Story and photos by Gina-Maria Garcia
AMMAN, Jordan – Nadia Qubbaj’s closet looks something like a symphony of color. Reds and blues swirl in silky patterns with whites and yellows, golds and greens. Her head wrapped in a maroon scarf scattered with yellow stars, she giggles a bit because this is just one out of the 30 vibrant prints she owns.
“I don’t really go for basic colors like black and white. That’s just really lame, you know? I’m supposed to do this thing to cover my hair and cover my body but if nothing is showing I don’t mind wearing crazy stuff,” said Qubbaj, a 19-year-old business student at Princess Sumaya University of Technology in Amman. “I’m still being modest,” she added, “but I don’t have to be boring.”
In a culture that stresses modesty and, for devout Muslims, a requirement that women cover their bodies and hair, there are limited options available for those who want to outwardly express their beauty. For them, the scarves they wrap around usually back-length-locks, and the makeup they use – with an emphasis on the eyes – are the only choices they have.
“They wear the hijab for cultural purposes. Women seek to cope with the culture,” said Bilal Jayyoussi, a psychology professor at Petra University in Amman for 20 years. He said “makeup contradicts with the Islamic regulations” but there are social pressures that make “this tendency to be beautiful a very strong one.”
A LONG TRADITION OF ADORNMENT
There are accounts even from the 7th century of women dressing up their headscarves, or hijabs, with adornments such as jewels or gold. A popular style technique among Ottoman women was customizing the hijab with silver or gold coins to show great wealth, for example. And women of the Druze region found in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan wore heavy silver head disks, sometimes with dangling charms.
“Women were not to show people her natural beauty” so they “started to decorate [their] hijab in a special way,” says Riyad Ali, a tourist guide since 1995 at the Jordan Museum of Popular Traditions in Amman. “They put some accessories on it to make it more beauty.”
Jewels and coins aren’t as popular as they once were, obviously. Instead, women adorn their hijabs with ornate pins that both hold the material together, and show off their sense of style.
“Now there is a lot of styles only for the pin and we use it as accessory,” said 26-year-old Dema Al Oun of Amman, who was wearing a dainty pink pin to match her delicate light pink veil. She’s quick to tick off a list of the pins she’d like to add to her collection. “There [are] gold pins, diamonds, jewelry, different kinds of colors, small roses. It looks nice.”
To further augment the look of the hijab, some women choose to use a clip that – though not technically allowed as part of Muslim tradition – is becoming increasingly more common. The clip has a volumizing effect in that it pushes out a woman’s hair in the back, under her veil, similar to how a beehive hairstyle from the ‘60s might appear if it were under cloth.
“In the Islamic religion you can’t puff [the hijab] because you have to see the whole head, but some still do it for fashion and style,” said Dua’a Sultan through a translator, a saleswoman at a store in Al-Sweifiyah called Spring and Autumn that sells scarves and purses. She added that many women want “to show they have big thick hair” and that the clips cost around 7 dinars, or nearly $10.
THE FACE AS A CANVAS
Another component of how a devout Muslim woman adorns what she can is the way she applies her makeup. The face is considered a sort of canvas here, a way to focus people’s attention away from the body and toward the most expressive part of someone’s appearance.
“I believe personally that because since you’re wearing the veil it helps you to draw your face and I think that at least 80 percent of the veiled girl – they put makeup,” says Al Oun.
The most dominant feature women focus on is the eyes.
“The eyes are very important because it’s the center of everything,” said Hadeel Shehadeh, a 25-year-old social media freelancer at Tha Agency, an advertising company in Amman. She added that women often like to play around with eyeliners, mascaras and eye shadows to bring out the beauty in their eyes. Most women prefer the “smoky eye” by using different shades of grey and black.
The eyebrow pencil is very popular as well because bold eyebrows, she said, are seen as critical to the look of a face.
And while most women stick to non-permanent methods of exhibiting their beauty, a growing number will opt for a more drastic and permanent option of tattooing their face, or altering the shape of their nose.
“So many of my friends, they get tattoos for the eyebrows because it’s more sexy, more attractive,” said Shehadeh. “It’s bold and it makes you look hotter.”
Emad Salon, an upscale beauty parlor located by the Al-Sweifiyah area in Amman, is one of the places women go to get their brows tattooed. “Many come in and ask for a straight eyebrows like the models and stars from Lebanon,” said Mohammd Bazzi, a make-up artist and tattoo artist there. He said the cost is pricey and can be between 200 to 400 dinars per eyebrow – which is about $281 to $563.
But Batool Abdallat, a 25-year-old marketing associate for Jeeran.com, said it cost her almost 800 dinars, or $1,127, to maintain her new brows that she originally had done because they were naturally “too close to each other” and weren’t wide enough.
“I wanted to do this to look different but then after doing it I realized it was expensive to always have it perfectly,” she said. “I did it three times because the color fades away.”
Similar is the reaction of women who have sought out a more perfect nose.
“The ideal nose is a nose that takes up about one-fifth of the width of the face and is proportionate to the face,” says Dr. Tareq Alqubti, a plastic surgeon for three years at The Farah Hospital in Amman. He said he performs eight to 12 cosmetic nose surgeries a month and the cost can be 800 to 1,000 dinars – or $1,127 to $1409. “The width of the nose should be the width of the eyes. That is considered the perfect nose.”
Finally, women have one other permanent beauty trick that both allows them to maintain their modest principles, while drawing attention to what can be seen on their face. Some will go to a dentist to have jewel-like “dental implants” put into their mouth, which are like broaches but for the teeth.
Some women prefer to have gold or silver drilled into their tooth while some would rather have diamonds. Dentists say that only one jewel is placed on either the left or right lateral central tooth. Any more than that would be too much.
“The Jordanian women search for the Hollywood smile. Many women put it to look more beautiful with sexy smile,” said Dr. Aseel Omaish, who has been a dentist at Al-Amir Dental Clinic in Amman for four years and said the procedure costs between 50 to 100 dinars, or $70 to $140.
“It’s popular here,” she added. “They do it to look more photogenic and beautiful.”