our shades and hues taken from the very earth we walk upon. Didn't your Mama tell you?! God created us from clay, look around you, the soil of our earth has every shade found in the human complextion.

Since being here, I’ve been bombarded with laughable commercials telling me to smear poison on my face to live a happier more successful life. I click on internet explorer and 100 advertisements try to seduce me with their quick "fixes" as if something is wrong in the first place.  The isles are stacked high promoting this convoluted idea that white is more beautiful. Every single brand you can think of - from Garnier, L’Oreal, Vichy, The BodyShop, to Estee Lauder and Chanel - offers products to lighten, tackle hyperpigmentation and dark spots. Corporations making money off of our insecurities.

With one, mayyybe two exceptions, all my dhofari girlfriends are candid in their idea that "white is more beautiful, and more importantly, more sought after". They scoff at me when I tell them I could go for tan. One friend always reminds me "tall and white Rania, thats beauty around here". When Ahlam showed me her wedding photos, I asked "where are you?" She smiled proudly and said "that IS me" pointing to the geisha looking white woman in a thobe. At weddings the girls are unrecognizable in their new white faces and blue contacts. They sincerely believe their husbands will love them more because they are lighter. All the beauty supply shops have skin whitening products to support their obsession, its sometimes difficult to find products that don't have it.

To my hijabi Sista from another Mista: Are you forgetting why you wear hijab? Let me remind you, one very important reason behind hijab is to be judged by character, the inner self, not for the physical or outward. But here we are judging ourselves and each other! Who's lucky and who's not. With all the variations in our world have we really limited beauty to a mathematical equation?

(White skin) + (Large round eyes) + (Small straight nose) + (collagen filled, full lips) + (tall slim body) = Absolute Beauty

I must admit I am crushed. A daunting, yet absolutely neccessary task lies ahead. I glance at my astonishingly beautiful little girl, in all her glory, in all her beauty and innocence and I sadly wonder what the world will teach her behind my back. Its inescapable but worth the fight.

Although its not about face whitening per se, it still is an important message about beauty. Please check out Doves campaign for "Real Beauty". I am a little skeptical of Dove, but this video is quite telling. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I feel better already.

Educate = Choice = Change


  1. I know it is a big problem all over the region. I am not happy with what is going on, but I guess everyone has the right to choose how he or she wants to look like..
    There is a kind of exaggeration in how the women are seeking light skin, but the new generation is starting to learn (very slow) and read about the consequences of such a way.

  2. Thank you for this post. I am fed up myself. I have been shocked by how much color matters around here. As an American, with blue eyes I am constantly harrassed, and it is not because I am a looker if you get my drift. Arab men seem to find me very interesting!!! Poor girls.

  3. A very poewrful and passionate post! And you've said it all.

    Education/knowledge is key here; it's the only way by which societies can defeat these irrational concepts and transcend the ignorantly-accepted norms. It's a task that falls on this generation's shoulders, to raise secured, high self-esteemed individuals who would truely believe that people are just beautiful the way they are.

    Change is coming, hopefully!

  4. I believe Dhofari girls do that not basically because their men like them whiter or something like that, but because they have a great self-esteem and self-respect to look good every time.

    It may have something to do with knowledge/education anyway, but it also concerns some aspect of this Arab culture. I said "culture."

    I may find some Western women strange if they used creams and such to make their skin darker, and when they find my niece with a dark skin cuter than my other niece with a white skin.

    @Anonymous: you mean "some" Arab men find you interesting.

  5. Last thing: education in Dhofar? Yes, I, as a Dhofari girl, know that and I've talked about the low level of education in Dhofar in my blog before. Being more honest here, I just believe it is how we, Dhofaris, are wanted to be. It is not our fault. Believe me, Dhofaris are smart and creative people. Just pave the way for them and they will surprise the world with what they can do. Yes, I said the "world." (SQU's highest GPA ever was a Dhofari girl's by the way. From college of sciences.)

    And despite anything, I will still love the self-esteem, self-respect and unique appearance and lifestyle Dhofari women have =P

  6. Mahfeef, yes we all have the right to choose how we look (to a certain extent). The question really is "why do we feel the need to change what we look like". "Why do we want to change our complextions, our noses, our lips, our size?" There is always an underlying issue at hand. I hope youre right that the new generation is changing, unfortunately that has not been my experience.

    Anonymous, yes I have heard from a lot of westerners that they get harrassed, Ive never seen it myself, and I hope I never do :)

    Almas, thank you =) You are very eloquent yourself mashaAllah. I just checked out your blog, very nice, Ive become a fan :)

    Non-Crowned Princess-you should be crowned already! =) I think you are SO right when you say that Dhofaris are smart, creative people with incredible potential. If only there were more opportunity to spread their wings. I do believe the time is coming and more will surprise the world! Not surprised about SQUs highest GPA being a Dhofari!

  7. My kids are scared shitless (really!) when they see women with white painted faces and colored contacts! Especially when the rest of these women's body is covered in black.
    Being "white" (or pink when I'm hot/ blue when I'm cold/ greenish when I'm sick) myself, I cannot understand why anyone would want to change the color of beautiful brown skin into something other than that. And anyway, I'm a strong believer that beauty comes from within and is radiated through the skin and the eyes.

  8. Rania,
    I have to be honest with you this time as I read your blog and I feel really sad for what you are going through. First of all because I’m traveling and I just like to add my personal views for the moment. I did ask Reality once to e-mail me since she wanted to know more about my Omani experience that my plans won’t come to the light as men want their society to be suppressed more than what you can imagine.

    I told you in my previous comments what to scarify, the marriage you entered and for children sake DON’T let any insecure society as well as the other blog asking Nadia to meet with you even I might be wrong BUT, I feel she is very tough and strong as a writer not as openly yet. I mentioned before either on her blog or Reality that they should be open and proud to have the courage to be the first Omani female voice for CHANGES. It might be even harder as you request in nicely mannered fashion which the Omani will find it insult…May be my comments will open the door too to prove me wrong.

    This story happened with me in one European store in Oman, people always think I’m European, well! The cashier asked me about bleaching her face and how come I have very nice fair skin and when I told her my age over 50 she was shocked. I made it a joke: Do you mean like Michael Jackson, are you serious and what is wrong with you to bleach your face. I think she was embarrassed and said: NO, I have friend who is looking into the AVON catalog. I said in funny way: Hey, tell your friend to soak herself in a bathtub with chlorine. Later on I started asking such issue. I was really really surprised with another mystery in the Omani culture.

    As a Muslim too, Islam has nothing with all this. In fact Islam has the best self esteem teaching that is IF they are really following the words of Quran or Hadiths.

    Look into some 16+ years in US wanting to enhance their breast size and their own stupid parents give it to them as their birthday gifts, so you find lunatics in everywhere. Just keep up as I told you with your spirituality and don’t translate all wrong doing into Islam. IF a person can’t appreciate what God created in them, then let them live the pain.

    Happy Holidays and New Year…..We don’t know what is for us tomorrow so enjoy the moment and the changes of the weather. XOXOXO

  9. I agree with NS comments that if a people are not happy with what GOD created them, well let them feel and experience the pain.

    I think that a lot of people all around the world are not happy with what they look and try to change this about them. It might be something with your personality and faith.

    I went to many places and believe me as whitening is scary in Dhofar it is quite the same in many countries around the world where people try tanning themselves. Back in the 1999 it was like a fashion all around Japan that a school girl gets tanned to look exactly like brown sugar and putting strange makeup and believe me they just looked so strange, ugly somehow, although they hade beautiful faces, but the whole package did not fit them at all.

    I personally think that changing your skin color is something that might backfires on you one day especially if you go too far bleaching your skin or get tanned skin. As a Dhofari man I feel so sad when I see our naturally beautiful girls in Dhofar do that. It is ironic to see a bleached face yet brown hands. It is so shameful, especially when you get comments from others. I do believe that Dhofaris are so proud and so sensitive in the same time, but this is not the way we should be.

    I blame both society and local governmental offices for this. It is so simple for a small department of Family affairs in the Ministry of Health and in the Ministry of Social Affairs to be more responsible and do their homework and educate women about the harms that they might get due to these methods. And not to forget teachers, women religious clerics, and of course Omani Woman Society in Salalah and in all Dhofar Wellayats, which only care about how to perform traditional dances just to please a bunch of horny officials who only care about watching little girls dancing, and fantasizing how these girls will look like when they grow up.

    There are many ways to become more beautiful. Exercising can make you fit and beautiful and having a make up that shows your originality in a beautiful way is more attractive that being a ghost from an American movie or a Japanese animation.

    And by the way, for all those whities around here, you are just attractive because you are different not because you are white, and please don't tell me that non-Arab guys in Dhofar don't stare at you!! Or is it an Arab thin!! You are just attractive because you are different that's all, the same goes for Philippians, Indonesian, Moroccan, Indians ladies and any other different nations around here.

    Note: RIP Michael

    Nothing personal……………………PEACE

  10. Marhaba,
    i enjoyed reading this post becaus you are talking the same lingo i have been talking for 2 years. Since i got married to my salalah hubby, ive seen more whitening creams in my sister in laws rooms than i had ever seen all over the world (and im a seasoned traveller.) I refused to wear the get up/make up when guets come around, i refused to wear the white cream cos im sazon white by race and find adding more creams jst pathetic and i refuse the ton loads of perfume and bakhoor when leaving soemones house or when its made at home..i live with 3 brothers in law and i dont do the cultural practisies that go agaisnt islam what so ever ( yes im strict bout religion.)
    Im in love with my plaine black tent abaya, with the plaine black hijab to my waist and my plain black niqab with no perfume or bakhoor .. anyone wanan join me ??!!

  11. Soo true in my country too! It's really disgusting, no?

  12. Very true! thank you for posting this important message.I am a dermatologist practising in Salalah, and i get a lot of patients coming to me with requests for whitening creams or whitening treatment, I usually fail in convincing them that using whitening products isnt a good idea . many of them come to me with serious after effects of using multitude of creams from the local shops,some of which contain mixtures of potent corticosteroids which are very harmful for the skin .I think the author of this article should publish a translation of this work in Arabic for circulation in Salalah.
    ones beauty doesnt depend on his/her color, but on ones character,attitude,humbleness.

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