Identity

Seeking My Idealized Self in the Beauty Parlors of the UAE

Abu Dhabi native Farah Al Qasimi documents her home country's complex relationship to beauty by photographing its salons, glamour studios, and pharmacies. Occasionally, she gets her own makeover in the process.

by Farah Al Qasimi
Jan 21 2016, 5:40pm

Although I currently live in the United States, I am from the United Arab Emirates, and when I'm there I like to seek out spaces where people go to create their idealized selves—places like men's and women's salons, photography studios, traditional pharmacies, garment districts. In a place so diverse, these spaces exist to realize endlessly differing notions of desirability, and in my work I try to chart what those look like, and how they influence each other. Much of the local population is dark-skinned, and skin-whitening treatments are popular. Women trade recipes for homemade bleaching creams using online beauty forums; some grocery stores sell green contact lenses alongside basic necessities.

When I'm there, I also like to visit salons and ask the stylists to make me beautiful, collecting the results over time, looking for a hybrid aesthetic that distills all these different aspirations into one generalized idea of beauty. While there, I document the sources of inspiration on the walls of these spaces: Murals of pastoral landscapes, posters of Hollywood film stars, elaborate mirror displays, and blue-eyed mannequins are some examples of the typical décor.

Photo courtesy of Al Naser Digital Studio, Dubai, UAE

Photo courtesy of Rose Studios, Dubai, UAE

Tagged:
Culture
Broadly
middle east
Beauty
UAE
uae beauty
uae salons
Broadly Culture