Arab beauty has developed in some of the most unexpected ways. From elaborate outfits that showcase our rich artistic heritage to toned down styles that let natural Arab beauty shine through, to Instagram stars that tease the limits of our fashion choices, it is a poignant telling of the finer parts of our history and evolution.
For our tour of Arab beauty in the last century, we rummaged through library archives, flipped through family photo albums and uncovered lesser-known celebrity beauty shots. We go from Cairo to Bethlehem to Abu Dhabi to Beirut and back with this lovely rediscovery of the last 100 years in Arab beauty.
1. 1900 – The elite dancing girl from Cairo
Our tour of a century in Arab beauty starts with dance. The jewellery and dress are elaborate and the bangles that cover her wrists probably add a musical supplement to the cymbals in her hands. We can appreciate the sheer art of this moment, captured and immortalized.
2. 1910s – Girls in Bethlehem
One of the marvels of Arab beauty is how varied it is across even the smallest of geographic spaces. In Palestine, every region boasts a distinct embroidery pattern. The girls in the picture above (taken before the British Mandate) are wearing traditional Bethlehemite dress. Coins are sewn into the hem of their headdress and also serve as pendants for their necklaces.
3. 1920s – Grace and power at a Cairo studio
Sparse make-up and curl-ironed hair with two gardenias tucked in, this intimate moment between two women spins a mysterious web of stories, serving as a reminder that real beauty comes from within.
4. 1930s – Breathtaking Asmahan
This wonderful photo captures the youthful beauty of the eternal Asmahan. We know her voice that wafts through our record players like a cloud of fairy dust. But in the days when photography was scant, her physical beauty only shone through a select few pictures that would burn into our memories, like this one.
5. 1940s – Girls just wanna have fun in Jordan
This is a testament to the playful spirit inherent to beauty.
6. 1950s – wavy hair and puffy skirts
Egyptian actor Hend Rustom, also known as the Marilyn Monroe of Arabia.
If we didn’t know these were Syrian ladies in the 1950s, we would think they were going to a high school prom with those shiny dresses.
7. 1960s – Beauty and brains, Syrian author Ghada Samman
8. 1970s – A little-known photograph of teenage Sherihan with flare jeans, braids and gun holsters
9. The 1980s – Lebanese-Palestinians we found in family albums, although they could have easily been winter wear models
10. 1990s – Lebanese and Jordanian expats in Abu Dhabi
11. 2000s – One Arab woman set the bar extra high for beauty everywhere
12. 2010s – We realized that fashion doesn’t need to come at the expense of conviction
In the 2010s, instead of fashion magazines, we had Instagram stars that diversified our notions of beauty, and helped us explore new avenues to style. More importantly, they showed us that our lifestyles need not be at odds with fashionable expression.