Lebanon’s Twisted Perception of Beauty

When a journalist wrote an article in the Huffington Post about Lebanon’s babes and botox in its capital, many Lebanese stood against the article in uproar.

This is not us. These are not our women. This is not our city.

Do they have a point? Sure they do. After all, not all our women boast plastic faces as they strut their heels and behinds on the tables of Beirut’s rooftops. But what people seem to fail to realize is that the side of Lebanon portrayed by the Huffington Post is the one we want to get across to the world.

Check out this video from 2011. I have written about it before (check it here).

I disagree with the content of the video. I dislike the categorization of Lebanese joie de vivre as something only related to partying the night away. But when the only face even your ministry of tourism is giving of your country is that of rooftops, nightclubs and night life, what could you expect from a journalist who’s coming to your country to see the supposed highlights your country has to offer?

When you tell someone to come visit specific places in a country and they judge a country based on the places you recommended, you can’t but blame yourself for that.

Even I am guilty of that. Whenever a French person decides to inform me he thinks my country is full of Islamists where women are forced to wear the veil in order to go out of their homes, I go on and on about our nightlife, among other things. And I’m not even a fan of nightlife to begin with.

What David Constable has noticed is a phenomenon that runs deeper than should be acceptable in Lebanese society. Have you ever seen a woman your grandmother’s age with her face so plasticized that she looks downright disgusting? I have seen way too many of those, the last one of them as I boarded my flight to France. Have you seen girls your age who decide the moment they finish high school to start injecting their lips and cheeks? Well, I know some girls like that.

And the list goes on.

No, I’m not saying everyone does it. I’m not saying all our women are plastic. I’m not saying all our women can be summed up with boobs and botox. What I’m saying is that we have a lot of them and what is “odd” is usually the thing that sticks out the most. Simplest example? We don’t notice the calm days we get throughout the year but when all hell breaks loose for a few days or weeks, we judge the entire year accordingly. And we get judged as an “unsafe” country by everyone else according to those days as well.

It’s the same premise when it comes to boobs, babes, botox and Beirut.

A friend of mine, whom I met abroad, has a Lebanese mother and a non-Lebanese father. She has a typical European face: blond, a little nose and green eyes. When she visited her mother’s homeland a while back, she got interrogated by random people on the streets who wanted to know the surgeon who fixed her nose – because no one can have a nose like that – and the place where she got her contact lenses – because no one can have eyes that green.

We have many people who want those little inconspicuous noses that don’t require them to choose a specific side every time them want to change their Facebook profile picture. We have many people who want bigger breasts and asses. We have many people who want to have chest implants to go off all macho. We have many people who want to change their faces, look younger and have bigger lips in the process.

Are those “many” people the entirety of the Lebanese population? No. Are those “many” also present in other societies? Perhaps. But if you look closely, you will find many even among your close friends who have at least had something done – the fact that we can get loans as well to do so isn’t helping. On the other hand, in a one month stay in Europe, I have failed to see as many botoxed babes here or women who dress up for a wedding every day before going to work.

Many in our societies in Lebanon like to show off. Be it through their phones, cars, clothes or even through plastic surgery. And those are the people we like to show the world because they are the ones who help us change the stereotypes others have of us. But with the baggage of the bling-bling crowds comes something else entirely, which is another stereotype: we are a country of fake people.

Are we fake? Absolutely not. Beirut has much more to offer than just that. Lebanon has way more to offer than rooftops and night clubs. But that idea won’t change anytime soon. Especially when the only thing we want people to see in Lebanon when they come here is Gemmayze, Skybar, Downtown and Zaitunay Bay. Demand of  our ministry of tourism to change tactics and to change the way it promotes the country  and then we get to be in uproar over an article turning our entire society plastic.

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The French Experience – Part 2

Soon after the Mass at Notre Dame de Fourviere, we were taken to St. Etienne where families were supposed to welcome us into their homes for our three day stay in France.

Naturally, I was quite anxious. After all, we, Lebanese, don´t exactly hear the fanciest of things about the French. Also, when the only thing you want to do is take a warm shower and sleep, it´s hard not to worry if those things would be available or not.

The family that welcomed me, with two other guys, was the Arnaud family that lived in St. Genest-Malifaux, a small picturesque town, 15 minutes away from St. Etienne.

Let me tell you this… the scene I used to wake up to every morning was so breath-taking, I used to simply stare for a few minutes at the forests mixed with green fields that extended beyond the horizon.

The Arnaud family ran a farm that extended over 40 hectares, which is a lot of land to manage. But the parents do a good job at it. Their oldest children are either working in Paris or married. Their daughter, one of the main coordinators between the Lebanese and French groups and one of the best people I met in France, lives a few minutes away and their youngest son still lives with them.

Their house was a typical French house in villages: bricks, walls made of stone, etc… They even had some sort of chimney, which, you guessed it, was turned on in August. After all, at 1300 meter of altitude and eight degrees almost all day, it sure is a necessity.

Remember my worries about being able to take a shower and sleep well? It turns out they were unfounded. Not only was the Arnaud family exemplary in their welcoming of us, but they were exactly what we – three Lebanese strangers – needed in a foreign country of which we only knew the language.

There were so welcoming in fact that they asked their son to drive us the following day to St. Etienne in order to get my French line fixed and then they took us to a museum where they refused to let us pay. There goes a stereotype about French people not being generous enough.

Also, since they run a farm, the food they make is organic and so healthy that you feel you´re eating – well, corny as it may be – health. Homemade butter, jam and bread for breakfast. Pepsi is something that is unheard of in their home. When I asked about it, the mother replied: “Why would someone want to get that in their system?”

No, dear readers who know me too well, I have not stopped drinking pepsi. Consider it one of my many flaws…

But our stay at the Arnaud household was quite awesome. They took us sightseeing whenever we had the time, and with the sun setting at 10:30 pm in France gives you lots of time. Their son also drove us to every single event the French group had set up for us.

I will never forget how the father took my suitcase, which had its zipper break down, and started sewing the part that wasn´t working anymore…

So if somehow the Arnaud family reads this (I´m not too sure since French aren´t really fond of English – yes, this stereotype is true), I just want to send them a cyber hug with a big THANK YOU 😀