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Iraqi women battle for beauty (Read 8429 times)
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Iraqi women battle for beauty
May 7th, 2003 at 6:11am
Iraqi women battle for beauty

Adversity led to ingenuity; Iraqi women turn to ancient methods of emphasising their feminine charms.

By Sonia Bakaric BAGHDAD

Snake-oil beauty masks, vaseline for face cream, watermelon juice as toning lotion -- poverty and economic embargo have forced Iraqi women to be creative in their battle to stay beautiful.

"Being beautiful is sacred for Iraqi women!" cries Sahera Kkaleel, her hair veiled and her eyes lined with kohl, as she proudly gives a tour of her Baghdad beauty salon.

She gently re-arranges the embroidery on a wedding dress that looks like it came straight out of the Arabian Nights but which now sits forlornly on a dusty wax dummy.

"For 30 dollars we rent out wedding dresses bought in Yemen," explains Khaleel as she continues her guided tour of the salon, whose ceiling now sags as a result of the bombardment that accompanied the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

The average monthly wage in Iraq is around five dollars, and she admits that "there haven't been too many weddings recently."

Most Iraqi women, like the rest of the population, suffered under the embargoes in place since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and still technically in force. After the latest conflict they also now suffer from a shortage of drinking water as well as frequent power blackouts.

A so-called oil-for-food was programme set up in 1996 to offset the sanctions' impact on Iraqis, but the embargo still meant most Iraqis were reduced to poverty.

Adversity has, however, led to ingenuity. Iraqi women have turned to ancient methods of emphasising their feminine charms.

Because of a lack of beauty cream, for example, they started making their own beauty masks from a mix of snake-oil and cloves and they use vaseline as beauty cream.

For toning lotion they use watermelon juice and for cleansing their skin they apply a mixture of yoghurt and honey.

Poverty has also driven many of them to sell their hair, says Khaleel, who is 47 years old.

"They sell a pigtail for around 30 dollars," she says. "It's sad, but we use it for other women who want to have longer hair. We sew it onto their natural hair."

Most of the makeup on sale is poor quality stuff imported from Syria or Egypt. In the souks of Baghdad, full of women in the traditional black robes, beauty products available include the ubiquitous kohl along with red and orange lipsticks.

As for perfume, while most women here say without hesitation that Christian Dior is their favourite of the scents available in samples whose sell-by dates have long gone and which provide limited olfactory delights.

Eye-brow plucking is often done by estheticians skilfully wielding a wire instead of tweezers.

Another beauty salon in Baghdad provides a very different picture to Kaleel's humble establishment.

It is an upmarket place that served many of the rich wives of Saddam's ruling Baath party.

Twenty-year-old Isira, her Christian Dior bag on her lap, is one of the few clients left. Explaining that she is the daughter of a "rich businessman," she says she's very happy with her new hair cut and her perfectly manicured nails.

She only ever uses European beauty products, she adds, and keeps up with the latest fashion trends by reading Lebanese fashion magazines.

In a nearby watchmaker's shop, Khalda Yassen, 37, a mother of two, says that she might be poor but that nature has given her beauty.

With an enormous smile she says all she ever puts on her face is fish oil and the only other beauty products she uses are Syrian-made soap and shampoo.
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Susan Maxwell Schmidt
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Re: Iraqi women battle for beauty
Reply #1 - May 7th, 2003 at 10:58am
It is always a shame to hear how the innocent people are affected by war.  Being creative seems to have allowed these women to maintain their dignity and self-image.  Wonderful article - thanks for sharing it!
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