Beauty and the East: What it Means to Be an Arab Woman

By Banah Khamis

A very narrow set of beauty standards has taken root in today’s modern-day post-colonial society, causing a vicious cycle in which we come to view our features as less beautiful. Growing up as a young Arab girl in the Middle East, many of us consumed western media which formed a false perception of what it means to be “beautiful”, little did we know that our Arab features are a gift that we have inherited from our ancestors.

Recognizing that our ethnic features such as our hair, noses, and olive-kissed skin are beautiful is a realization that we all must come to. What does it mean that the majority of Arab youth rarely ever saw Arabs on TV screens? How does that play into our own self-perception as Arabs and the way we define beauty?

This is why it’s important that we keep talking about representation. Arab actresses like Maisa Abd Elhadi, Tara Emad, and many others helped reconstruct an image of what actually is ideal beauty. It helped me to recognize that my Arab features can be deemed beautiful and that it is not crucial to conform to a standard of beauty that would not encompass people whose features look like mine.

It’s often difficult to separate ourselves from the things we consume and to understand how it can impair the way in which we perceive ourselves. We must realize how much history and glory our Arab features hold; be it our dark thick hair or our bold facial features. We need to continue to push back against the social limitations placed on us in how we define beauty. Skin lightening creams and straightening hair treatments are no longer a must.

Beauty is not culturally defined, but rather a mere matter of self-image and self-perception. Beauty will forever be a subjective matter, and we should always keep that in mind in our discourse. Remember that our Arab features are beautiful and beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and it’s about time to stop letting what we see in magazines and on our screens define what it means to be beautiful. 

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