In the office, I overheard some female coworkers talking about their favorite subject: makeovers. They say how if they shave off some bone from their child-bearing hips, they’d fit into those jeans. How if they shave off the bone – correction: cartilage – from their nose, they’d look much better. A horrible realization hits me: these women hate themselves to the bone.
I have avoided going to salons, and I try to avoid visiting pharmacies as much as possible. If I do, I am very brief and specific, verging on stern coldness. Why? Because as soon as you enter those places, the saleswoman begins to ‘diagnose’ you, suggesting creams to tame your wild hair or serums to conceal your unshed tears. They are very blunt in addressing one’s imperfections, I sometimes feel that it’s not simply to sell you something; they get a kick out of it too! I noticed that most of the saleswomen who behave this way are Arab. It makes me speculate that this innate insecurity could be linked with the way women perceive themselves here, and what roles they are expected to play.
As soon as you step foot in Kuwait airport, you are greeted with huge billboards for plastic surgery clinics. These signs shamelessly fill the streets and Instagram feeds as well. ‘Medical’ towers used to be confined to one commercial area, but now they have mushroomed all over the country.
It is so easy to open a plastic clinic here; there are many people with zero medical training who run them, they even operate machines on the clients. The promises of the results are always exaggerated, while the possibly dire side effects are never talked about. There are many horror stories of procedures gone wrong, costing the clients their noses, lips, or their entire lives. I unfortunately know a handful of cases personally; all you have to do is search online or simply ask the neighbors.
Regardless, that doesn’t stop people – namely women – from getting these procedures done. In Kuwait, wherever you turn your face, you will be met with swollen lips, inflated cheeks, and tiny noses that float in the middle of an ill-matched face. What you will also see is, oddly, the grimace and the constant frowning of tattooed eyebrows on these faces; they are still not happy with themselves. The surreal bit is that seeing a woman with a natural face has become progressively a rare thing.
But who can blame these women? With the vicious cycle of aggressive advertising and constant criticism, it is not easy for most to find their confidence. The availability of money and the unfortunate encouragement from family and peers make women undergo these procedures impulsively without any second guessing.
And so, I have avoided female gatherings and resorted to a few friends instead, because my self-esteem and well-being are more important. In these gatherings, many women act more like enemies than friends. They scan you from head to toe, giving you a plethora of unsolicited advice and passive aggressive remarks, but the truth of the matter is that they are simply projecting.
Building my self-esteem under these grueling conditions has been a very rewarding journey. In a female dominated environment, I was under constant attack for not submitting to the enforced beauty standards. Daily criticism from friends’ and foes at school, family members, and once, even a teacher, were the norm, addressing my every feature in a negative light. It took a lot of courage for me to stand in front of the mirror and notice the things I love about myself on a daily basis. Cultivating this habit has worked wonders. Removing toxic people from my life, those who don’t wish me well, and spending time with people I truly connect with helped a great deal as well.
As I grew up, I learned to honor and love my physical body, nourishing it with good food, polishing it with dance and exercise, and adorning it with oils and natural products. I allow myself to rest and indulge at times without feeling guilty about it. In fashion, I create an honest representation of myself, enjoying colors and textures that both express my identity and flatter my shape. If there’s a piece that I want to wear, I will wear it even if some peers think it’s too loud.
As my self-esteem grew, I have created better boundaries. I don’t have to verbalize it, but people around me realize that I am to be appreciated, and disrespect will not be tolerated.
The results of all the necessary inner work have been outstanding. I have started receiving heartfelt compliments on my beauty quite often. People started to see me through the same lens that I see myself with. Most importantly, I have begun to realize that all the negative remarks I used to hear came from a place of jealousy and self-loathing.
You don’t have to have the tiniest nose in the world or the most swollen lips to be beautiful. You don’t have to look a certain way to feel good about yourself. Take care of yourself in a loving way and be ready to notice the magical transformation that takes place.
Dana Al Rashid is a writer and poet from Kuwait. She writes in Al Jarida newspaper and has also published a few English articles in Kuwait Times newspaper. She published a poetry book last year under the same name as her blog: “Reflecting Moon.” In her blog, more intimate poetry and articles can be found. You can read more of her work here.