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.
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?