Beauty, Defined

I have a cousin whose beauty is legendary. Her looks depict the ‘typical Arab woman.’ 

Why, you may ask, am I saying this?

Because said cousin was harrassed merciliessly by our ignorant society to the extent that she can no longer eat or talk in public without bursting into tears and having something akin to a nervous breakdown. 


Easily. Because Syrian society works like this: 

Beautiful = Fair skinned, blonde, light colored eyes, stick thin.

Black hair, tanned skin (God forbid!), brown eyes??

Don’t let the images of tanned, sultry, black-eyed Arabian beauties fool you. Society demands the above definition of beauty and anything lacking is, well, ugly. But the worst by far is being tanned. Brown eyes contacts can fix. A full figure anorexia will take care of. And black hair can be easily died. But being tanned?! I swear, I’ve been bombarded by so many whitening creams (Fair & Lovely, who?) since I’ve come to Syria. No one understands my need to tan!!

So for as long as I can remember, I’d hear complaints about said cousin. I vividly remember after her birth her two grandmothers arguing about who’s side of the family she had gotten her horrendous looks from. “Not mines!” they’d say. “My son/daughter is white! His/her eyes green!” The worst part? This all occurred in the presence of my cousin. Visitors would exclaim over her dark coloration and attribute it the family that wasn’t around. ‘Till this day.

And the comparisons with her older sister didn’t help. It didn’t occur to them that the love and acclaim they lavished on her older sister partially attributed to her very dynamic and outgoing personality. That one, who I love too btw, is fought over, each taking credit for her looks. This other daughter’s dull and withdrawn personality was attributed to her lacking looks and the other side of the family, rather than their own harassment.

Now I have a cousin who is stunning on the outside, but dead on the inside. Her self-worth and confidence have been shattered. She trembles when she opens her mouth in public, her tongue ties and her frustration leads her to tears. She can’t eat in public. She has a fear of strangers.

In my eyes, I have yet to see anyone more beautiful than she is. With me, she is a different person. Joking, opinionated, witty, and charming. The real her, what little remained after she was verbally bashed for 15 years, shines through.  

And this is no isolated occurrence. I’ve seen too many children unknowingly abused to this day. So what hope for a society that refuses to accept God’s creation?



Filed under Family Matters, Personal, Rant, Reflections, Syria

11 responses to “Beauty, Defined

  1. Sigh. This subject is just something I’ll never understand. People here also judge beauty by coloring not based on features or GASP! personality. It’s really sad how people will talk about someone like that and in there presence! Shame on them.

    Off Topic- Are you watching “Lahzet Wada3”?

  2. Just like in India/Pakistan. A woman’s beauty is directly proportional to how white her skin is. On several occasions, I have heard women whisper to each other on how ABC’s or XYZ’s daughter is dark and wouldn’t get suitors. I feel so sick when people talk about skin color and start comparing which one is better.

  3. kitchenrefugee

    Assalaamu aleikum
    Great blog, ma sha Allah.
    I have seen this in various cultures as well and it depresses me no end. Of course the west is no better, except that in this case it is how fat or thin one is that determines the kind of comments you hear. But how sad that Muslims, who should know better, are so fixated on something so shallow.

  4. This is so horrid. And so real.

    Your cousin should build up some self confidence and maybe you can try to give it to her (because it seems she’s close to you and will trust your advice)? I used to be a REALLY ugly kid before I grew up. My complexion brightened overnight, i grew tall and all the curves and bumps settled into the right places. I went through a complete metamorphosis but I have never forgotten the people who were nice to me when i was an ugly gangly zitty teenager. I stopped putting store by my looks because one day they’re going to go away again when I get old.

    She should be confident and carry herself with pride; every single person on God’s earth is unique. So is she. She should celebrate her uniqueness and understand that the world will not give her her rights on a plate; she’ll have to snatch them from it.

    Look at women like Oprah Winfrey, so many other actresses who were black, Asian or Mexican who had to carve a place for themselves in an America that did not let ‘blacks’ sit in the same bus with them.

    Give her hope.

    I think you’re a very caring person to try to solve this issue of hers; most people wouldn’t have bothered with someone who was going through this problem. 🙂 You rock, woman!


  5. souvenirsandscars

    Mamamona – It is sad isn’t it? And they’re so thickheaded when it comes to it too! Like tanned skin is nice? *odd look* “if you say so…” in a totally unconvinced voice. Goodness.
    And no, I’m not lol. Is it that Turkish turned Arabic show? I can’t watch those. If the lip movement and audio aren’t together, even it it’s an English movie and the sounds just wack, I can’t watch it. I go nuts. Is it any good, though?

    Nadia – It does make you sick, doesn’t it?! I swear I feel like going on a killing rampage when I hear other people being talked about that way! It makes me sick to my stomach that anyone could be so judgmental based on looks alone!!

    The Kitchen Refugee – (I love your name ;)) Wa3alykum al salaam. Thanks =). That is true, we’ve all seen the havoc weight issues are creating in Western cultures what with anorexia and bulimia being as common place as they are today. I would say these are sad, sad times we’re coming to, but the cynic in me suspects it’s only human nature. I remember my grandma looking at one of my magazines with all the big pouty lips going around and telling me about the day when a girl’s beauty was judged by the slimness of her lips. And now you have botox injections to do just the opposite. I guess it’s a fact of life we’re going to have to live with.

    Specs – Thank you! *blush* I’ve been trying very, very hard, but I have this feeling she sees my views, as a Canadian, as foreign. Sort of, oh S&S may think like that, but the rest of Syrian society sure as hell doesn’t. I’ve yet to play the Oprah card, but I think I’m going to pull it out next time I see her. You know, the whole: if you act self assured and confident people will be forced to notice you thing. InshAllah it works!!

    Thank you all for your sympathies and replies! Just reading these made me feel hopeful again!!

  6. Hey, yea, that’s the one, Im concentrating on trying to understand the Syrian? is it? that I’m not paying attention to the dubbing. I like it so far, and I’m not one to love Arabic shows. I like that it’s not all about a LOOOOVE story like the famed Noor, which I hated without even watching.

  7. souvenirsandscars

    Yeah it is Syrian… I know which one you’re talking about now. The other one, Noor, was just horrible. And it’s popularity here was crazyyyyy especially when compared to it’s rather boring, redundant, and well, annoying storyline.. and characters. I had a hard time watching it when in a room full of people watching it, let it alone turning on the TV of my own free will to see it.
    On another note, I heard Hayk ti3waznah is really good? Translates to That’s How we Got Married? You seen it? Is it any good?

  8. What channel is it on? I only ran into Lahzet Wada3 is because it’s on the English channel mbc4. (why? no clue).

  9. souvenirsandscars

    I dunno, it was on during Ramadan but I missed it. If I hear anything about a rerun I’ll let you know 🙂

  10. Jes

    I have the opposi pale skin. but inte problem.i am white, very pale skin.but here in the U.S. it’s a bad to be im always judged by my peers for this.i have to remember that every1 is diff for a be positive about myself and know that my future husband will love me for who i am and my friends and people who truely care for me dont care about the color of my is hard to get rid of the mental beatdowns and harsh words that you can hear so often, day after day, year after year being broken more and more.even worse by the people who should love you the most!it is unfortunate and wide-spread through a lot of countries, cultures, and ethnicities.jus tell her to be strong, and keep encouraging her and that she is truely beautiful and hopefully she will truely hear you one day and accept it.but she has to want to conquer those barriers that have been built up.those words that wring in her head.i grew up with a lot of constant verbal beatings and i am 22 yrs old now still dealing w them.i struggle but i have come very far.i have had to realize that those people were wrong, that God made me the way i am and i was meant to be that way.i constantly remind myself that.i have to in this world of “perfection”(that doesnt exist of coarse). all i can say is stray from the ways that have surrounded her as she has grown up. teach that this way of thinking is only harmful and not true.speak up, even if it means not saying a word, but making a difference by not speaking and by leaving those ways of thinking in the dust. i hope that i made some sort of sense.jus tell her, and show her that she is truely beautiful.

    • Thank you for your heartfelt comment Jes! I’m very, very sorry for what you’ve gone through and are most likely still going through. Racial prejudice is among the hardest thing one has to face in life. It is hard to shake up the beat downs, the insults, and harsh words – especially over something you have absolutely no control over! This isn’t a personality flaw we’re talking about. It’s genetic, the choice and will of God.

      Thank you for your stellar advice. I really do try to show her that aspect of herself. We are all perfect in our imperfections. Besides, beauty is truly only skin deep. I’ll never understand the absolute value people give skin colour or hair colour or some equally asinine characteristics, when what matters most is your heart, mind, and soul.

      I’m very glad to see you haven’t let their ignorance hold you back! I’m sure you truly are perfect just the way you are, and people that matter most don’t judge you by such shallow measure.

      Keep you head up =)

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