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Looking like a local


Heavily lined eyes, big hair, carefully honed bodies - the recent Miss Lebanon Australia competition brought back some fond memories of my years in Beirut where, although I was working long hours as a serious journalist at a serious newspaper, I quickly found myself with heavily lined eyes, big hair and a honed body.

Without quite realising it, and although several degrees paler and smaller and without an iota of Middle Eastern blood, I quickly found myself meeting the standard Beiruti ideal of cat eyes, bouffant hair do and toned bod. This was the mid-Nineties, a time when the middle class diaspora were only just beginning to return to the war-damaged city, so the girls I mixed with and saw at the beach clubs and restaurants were wealthy and pampered. For example, a friend at aerobics, who was 22 at the time, was taken to class by her chauffeur, accompanied by her personal maid who held her towel, having left her two children at home with the nannies, the housekeeper, the butler, his boy assistant, and so on. The young ladies of Beirut had the money to spend on their appearance and, even for those who worked or studied, their appearance was an absolute focus.

I think it was at first by default that I began to take on the appearance of a local. I'd go to the hairdressers and emerge badly clipped but with the perfect helmet head, bouffed and sprayed to the maximum. It didn't move for days. 

Tattooed and plumped lips were mandatory. Elaborately made-up doe eyes abounded. The body beautiful was the norm as were clothes and accessories from stores such as Gucci and Chanel which were opening at a startling rate. Hemlines were sky high, as were the shoes, even for morning coffee. The women were bejewelled, beautiful and glamorous and, understandably, knew how to enjoy the finer things in life, today.

I think it was at first by default that I began to take on the appearance of a local. I'd go for a hair cut (a novel concept in the land of the long and lustrous mane) and emerge badly clipped but with the perfect helmet head, bouffed and sprayed to the maximum. It didn't move for days. Manicurist/s attended while the hairdresser fussed - you couldn't shake them off - so nails were painted too, usually red. I joined aerobics for fun and friendship but realised the workouts were deadly serious, despite the cheerleading outfits and American-tan tights, and I was soon doing what they did - racking up four or five sessions a week to look good in a bikini at the beach club. Where, dear readers I sunbaked (neck down). I considered briefly having my work pass photo soft-focussed and photoshopped, like the other girls. Armani became my go-to place for clothes - I was paid oodles of untaxed American dollars so why not? Where else would you shop?

It was only when I visited friends in London who hooted at my transformation that I appreciated that I'd been "Lebanesed''. But they looked drab and unkempt while I was fabulous. Forget ''when in Rome'' - it's more that in a foreign or different environment, it happens without you even meaning it to.

Has this been your experience? Have you moved somewhere different - maybe just interstate - and found yourself dressing differently? Has you hair style, tanning habits or even makeup changed when you've changed address? Did you do this purposely, chameleon-like, or did it catch you unawares?

4 comments so far

  • I moved to Canberra, from Queensland, for work. My 'style' (aka daggy) quickly become 'corporate' during the week and 'urban funky' on the weekends. On a return visit to Brisvegas I passed a colleague in the corridor - he didn't recognise me at first, but then turned around and said 'gosh, they've knocked the hayseed out of you!'. Now back in Queensland full-time, I have to be very vigilant to keep the 'dag' at bay. I'm sure it's got something to do with the weather...

    Date and time
    May 24, 2012, 12:27PM
    • Sometime ago I shifted from Sydney to provincial New Zealand. My style changed greatly. For the first couple of months I persisted in wearing my Sydney clothes. They stared at me. I started dressing more like the locals, although it actually never made me comfortable nor did I enjoy it. The local 'style' was pretty rough and didn't involve much primping, washing or ironing.- trackies, gumboots and a reasonably clean t shirt was about it- along with unbrushed hair, teeth and no makeup. A couple of months ago I shifted back to Sydney and have to retrain myself all over again! am enjoying it though, feel a bit more 'me' again.
      One thing that has remained with me is I have totally given up crazy high heels- comfort is all good.

      Date and time
      May 24, 2012, 7:38PM
      • LOL Natasha! The same thing happened to me in Beirut in the 90's. I'm a whiter-than-white green eyed blonde. After 2 years in Beirut I came home to Australia looking like Miss World. I think we may have been there during the same period of time - I'm surprised we didn't cross paths!

        Date and time
        May 25, 2012, 11:35AM
        • You dont have to move far to notice it.

          I grew up in ther suburbs of Sydney and would go clothes shopping at the local shopping centre. The same generic stuff found in every shopping centre.

          When I moved to the eastern suburbs, my style definitely became more sophisticated. I find myself spending more on an item but going for something either classic or particularly striking, instead of large volumes of generic stuff.

          Date and time
          May 25, 2012, 1:34PM

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