Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

'Fix your nose and get rid of your body hair': Lebanese artist rails against Arab beauty standards

Christina Atik began creating poignant illustrations after her mother made a comment about her sister's nose

Christina Atik says she started the series after hearing a comment made to her sister by her mother. Courtesy Christina Atik
Christina Atik says she started the series after hearing a comment made to her sister by her mother. Courtesy Christina Atik

'Arab women shouldn't say whatever they want.' 'They shouldn't have body hair.' 'Their noses are too big.'

Christina Atik has heard it all before. In fact, she's grown so tired of it that she's turned to art to help her hit back.

Her argument? Society should stop commenting on the imperfections and perceived expectations of Arab women, and there are too many unrealistic beauty standards imposed on females everywhere.

Atik, who lives in Beirut, created several illustrations as a way to "let out suppressed feelings" around what is expected of women in Lebanon. The result was an emotive comment on the way society can dictate how women should or shouldn't behave, which has resounded with audiences around the world.

"It's not nice for a girl to live alone", by Christina Atik. Courtesy Christina Atik
"It's not nice for a girl to live alone", by Christina Atik. Courtesy Christina Atik

"There are many restrictions on women [everywhere], some more than others of course, but in general it’s been limiting being a woman in an Arab society," Atik says.

"It has made me hate my gender from a young age, and this is something I’m trying to undo. I’m trying to free myself from all the constraints so that I can learn to love myself and my femininity."

And it all started with a nose.

That nose belonged to her sister, and it was the comments about it that provided the blank canvas for the graphic designer to rail against unfair beauty standards.

"The idea for the series came from comments that my mother would give my sister regarding her nose," Atik says.

"She would tell her that her nose isn’t nice for a girl and that it would be more attractive to have it fixed."

"This nose isn't nice for a girl" by Christina Atik. Courtesy Christina Atik
"This nose isn't nice for a girl" by Christina Atik. Courtesy Christina Atik

The Retrieving Beirut Instagram account (a platform to promote the work of Lebanese artists) featured her nose illustration, entitled "This nose isn't nice for a girl".

The post quickly picked up traction, and Atik was asked to create more. That series, Atik says, was wholly inspired by conversations she has heard about women, dictating how they should live, look and act in order to be a "proper girl".

"I definitely didn’t expect people to like them and share them so much. I also expected more negative comments, but so far there have been few," she says.

"A lot of women from different countries (both Western and Eastern) have messaged me saying how often they themselves hear these comments."

"It's not nice for a girl to stay out late", by Christina Atik. Courtesy Christina Atik
"It's not nice for a girl to stay out late", by Christina Atik. Courtesy Christina Atik

The names and inspiration of each piece are critiques she has heard from her own family or friends, or something she has heard being said to women close to her: 'It's not nice for a girl to stay out late.' 'It's not nice for a girl to say what she likes.' 'It's not nice for a girl to live alone.' 'It's not nice for a girl to have hair.'

Atik says she has always dabbled in illustration and photography, saying it helped her "become aware of things around me".

"I suppose art for me was a way of expression without using words, which is a great way to let out suppressed feelings.

"This series was a personal project that I wanted to make, and I didn’t expect anything from it."

This was, of course, not an issue confined to Lebanon. Atik insists it's a prevailing issue across much of the Middle East, where it's often seen as "somewhat shameful" for women to do many of the things accepted as common practice in Western culture, like moving out of home and living on her own.

While the reactions to the series have been "mostly wonderful", there are still some negative comments she's had to contend with – which, ironically, reinforce the very nature of the series.

"There's been lots of support from both men and women.

"But the illustration regarding body hair has gotten negative comments from men, saying that body hair is disgusting."

Updated: March 14, 2019 10:03 AM

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