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,allmy 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?
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.
For those of you curious enough to know…
I am an expat married to an Omani, who has been living in Salalah long enough to appreciate and admire the culture but not long enough to willingly eat camel or wear a pom pom.
Our decision to leave the luxuries of ‘home’ was made in hopes of finding contentment in the simple things in life.
I have grown to truly love and respect the people here, their traditional values and conservative lifestyle. At times though, I am a fish out of water.
The intention to write was inspired in part by a friend, along with my need to release through words. My journey to and in Salalah has been one full of excitement, strange encounters and a strengthening of faith.