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Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Saudi Arabia Turned Me Into a Girly-Girl

My ten day trip in Saudi Arabia of course changed the way I think, but it also changed the way I act.  From the time I took to get ready to the way I held my purse, I was behaving just a little bit different while in the Kingdom, and it’s taking me some time to revert to my more natural habits.

I would say that my most defining physical feature is my hair, and with that tucked under a hijab all day, I picked up the desire to put too much effort into my make-up.  My skin was very dry at the start of the trip, so I picked up some fantastic Nivea moisturizer and packed on the Bare Minerals foundation for the first time, and then I wielded my eye-liner pencil with a similar fierceness as most Arab women, to whom we owe credit for the pain in the ass invention in the first place.
After having spent much time mastering my own hijab-tying method, I felt the very
pretentious desire to show it off and took lots of pictures
I didn't only get girlier by caring about my looks a bit more.  The hijab requires the wearer to turn her shoulders and torso with head to spy anything outside her further limited peripheral vision.  This movement results in slightly better posture and a more elegant and prissy appearance.  An abaya that is too long (so any abaya) requires either high heels or marked sashaying to keep the bottom hem clean.  The long sleeves require the wearer to raiser her hands, maybe clasping them together in front of herself, to keep her hands from being lost in the folds of black fabric.

Abaya shopping in Khobar with the girls and our  fashion-savvy guide, Sultan
Personally, I try and complete the same actions needed for life as men: opening doors, serving food, or carrying heavy things.  However, when my primary focus shifted from self-sufficiency to avoiding tripping and falling on my face, I waited as car doors were opened for me, my food was dished up, or one of our guides offered to carry my briefcase for the billionth time.  I accidentally took this a step further by purchasing an abaya with beading on the shoulders, making it unwise to carry an across-the-body bag and forcing me to carry my purse in the crook of my arm like a straight-up diva.

While these little changes are humorous to me, the passing tourist, I cannot imagine a whole life where even the simplest tasked seem to be aimed at increasing my poise or relying on a man’s help.  Maybe the restrictions on women travelling alone are based on the fear that Saudi women would trip over themselves, landing in heaps at the bases of airport escalators due to not having their men at the ready to carry their things while abayas are held out of harm’s way. 

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Troy, AL, United States
I am a Political Science student at Troy University in southeastern Alabama. I have been given fantastic opportunities to travel to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other brief trips, to study and glimpse other cultures. I believe there is much to be learned about other people while studying, and I want to share my experiences with you.