Arts & Culture The Gulf Women Issue

Will Khaleejis still be Khaleejis without their noses?

In the Arabian Peninsula, there were desired beauty standards that women aspired to, and that men looked for in women.
Courtesy Vidal Balielo

As you travel across the world, the definition of women’s beauty alters. In Korea, for example, a fair complexion is desirable and beauty products such as SecretKey’s Snow White Cream promise to deliver skin whitening results. Stretched earlobes and a shaved head are beauty standards for members of the Maasai tribe in Africa.

Historically, in the Arabian Peninsula, there were also certain desired beauty standards that women aspired to, and that men looked for in women.

Poets from the Gulf have written about women with long black hair as dark as the night, flushed cheeks, wide eyes that were defined by thick, long, dark lashes, a small waist, wide hips, and a long, thin, downward-tipped nose with a bridge resembling the curve of a sword.

Prominent Emirati singer Mehad Hamad sings in his song ‘Tair Al hamami’ (Pigeon Birds) written by poet Mohammed Al Kaabi:

My lover has wide eyes,

Soft skin,

Rosy cheeks

A nose’s bridge that looks like a sword…

The nose is a point of pride and humility. When an Arab from the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Oman and the UAE, wants to express how much a person means to them, they might say ‘fdait khashmek’, which translates to ‘I’ll sacrifice my life for your nose.’

 In contrast, if someone is angry with someone else, the nose becomes a target for insults or threats – ‘I will break your nose’, means that they intend to humiliate the other person. 

Greeting each other by rubbing noses is also popular across the Gulf especially in Oman and the UAE. It shows friendship and, most importantly, respect.

Tribal sheikhs or leaders were often characterised by their long noses, with bridges resembling swords. In fact, a long, thin nose with that sort of bridge is often called a ‘shyookhi’ nose – the nose of royals and leaders. Perhaps that’s what made that nose even more desirable, as it would mean that one belonged to an upper societal class. As a child, I remember elders at gatherings describing people by saying he or she looks like a sheikh or sheikha because of their nose bump.

With globalization and the introduction of western beauty and fashion brands to our Arabian Gulf markets, the definition of beauty has changed. In the past, a desirable woman was one who had a curvy body, with wide, childbearing hips. My grandmother used to tell me how a skinny woman was seen as weak and unable to reproduce, and thus a curvy woman was desired as suitable prospect for marriage.

That’s a thing of the past now. Young women aspire to have fit and lean bodies. They have new definitions of beauty, hence the increased emergence of plastic surgeon clinics in the region and the popularity of liposuction procedures.

CNN reported that Dubai, UAE is the world’s plastic surgery hub, and that there are more plastic surgeons per citizen in Dubai than in the USA or Brazil.

Rhinoplasty is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures amongst women from the Arabian Gulf region, states Dr. Paulo Michels, a Brazilian doctor who works at Amaryllis Polyclinic in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Michels moved from Dubai after noticing the increase in plastic surgery demands in the capital.

Patients from the Arabian Gulf who consult him for rhinoplasty procedures often want to remove their nose bumps, reduce their nose size, and lift their nose if the tip angles down. Some request results to resemble western celebrities’ noses.

‘I always explain that we can’t create a new [nose] as the patients’ desire,’ he tells us. ‘Our goal’s to make changes based on the natural anatomy of each patient, to bring natural looking results.’

Dr. Michels uses a simulator to show the patient how their nose will look after surgery in order to achieve better results and keep expectations in check.

Discussing the reasons why women from the Arabian Gulf are opting to change their nose features in the first place, Dr. Michels attributes it to classic reasons such as wanting a boost of confidence and wanting to look good for their spouse. But ‘new’ and ‘modern reasons’ involve social media, he says. ‘A patient would want to enhance her features, because she doesn’t like how she looks when she takes a selfie.’

Things aren’t diferent for Dr. Ayad Harb, founder of Qosmetic aesthetic clinics in the UK , and the man behind the popular 3-point Rhino non-surgical nose correction procedure – a temporary nose correction procedure whose results last for about 9 to12 months, making Qosmetic the busiest non-surgical practice in the world.

‘Patients from the Arabian Gulf region tend to want the 3-point Rhino to correct the “ethnic noses”, which usually means disguising a hump or unflattering curve on the nose.’

‘Due to the press, beauty magazines and social media, cosmetic treatments have become mainstream and with more people being open about the procedures that they have had’.

‘Believe it or not, there are nose shape trends’, adds Dr. Ayad. ‘So while a dainty upturned nose might be popular at the moment, a more regal looking nose may come into fashion at any moment’.

As the world gets even smaller, will we see a permanent change to what Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula consider ‘beautiful’?

Will there be a time when poets will stop writing about noses that resemble swords, and instead show their love towards small noses with lifted tips? And most importantly, will bumpy noses ever be in fashion again?

Manar Alhinai is the Storyteller-in-Chief at Sekka.