In Lebanon, Learning To Be Pretty Begins EarlyS

In Lebanon, a rising trend is for beauty parlors to cater to five year old clients. Providing services like chocolate facials and hair stenciling, is this just a way for kids to express themselves or indoctrination into beauty culture?

We've covered this before on Jezebel - the children going to Club Libby Lu for makeovers as young as three years old; the marketing of bikini waxes to eight year olds; the ten year olds getting microdermabraison; and other manifestations of kiddie spas

However, the scene emerging in Beirut has a slightly different twist:

"It's not about spoiling our children," says Maya Hilal, 34, the owner of Spa-Tacular, located in Beirut's trendy Ashrafieh district.

"It's a matter of maintaining their cleanliness. It's hygiene. It's feeling good about yourself."

A graphic designer, Hilal created the brightly-coloured salon with the help of her sister when her oldest daughter, now seven, began to show interest in primping and pruning.

"I started feeling that our salons, adult salons, they're not for kids. The colours they use, the treatment, the whole thing," she told AFP. "So I got the idea: why don't I start a place for them, suited to their age, where they can be relaxed and happy.

"A place that's fun, colourful."

What is most compelling about this piece is how beauty rituals are placed within a cultural context. The author, Natacha Yazbeck, makes a point to note:

The image of the impeccable Lebanese female was perhaps best immortalized in a 2006 photograph that captured perfectly manicured young women driving in a red convertible through the rubble of Beirut's southern suburbs, destroyed by Israeli bombing in a war with the Shiite militant group Hezbollah that summer.

The photograph by Spencer Platt won the World Press Photo award that year for capturing the "complexity and contradiction of real life," according to the jury.

And in a country that functions similarly with or without government, the Lebanese beauty craze is, to some, not a luxury but a routine part of life no matter their circumstances — or age.

The still image illustrating this post is from the Lebanese movie Caramel, which debuted in 2007. The Wikipedia entry explains:

Caramel revolves around the intersecting lives of five Lebanese women. Layale (Nadine Labaki) works in a beauty salon in Beirut along with two other women, Nisrine (Yasmine Al Masri) and Rima (Joanna Moukarzel). Each one has a problem: Layale is stuck in a dead-end relationship with a married man; Nisrine is no longer a virgin but is set to be married and in her conservative family where pre-marital sex is not accepted; Rima is attracted to women; Jamale (Gisèle Aouad), a regular customer and wannabe actress, is worried about getting old; Rose (Sihame Haddad), a tailor with a shop next to the salon, is an old woman who had devoted her life to taking care of her mentally unbalanced older sister Lili (Aziza Semaan), but has found her first love. The film doesn't refer to any of the political problems or recent warfare that has troubled Lebanon. Rather, Labaki's tale paints everyday people with everyday problems.

Yet and still, the production notes explain:

The shooting of Caramel ended just 9 days before the Israel war on Lebanon erupted in July 2006, and was released in Cannes exactly one year after the shooting began.

While we often critique the rampant spread of beauty ideals targeting a younger and younger set, one of the dynamics of beauty culture that often goes discussed (in the feminist circles I roll in, at least) is the power of bonding and reclamation in ritual. The women featured in Caramel all faced different life circumstances, but all bonded over one common thing - the love of the transformative power of self-improvement. Yazbeck's point that something as basic as grooming can evolve into an act of resistance in the face of soul crushing events is important. I am reminded of an essay by Paula Austin in Colonize This! called "Femme-Inism":

I often watched [my mother] do her makeup in front of the small mirror that sat on a tiny square table across from the bed I had slept on, in the bedroom I shared with my mother and sister. She would dab some foundation from the bottle into her hand and smear it evenly across and around her face. She used concealer around her eyes and covered that with powder. She wore black eyeliner, above and below her lid, which she administered with a pencil. She wore eye shadow and mascara. Lastly, she lined her lips, using some shade of burgundy. When she finished dressing, her shoes and pocketbook always matching, the room smelled like her expensive perfume long after she had gone.

This was her ritual each day, the donning of her costume. This was her feminine armor, her feminist attire. This was the very thing that brought her strength and power. I could tell this by the way she stepped out onto the street in her blue polyester floral dress that hugged her hips and thighs, her strong calves shaping down into her white pumps, her ass and pocketbook both swaying. Her sexy gait was evidence of her prowess, and both she and I were proud. She was unknowingly modeling for me.

When I was eleven or twelve, I was punished for wearing makeup. I would wait until my mother was out of the room at bedtime and I would sneak an eyeliner pencil from the makeup drawer to under the bed. In the morning, I would pretend I was looking for my shoes and slip the eyeliner into my pants pocket, sneaking it out of the house.

Somewhere between the apartment door and the building's front door down five flights of stairs, I would hurriedly apply the makeup, lining my eyes with blue pencil and combing on the black mascara I had stolen from Woolworth's. I was never delicate enough. I was rough, rushed, and heavy handed. Once applied, as hideously as it may have looked, I stepped out from the apartment building. Out onto Ocean Avenue in Flatbush, where I was a poor Black girl, living in someone else's apartment in an all-white neighborhood, where my family was seen as "the help." And at eight in the morning, on that street with all of its white faces staring down at me or not seeing me at all, I walked with my head up high and made it to the bus stop without flinching. It was my armor, too.

While scholars quoted later in the piece cast some doubt as to the effectiveness of teaching the necessity of beauty through purchases and consumption - and the ascension to upper class narratives that paint that perception - I still wondered what exactly was being taught to these girls. Pride in oneself? Was it simple early indoctrination to our culture that prizes the beauty in women above all else? Or are these women, on some level, arming children with the ability to use small gestures (like hair and makeup) to cope with horrific circumstances?

Beauty Bug Bites Beirut's littlest [Sydney Morning Herald]
Caramel [Wikipedia]
Colonize This! Young Women of Color On Today's Feminism

Earlier: Why Let A Girl Play When She Can Be Made Over Like JonBenet?
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