Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Forever White

Published July 20, 2010
If you’ve ever been to Salalah you may have noticed an unusual number of stores claiming to sell ‘women’s necessities’. If you’ve actually been into one of these shops, you will observe that at least one large section of the shop is dedicated to whitening products, and another even larger section to an extraordinary selection of makeup. The complexion of the female cashier ringing up your items at the front of the store is a pale greyish white. It seems a little odd to you. As she fumbles to give you the right change, you notice that her hands are the colour of coffee beans. You look up again at her face and try not to gasp. Surprised? Don’t be. She is only one among thousands of female victims in Salalah who were brainwashed into thinking at an early age that in order to be considered beautiful, you must be white.
It’s no secret that Dhofari women are obsessed with being white. In fact, we seem to be quite famous for it! There are several women in Salalah who are well-known for their secret whitening ‘mixes’. They mix three or four whitening products with bleach and sell them for a high price in glass jars, catering mostly to young women and especially to brides-to-be. I’ve known girls who removed several layers of skin from their faces (using one of the mixes) in a feeble attempt to look white. Despite the fact that they end up looking like burn victims, many of them are satisfied. They seem to think it will make them more presentable ... more worthy (of what?). It’s very sad.
Our weddings are even worse. Somehow, over the past twenty years or so, Dhofari women have developed strict wedding makeup standards that no woman, in my opinion, should ever feel the need to comply with. Women spend months trying to book a makeup artist for any wedding they plan to attend, even if they are only distantly related to the family of the bride. In order to hide the natural colour of the girl’s skin, the female makeup artist applies several layers of unnaturally white makeup to the face, neck, back, chest, and any other visible part of skin (sometimes even legs!).

She then pulls out a pallet with an unidentifiable white substance on it that has the consistency of Vaseline and uses a paintbrush to apply it to the eyebrows, covering them completely in order to draw fake stick eyebrows an inch above their natural place. She then spends at least a couple of hours working on the eye makeup and lips. The girl ends up leaving the makeup artist’s house or salon several hours later (and fifty to a hundred rials poorer) looking like something between a geisha and a Goth. The look is bizarre. And then they proceed to the wedding, where they join hundreds of other unrecognizable women who are all equally plastered in white.
And if you thought that getting Dhofari makeup on was a struggle, wait until you hear how it is removed! My friends and relatives claim that dish detergent and a spoon for scraping is the only successful method. After an hour of scrubbing, scraping, and washing, the expected result is a sore but clean face.
I was at a wedding recently where the woman sitting next to me looked at my simple makeup with sad eyes and said ‘You are lucky to have enough confidence to come here looking like that.’ Looking like what? Myself? What is so shameful about that? I wanted to scream at all the women around me and tell them they are stunningly beautiful as they are.
Despite being educated and aware of all the health warnings, they continue to think white is more beautiful. All the shops continue to stock up on whitening products to support this local obsession. High school girls think that by smearing poison on their faces that they will live a happier life. I understand that this problem happens in many places in the world, but I tend to believe that it’s more visible in Dhofar. Most females here are unable to see that their dark-skinned beauty is something to be proud of! How beautiful we are, in all our shades and hues taken from the very earth we walk upon. Time to wake up and see beyond colour!


  1. I agree its really sad they feel this way, and quite shocking to see when you're not used to it! They somehow manage to turn a beautiful face into something garish and ugly. Natural is ALWAYS better.

  2. Grt artical Susan. I love when you discuss the sensitive topics. Keep them coming for our sanity's sake.

    Vctoria i agree with you.. 100percent natural is better.

  3. you are so funny. you're a wonderful writer.