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History of Beauty Standards in the Arab World

posted on: Nov 4, 2020

History of Beauty Standards in the Arab World

By: Lindsey Penn/Arab America Contributing Writer

Many people consider Ancient Egypt to have had a large influence on modern beauty standards. However, beauty standards all over the world have changed. Of course, the Arab world is no exception. This article explains the beauty standards over the last 100 years of 5 countries in the Arab world.

Morocco

Starting 100 years ago, the Amazigh Berber culture influenced beauty standards. At the time, the headdress and face tattoos were the symbol of beauty. In Amazigh culture, the headdresses are usually decorated with colored glass beads, metal coins, and more. The headdress could be made out of wool, leather, or metal. If it was metal, they usually used silver, but could also have colored enamel on the headdress. The decorations and patterns on the Amazigh headdress typically corresponded with the tribe that the person was from. One tribe, Ait Baamrane, even puts horns on their headdresses.

As for the face tattoos, they typically symbolized relationships with plant life, Amazigh gods, animals, or were symbols of protection.

The Amazigh influence on Moroccan beauty lasted until the mid-20th century. From there, beauty standards changed, placing more emphasis on face makeup.

In the video, the model is wearing a headscarf (not a hijab), dark lipstick, and has slightly smoky eye makeup on. There is a small remnant of the Amazigh culture, though: the earrings are similar to the traditional Amazigh headdress, although not the exact same style.

Starting in the 1980s, Moroccan women began to follow more Western looks, with bright eye makeup, bright lipstick, and teased hair. From then on, the style of makeup aligned more with Western beauty standards.

Kuwait

It is important to note that the video focuses on the trends that Kuwaiti women in the universities followed. Although it doesn’t seem like the hijab and niqab are common in Kuwait until 2010 based on this video, the fashion of the hijab and the niqab was aligned with those who didn’t wear either. In Kuwait, the hijab and the niqab are relatively common.

In Kuwait, the early 20th century saw women wearing headdresses of gold-plated metal coins and traditional women’s clothing, with little to no makeup. In the twenties and forties, the trend was the black abaya. During the fifties, the trend was to wear little makeup except for lipstick with the hair down.

The biggest change in trends was in the 1960s. Instead of wearing a small amount of makeup, the trend was to have black eyeliner lining the eyes, lipstick, and the hair would be pulled into a bun. The clothing also strayed more from the traditional Kuwaiti clothing, changing to more Western fashion. In the next decade, the trend was short hair. From then on, the beauty standards seemed to be more influenced by Western standards and clothing, such as blouses, bright lipstick (the 1980s), and jeans (1990s and on). The picture of the woman in the hijab in 2010 shows how trends were similar for those who wear the hijab and those who don’t.

Syria

In 1910 in Syria, the beauty standards started out with very light makeup and a loose hijab. The next decade’s trend was defined brows and pearls, with the hair still covered. Starting in the 1930s, Western beauty ideals begin to have influence in Syria as Syria is colonized. For the 1930s, this means more bold colors and coiffed hair that was uncovered, then bright red lips in the 1940s, but with a hijab.

The beauty standard changed again in the 1950s, with updos becoming a trend. After that, Syrian beauty standards started to more closely follow Western beauty ideals, including teased hair in the 1970s and bangs in the 1980s.  

The next big change was in the 2000s when the Muslim Brotherhood became more present in Syria. This change was more natural makeup and with a hijab, and has continued to be the trend.

Lebanon

Starting in 1910, the beauty trend was lighter makeup with curled hair pulled back. The 1920s changed into darker lipstick with the lips not completely filled in and the hair pulled back into a shorter updo. This trend remained similar in the 1930s, with the exception of the lipstick being more red. Until the 1960s, the beauty standards stay similar: hair is curled and pulled up, and lipstick is a more noticeable color. However, in the 1960s, the trend turns more Western, with brighter eyeshadow, lighter lipstick, and teased hair.

In the 1980s, the beauty standard becomes even more Western with crimped hair and bright eyeshadows. That trend goes away in the 90s, when hair is straightened and not styled, with light makeup except for lipstick, which is a natural, although darker, color. From then on, the trend follows Western beauty standards until the 2010s.

Palestine

The Palestinian beauty standards start out with no makeup and hair pulled back, covered by an embroidered scarf. The next decade is similar, with the trend being no makeup and the hair pulled into a bun. That trend changed in the 1930s, however, with bright red lipstick and the hair pulled back and decorated with tulle. In the 1940s, the trend turns back into no makeup, and with a colorful hijab covering the hair.

The 1950s and 60s show a trend of no makeup with the hair in a low bun. It changes, though, in the 1970s to include the keffiyeh, used as a hijab. The keffiyeh remains as a staple in clothing, even today. Throughout the last 100 years, Palestine’s beauty standards have remained relatively similar in that light makeup is the norm. That trend never really changes, even in the 2010s, when the beauty standard includes eyeliner, but not heavy eyeliner. For that reason, some people say that Palestine survived the “interesting” 1980s Western beauty standard of colorful eye makeup with bright lipstick.

Here is a video of 100 years of beauty in the entire Arab world:

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