Skin Lightening in the Gulf Region


Color complexes are, for sure, universal. In one of the Fair and Lovely advertisements a woman walks up to a pharmacist with a look of despair (I’ve only seen the commercial in Arabic). The pharmacist offers her this cream and the woman smiles. Then after several uses, her skin becomes both lighter and clearer. She’s happy. The cream, produced by a Dutch-Brittish company, that solves all problems.

One of the first news articles here that caught my eye was one about an Arabic beauty pageant contestant that refused to be the spokesperson for a skin lighting advertisement. She believed that it would hinder young girls in the future and assist them in developing or advancing complexes concerning their complexion. What a decision to have to make in 2010. I read another article in which a European woman described the women in the Middle East as “suffering” from olive skin.

This product, along with several other skin lightening creams, flood the shelves in the beauty sections of supermarkets and pharmacies here. If the cream is too expensive or “permanent,” some women will adorn their faces with white powder; if these women are uncomfortable with the darkness of their hands, they will wear gloves to hide their true complexion.

I teach second grade, and I want to tell my girls now that they are beautiful and that they don’t need to lighting their skin in order to be successful. I’m not sure, but I don’t believe that they hold me at a higher esteem than their mothers and overall culture at this stage in their lives. I’ll, nonetheless, try.

Please see article below for more information.

Where in the world are Aisha and Terrence?

We live in Al Ain, which is an hour away from Dubai and 1.5 away from the city of Abu Dhabi. We do live in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi however. This country is broken up into 7 emirates. Each would be comparable to a state in America. So we live in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi but in the city of Al Ain. We enjoy living here because it’s a little slower than the other two cities but we are still able to easily access the hustle and bustle of the city if we want to. Notice that what we know as the “Persian Gulf” is referred to as the “Arabian Gulf” here. That’s a huge deal. Our school was issued globes for each class, however they were unable to enter the classrooms until “Persian Gulf” was marked through with a Sharpie. An Arabic co-teacher of Terrence’s stated that he didn’t understand why we called it the Persian Gulf…Persia/Iran never owned the body of water. Interesting. However, up until the 1960’s Arab countries also called the body of water the Persian Gulf. But, with tension rising amongst the Persians and Arabs, the Arab countries began to embrace the name “Arabian Gulf” instead.

Most Common Q&A

1. Do you have to cover your head and not show any skin at work?

No. My principal requests that we cover our arms and legs, but I do not have to cover my head or go as far as to wear tuttlenecks. Some female teachers at other schools do have to wear shalas, the traditional head covering here, due to their prinicpals’ beliefs. I, however, wear dresses, long skirts, or pants and long sleeve shirts with sandals.

2. Does your husband have to wear a dress?

No. None of the male western teachers here, that I know of, are required to wear a kindora, the traditional dress for Arab men and women. He wears slacks and polos to work.

3. Do they allow Christian churches there?

Yes. We attend service every Friday in Al Ain or in Abu Dhabi, which is 1.5 hours away. We usually drive to Abu Dhabi because we really enjoy the word there. So yes, Christians are welcomed here, but we are not allowed to witness…in a “traditional” sense anyway.

4. You go to church on Fridays?

This is always the follow-up question to the preceding one. Our work week here is Sunday-Thursday. Friday is the day of worship for Muslims and most Christians, and Saturday is well…Saturday.

5. What’s the food like?

It’s not that good ‘ole southern food, but it will do. We eat at some of the same restaurants here that we ate at in the states: P.F. Changs, KFC, McDonalds (the beef does not taste the same though), Hardees, Burger King, Fat Burger, Outback, Ruby Tuesday’s, Texas Chicken (which is our Churches Chicken but it’s a muslim country so they won’t use the word “churches”), Krispy Cream, Chilis, Dunkin Donuts, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Baskin Robins. A lot of these restaurants taste just like the US, while others, like Mcdonald’s, taste differently or have a different menu. Since this is a muslim country none of the restaurants serve pork products. So at McDonald’s for breakfast we order the chicken mcmuffin sandwich. It’s pretty good. The local food can be at treat at times; it’s cheaper than the US based restaurants and they give you large portions. We often times have to throw away our leftovers. When we do eat the local food we order humas, pita bread, and taouk chicken (kind of like barbeque chicken). Other times we will eat shawarma, which is chicken, french fries, pickle, and garlic sauce in pita bread (try saying that to the Big Mac tune…you may have to had “bun” to the endof pita bread along with several other fillers) It’s a great, affordable snack.

We can find similar, if not the same, foods in our supermarkets here. The imported foods are, naturally, more expensive than the local products. For example, Tropicana Orange Juice is $8 while the locally made orange juice is $2. We drink the local juice. The same price difference is true for Lactaid milk produced here versus the states. For the most part, we can find all that we need and want in our supermarkets. Also, they do sell pork here. There is one pork shop in Al Ain and one, that we know of, in Dubai.

6. Is it expensive to live there?

No as our our employers cover a larger portion of our expenses. Outside of those covered, we have found that other daily living expenses balance each other out. For example, gas is $1.78/gallon, so while we may pay more for our food at times, it cost us almost nothing to get to our favorite restaurants.

7. Is it difficult being a woman there?

No. Prior to coming here I was under the impression that it may be difficult for me to move around as freely as my husband, but that is not true. I have the same independence here as I would have in the states. I have been told that had we moved to Saudi instead my experience would have been a lot different as women there are not allowed to drive at all or travel alone after the sun sets. I must say though that the Arabic culture, from what I have seen, is more centered around protecting their women. Some of the men here walk in front of their wives and children because they believe that they are acting as shields. Some men here, however, are misogynistic, but that is true in any culture.

8. How is it teaching over there?

We love it! It’s different than anything that we could have experienced in the states. Our students didn’t speak any English upon our arriving. While we were told that most of the students here spoke little English we found that wasn’t true in the village where we ended up teaching. Now I am able to walk in my class and ask my girls what they did over the weekend and they can tell me…in English! I’ve bonded so much more with these students than I ever did with my students in the states. There’s something so altering about fighting to understand each other. My students and I have had to develop our own language and codes. Since we’ve done that, we feel as though we’ve have been through something life changing together. Those experiences make you hold on to people a little tighter.

9. How’s the weather?

During our hottest months that questions is borderline insulting; IT’S HOT! Our hottest months are May-September. Although, I can’t imagine it being any hotter than it is now in April. Our hottest day last summer was 115 degrees ferienheit. The heat here is different than the states though. In Al Ain we have dry heat, meaning, zero moisture in the air. While it works out beautifully for my blowouts/presses, it’s not very comfortable walking outside with your mouth open trying to breath. Abu Dhabi and Dubia have humid heat. This is worst. The moment we walk outside there, we began to sweat. Blowouts are, for sure, a waste of money during those months. We even sweat outside at night! Our cooler months are from October-February. In the mornings and in the evenings we desired a light jacket. It was really nice. I would compare those months to the beginning of Fall in South Carolina. March and April could be closely related to Spring, but definitely when it’s moving towards the summer months. It does rain here but sparingly.

As more questions arise, either by memory or inquiry, I will update this write-up.