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My life: Manar Al Hinai on Arab beauty

There's no reason to alter the most beautiful features on the planet.

A close friend, who is one of Kim Kardashian's loyal fans, insists the reality TV star must be of Arab descent. Like many young women in the UAE and the Arab world, she admires Kardashian's beauty.

Kardashian, who actually is of Armenian, Scottish and Dutch descent, not only fuelled the obsession with reality TV stars, but also brought beauty - which had detoured to somewhere between Kate Moss and Scarlett Johansson - back to eastern standards.

Arabs always have emphasised beauty and its maintenance; hence the abundance of henna parlours and Moroccan hammams, and the traces of eye kohl in ancient graveyards in the UAE.

But what exactly is beauty according to Arab tradition? The answer can be found in ancient Arabic poems by the famous Imru Al Qais. A beautiful woman is curvy with a small waist; widely set eyes lined with kohl and with long, separated lashes; a long, thin nose; red lips; and long, jet-black hair. A woman such as this was not only beautiful, but also projected good health and prominent status.

Ancient Arab women did not enjoy the privilege of spas in five-star hotels, international make-up brands and other modern beauty products. But they did rely on natural remedies to enhance their beauty. From a young age they lined their eyes with al athmad - a kohl made from crushed black rocks - and rubbed natural vegetable oil on their long hair to enhance its growth and health.

Beauty is never complete without a perfect pearly white smile paired with matching red lips. Achieving the first required rubbing deeram - a special, tender wooden stick - on the teeth and gums for a few minutes, following the same method as using a modern toothbrush.

Henna was and still is an important hand accessory for Arab women. Henna artists unleash their imagination and trace architectural and floral designs halfway up the arms and on the feet and soles.

Smooth skin also is desirable, and hot steam showers and rubbing on natural herb mixtures help a woman to achieve it. Lemon mixed with sugar or salt remains a favourable tool. Arab women rub the exfoliating mixture all over their bodies two to three times a week for glowing skin.

Even with modern hair-removal techniques such as razors and electronic devices, young Arab women still opt for traditional halawa, or hot wax, to remove excess body hair. It not only delays hair regrowth, but also removes dead skins cells and, as a result, keeps skin smooth.

I believe in natural beauty, and think Arab women are among the most beautiful on Earth.

I love my black hair and strong features, so I was not a fan when a few years ago many Arab girls around me dyed their hair blonde, got overly tanned, had plastic surgery that erased their classic looks, and wore light-coloured contact lenses.

They masked their identity. I do not blame them; this is only one of the effects of living in a diverse, globalised community. Arab women can't help but be interested in the latest beauty buzz, and so will try different hair colours and styles, spray tans and coloured contact lenses. They hit the beach to get a golden glow, and complement it with chocolate or light brown hair instead of black.

But I was relieved when Kardashian became a beauty icon; I was pleased to see strong eastern features back on the scene. And although trends come and go and I am sure Kardashian's appeal will last only so long, Arabian traditional beauty remains the star of song and poem.

 

Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, is a fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. She recently was named an Arab Woman of the Year.

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