Midriffs and the Middle East

Last week my #cescapades took me to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with my Mom and Aunt. When we arrived, I realized that “none at all” was a nice way of putting our pre-planning. None of us had any clue what we wanted to do. With only a few “must see” spots and group activities planned, we pretty much landed without a clue about the first move. It seemed the only thing all three of us had actually looked into was how to dress.

And when it comes to fashion my mom just wants to be cool. Literally. She’s not really a big fan of heat. Once we pass about 70 degrees, she’s ready to go inside. But she loves a sensible sun dress with a shrug! My aunt is a fashionista – looking good is ALWAYS important and in a place with such a rich culture and fine silks, she wanted to make sure to be in the running for Emirati’s top model…or at least look like it. I’m sort of ambivalent about fashion, but I like to be respectful. So all three of us landed in the middle of the desert with our cardigans and sweaters and long pants and maxi dresses and 2 hours in, we were soaked, I’m talking drenched, in sweat. And to make matters worse, we looked around and saw all the no-no’s our individual research had warned us against: exposed shoulders, short skirts, Bebe-I mean, WTF right? Here we are basically wearing our ski jackets and petticoats and these folks are just frolicking in their summer best! What gives?

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The Emirati culture is an absolutely beautiful one. The pride that the people had and have in their land and their work is clear to see today. The big Dubai boom came after the discovery of oil in 1966, but the foresight of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum is, in my opinion, what turned the United Arab Emirates into not just an oil producing region, but a major travel and business destination for the rest of the world for centuries to come. Throw in the exports to Iraq and you’ve stumbled upon a gold mine. And it’s understandable why people who are native to this land want to celebrate that rich culture. (all puns intended)

So thanks to booty shorts and American Apparel, it became pretty easy to pick out the foreigners.

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Truthfully, there was a delicate balance between under dressing and over heating, but we gave it our best effort! We went to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (one of the three things we had actually planned) and we were ready! We went through the website several times to make sure we were in compliance: Nothing tight, nothing short, long sleeves, head covering, nothing transparent.

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Mosque Manners for the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque

Of course upon arrival, all three of us were told we were in non-compliance and were swiftly sent into the basement to pick up our abayas. Sure, we were a bit frustrated at the lack of recognition of our efforts (ok..it was just me), but we went and made the most of it. And to my surprise, they were pretty cool. Our guide, Laila, also made a point to talk about the traditional dress of both men and women in the UAE. She said that she enjoyed wearing her abaya because it ensured that people were listening to her and not passing judgement based on her dress or her curves. Coming from a country where we regularly judge based on all sorts of things long before we even meet people (I’m looking at you, Tinder), it was a very interesting way to think about appearance.

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

Auntie, Mom and Me at the Mosque

So by the end of the trip, we relaxed our dress a bit. We weren’t so terrified to wear a v neck t-shirt or throw on a knee-length skirt. But the traditions and the culture definitely rubbed off on us. I may or may not have bought a few traditional dresses of my own. I have no idea where I’ll wear them, but I’m excited!

And more than anything, I left with a great deal of respect for the women in the UAE, or anywhere, who choose to wear their abaya, burqa, hajib, chador, or niqab or any other garments that allow them to feel comfortable. In the States, I’ve seen my fair share of side eyes at women fully or partially covered, but I get it now…at least better than I did before. And I have to say ladies, though it may not be MY look, I think YOU are beautiful!

Here’s to beautiful people, inside and out!

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