Blonde hair and colored contacts... Tunisians’ obsession with looking white

Monday 29 November 202103:11 pm
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"شعر أشقر وعدسات ملوّنة"... تونسيات مهووسات بالتشبه بالغربيات

"I met a girl with dark eyes, long black hair, and beautiful brown skin. I proposed to her, we got engaged, and then we got married around two months later. Everything was fine, especially since we are very much in love. On our wedding night, I was surprised to find a completely different girl with blonde hair and colored eyes sitting next to me. I didn’t make a sound, and I kept recalling the features of the brunette fiancée I knew and comparing her with the one that was sitting next to me." Omar of Tunisia tells us the story of how the woman he fell in love with completely changed the way she looked on her wedding night.

The 31 year old says, “She looked at me in astonishment, saying: Why are you looking at me like that? I am a bride, and it is my right to look my best. If it had been a European woman, you would have liked it.”

“I fell in love with a brown eyed brunette,  on our wedding night I was surprised to find a blonde haired women with blue eyes sitting next to me”.. On the obsession of Tunisian women with looking white.

What the young woman may not be aware of, is that tan and bronze skin was a sign of beauty that inspired the ink of poets, and stirred artists to write songs about. The late Tunisian singer and composer Hédi Jouini compared a brunette to honey in the lines of his famous song, “Samra, Ya Samra” where he says: “Samra (brunette), you color of honey / I watch and you get sweeter / O samra, I’d sacrifice my soul for you.” He also denounced the people who criticize those who love brunettes in his famous song: “They Criticize Me Out of Jealousy”, where he says: “In my eyes she shines like the moon / I call out my love to her in the sky / They tell me what’s so good about this samra / that you love her so... I tell them she is sweeter than dates / She wards off the world and all its misfortune”.

Blind Imitation

Despite the aesthetic status of the brunette in the artistic and cultural heritage of Tunisia, and despite being known for their beauty and their black hair, many women in Tunisia change the color of their dark hair to hair that resembles Western women’s, such as dark blonde hair or deep red, steering clear of the dominant natural black hair color of the people of Asia and Africa. The idea that men prefer the beauty promoted by Western film productions, and that beauty is exclusive to blondes, has taken root in the minds of many women there, causing them to line up in front of beauty shops and hair salons to choose the hair color of a song artist, an actress, or even some woman they thought looked good.

Dyeing hair blonde is quickly becoming a new marriage ritual, just like any other long-standing customs and traditions there. Some do not even take into account whether the light hair color would even suit their tan or bronze skin, or match the color of their naturally black eyebrows, which are also dyed like their hair, or a shade or two darker.

Yusra, 40, works in a hair salon in Tunisia. She says, “A lot of girls come a week or two before their wedding to change the way they look, usually dyeing their hair blonde. We fulfill their requests, even though many of them might become less beautiful, because the color wouldn’t suit their skin tone, but they usually insist on getting the color they want, and we cannot do anything but meet their demands.”

Imad, 30, from the capital Tunis believes that Tunisian women imitating Western women is an often unsuccessful endeavor. He tells Raseef22, “Frankly, I am a man who prefers the captivating natural beauty that lies within the Arabian girl with big black eyes and matching long dark hair, which gives her charm and appeal. But unfortunately, these unique features are being overshadowed and buried today under the name of fashion, ‘the right look’, and the blind imitation of Western women who are born with these features - women who are light-skinned and bright colors suit them, unlike our women who have their own natural beauty, but some insist on destroying it.”

An Arab Phenomenon

Even stars and celebrities were not spared from the fevered mania to imitate Western women. As soon as a popular female celebrity in America or Europe comes out with a new look, even if it is out of fashion, or in colors that are out of style, artists and stars are soon to follow on the first event they appear in. The beautiful world renowned artist Marilyn Monroe, known for her short blonde hair and a black mole on her face, has a unique look that distinguishes her from everyone else. However, this did not prevent s0me Arab artists from trying to mimic her look, artists like Egyptian actress Hana el-Zahed who adopted her blonde hair and popping red lipstick. Comments poured in over the photo, split between those admiring her success in impersonating Marilyn, and those criticizing her blind imitation.

Similarly, the beautiful actress Haifa Wehbe fell into the imitation frenzy, also taking on the “look” of Marilyn. She posted a picture of herself with short blonde hair, striking a pose that Monroe was known for often doing... Likewise, Tunisian actress Dora Zarrouk boldly assumed the same “look”, despite having cut her hair and dyed the color differently compared to the American artist.

Women in the Arab world are often inspired by international and world famous stars, a phenomenon that has also spread among Tunisian women

Many have dubbed Syrian actress Suzan Najm Aldeen, the “Marilyn Monroe of Arabs”, since she is considered one of the top Arab artists who appear sporting the Monroe look. She has adopted the look on a permanent basis in recent years, even going as far as to undergo a plastic surgery to make her nose smaller and making sure - during her appearances at film festivals and parties - to appear in clothes similar to those of Marilyn Monroe, and makeup that make her features match that of the international actress.

Celebrities in the Arab world are often inspired by the looks of international stars. Maya Diab has copied celebrity Kim Kardashia, on more than one occasion, and wore a red dress fashioned after one that Kylie Jenner has donned.

On the tv program The Voice, the Emirati singer Ahlam wore a dress that world famous artist Beyonce had made an appearance in months before her. In the video clip of her song, “Asaad Wahda”, Lebanese singer Elissa donned a transparent Gabbana dress, the same one that Kim Kardashian appeared at the Du Ice Festival.

Speaking to Raseef22, sociologist Nadia Mosaddeq links the issue of the blind imitation of the West in general to the social upbringing that the people of Arab countries grew up with. For them, Westerners were portrayed as the best and most distinguished in all fields. They cannot be subject to criticism, and do not err, even being used to set an example as role models on many an occasion. Here we recall the words of the founding father of sociology, Ibn Khaldun: “The vanquished always want to imitate the victor in his distinctive characteristics, his dress, his occupation, and all his other conditions and customs.” The vanquished imitating the victor, and the weak imitating the strong, stems from psychological defeat and a sense of inferiority in comparison to the superiority of the other, for the victor is always self-sufficient and does not have the need to imitate others, except within small limits and in a manner that does not harm his individuality.

Mosaddeq adds, “These nations defeated our countries through colonialism, a military defeat that turned into an economic and technological defeat, and then a psychological one. So it became rooted within us that they are the strongest and the best, and we are the weaker followers. Blind imitation, as al-Manfaluti said, is when the helpless and the weak do not know what the strong and capable have surpassed them in. They imitate them in all their movements and stillness, thinking that this is the secret of their strength and ability, which is exactly what is happening in Arab societies today.”

The blind imitation of the West has gone too far, and has become an imitation of their events and occasions, the way they eat, their images, the way they live, and even their beliefs. This is a dangerous matter that can obliterate identity and culture, erase the features of privacy and uniqueness, and shape the world with one single mold based on the whims of a small portion of mankind.

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