Lebanese women have an alternative to plastic surgery

20 Aug
Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star Staff
August 20, 2009
BEIRUT: How many Lebanese women have you seen today with plastic surgery or who look like they’ve spent several hours preening? With Lebanon having acquired something of a reputation abroad for its predilection for surgery, the answer is likely to be several. Tired of being subjected to pressures of physical appearance, one Lebanese woman has launched a campaign in order to celebrate authentic, diverse beauty – the kind she argues is rapidly being lost to “look alike” surgeries that are often styled on the features of a select few celebrities and models. 

ANADiva (Arabic for “I’m a diva”) is the brainchild of 26-year-old Gwen Bou Jaoude. As part of the campaign, she has launched a social networking site where members can discuss representations of beauty, and a competition to create the campaign’s character. The website is one of the first Lebanese initiatives to demonstrate that other means of self-expression exist for women, Bou Jaoude said. “This online community proves that there are still members of the public who are against this metamorphosing of our society.” 

The campaign will conclude with an alternative fashion show that celebrates real women’s bodies in all their shapes and sizes. Lebanese cartoonist Stavro Jabra and Nienke Klunder, a Dutch-American photographer who works with the themes of body image and self-expression, have already signed up to collaborate on the campaign, as has web developing company Star Point Star, who offered to design the website. 

 “Everyone has a different opinion of beauty,” Bou Jaoude said, adding she hoped the ANADiva campaign will improve Lebanese women’s perceptions of themselves, celebrate individuality, and encourage critical thinking about mainstream standards of beauty. “The public should be given an alternative” to the one currently toted by the mainstream media and advertisers, she added. “They brainwash you [about how you should look] without you even realizing.” 

 Bou Jaoude’s efforts come at a time of growing debate within the fashion and cosmetics sectors about beauty. Dove, a leading beauty products company, has launched its own “Real Beauty” campaign and fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle are now actively trying to use more black and Asian models in an effort to show the beauty industry does not only view white women as attractive. 

One of the reasons Bou Jaoude decided to launch the campaign was she felt the Lebanese, through surgery, were losing their cultural identity and becoming carbon copies of their European and North American counterparts. Lebanese women should embrace their looks, Jaoude said. “Variety is healthy within a society.” 

Cosmetic surgery and the cosmetic industry are lucrative trades – according to the International Herald Tribune, in 2007 alone, the two were estimated to be worth around $14 billion in sales globally. More and more women, though also men, are opting for surgery, swelling the industry’s coffer’s by an additional $1 billion each year. 

In a questionnaire conducted by ANADiva of 65 Lebanese women between the age of 21 and 38, 46 said they would go under the knife in order to “look sexy.” With billboards, television adverts and pop stars offering a narrow, airbrushed image of beauty, “women are striving to look like an ideal that doesn’t exist, an ideal that has been digitally created,” Bou Jaoude said. She cited statistics showing that the average individual comes across 600-625 images of women that have been digitally enhanced. Bombarded with images of perfection from a young age, Bou Jaoude said it wasn’t surprising so many Lebanese women contemplated plastic surgery. 

As the ANAdiva campaign states, “The average person currently faces the pressure of upholding certain “body commandments”: women are expected to be thin, tall, toned and glamorous. In particular, Lebanese women are feeling compelled to meet such “commandments” at any cost, creating ‘look alike’ females.” 

Out of the seven women questioned by The Daily Star, only one said they would describe themselves as “beautiful,” and three said they had already had or were seriously considering plastic surgery. Five of the women said they knew people who were on diets or had eating disorders. 

Yasmine, who underwent cosmetic surgery earlier this year, said social pressure to look good was a contributing factor in her decision. “You see all these pictures of gorgeous women and even if you know you’ll never look like that, you often end up trying to live up to those images,” she said, adding she spent around $150 each month on beauty products, facials and hairdressing. “You have to match the standard if you want to attract a man.” 
“People are getting a certain image of how women should look,” Bou Jaoude said. “It’s about time someone does something about” countering it. The competition’s deadline is August 25, 2009. To enter, vist: http://www.anadiva.com
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