Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sexy lingerie in Lebanon

Lebanon, or rather the Arab world in general, is often difficult to understand. Foreigners usually have the stereotype of a conservative region where family honor and religious tradition force women to cover themselves as much as possible. In a sense, this picture is quite correct. But what then with all those lingerie stores you find everywhere across the Middle East?

Foreigners, who feel that stereotyping is a neat way to organize the chaos around them in the countries they visit, will continuously be forced to reevaluate their prejudices when coming to Lebanon. Sure, the country is quite conservative and there is an increasing number of veiled women in Beirut. But somehow, even in the traditional Muslim areas of the city, you can see plenty of lingerie stores with big posters in their windows advertising the latest and skimpiest models. And one rule always seems to apply: the tinier the lingerie, the larger the poster.

Photo 1: The skimpier the lingerie, the larger the poster

It is far from me to claim any expertise in this matter, but it seems to this layperson that Muslims somehow do not necessarily connect conservatism with being prudish about sexuality. At least, not so much as Christians tend to do. Many times, I’ve heard Muslims saying that the Koran is actually quite open about sex. Again, I am not an expert on this topic, but somehow it is striking that even in the most conservative Muslim country, Saudi Arabia, you will find quite a few lingerie stores. Certainly more than you would find in a random city in the American Bible Belt.

The importance Arabs attach to lingerie can perhaps be explained with reference to the traditional role model of women: a lust object placed on earth for the pleasure of men. This explanation would certainly make sense, but it would not make clear the difference between the Muslim and the Christian world, especially since in many cases, both religions are pretty much equally conservative.

Photo 2: Veiled woman entering lingerie store in Hamra, Beirut

And yet, Christianity is known for its abhorrence of anything sexual. Catholic priests can not marry out of fear of being compromised by earthly lusts and for the rest of this world sex is mostly allowed for reproduction purposes. [On a side note, if all Christians would head the call to become priests, the religion would die out in one generation.]

The Christian idea of sex generally being something that is best to avoid and only to be applied with the sole purpose of adhering to God’s first order to mankind (“Go forth and multiply”) has somewhat mellowed out since the sixties in certain Western countries, but you only have to look at the fierce opposition of the Pope to the use of condoms to realize that the ‘official’ position is still not in favor of having sex just for fun. Indeed, it is fair to say that a large number of Christians have a rather suspicious stance towards anything sexual.

How different the Muslim approach: everywhere you go in the Arab world, you find lingerie stores in the open. The unified message seems to be: “Come and be beautiful for your husband!” No shame, no hush-hush, it’s all out in the open. Brides, e.g., should not be surprised when their best female friends give them sexy (or downright slutty) lingerie as a wedding gift. Also, it is quite normal to see veiled women wearing make-up which sort of defeats the purpose of the veil, namely to hide one's beauty.

Photo 3: Veiled woman with make-up (courtesy of Saudi Stepford Wife)

Still, despite this openness about sexuality, male expats in Lebanon get easily confused due to the mixed messages they receive. The Lebanese women can dress quite seductively, but don’t think they are actually inviting men to anything else besides a good time.

Whenever I see these dolled up Lebanese beauties, I cannot help the feeling that they’re playing dress-up with clothes found on grandma’s attic. It’s like watching a 9 year old pretending to be a femme fatale without ever crossing the line of decency. Indeed, for Christians and Muslims alike, sexuality still is very much something to be enjoyed in the marital setting.


Mustapha said...

"And yet, Christianity is known for its abhorrence of anything sexual."

Then you must appreciate this fresh news story.

Stereotyping is indeed facile...

Riemer Brouwer said...

heh, interesting story, thanks for the link.

Would it change the opinion on Christianity's attitude towards sex? Well, perhaps to the effect that one day of sun in Seattle will have on people who feel that it rains a lot over there.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

I commented some days ago buy blogger "ate" my comment:(

Thanks for the link to my blog, interesting topic.

Indeed, if one is discussing Islam without cultural influences then yes, not only is sex discussed quite openly and frankly, even sexual fulfillment for BOTH men and women is given importance in marriage. However once culture is added to the mix, I have noticed a trend towards hyper-sexualization within gulf-marriages in contrast to Desi cultures which appears to (at least from what I know) promote female "shyness" even after marriage.

Anonymous said...

I find this story hilarious, and pretty silly. Lingerie is used the world over, where there are women, there will be lingerie, so what's the fuss when it comes to this part of the world ? All women are beautiful, no matter how we may look at them, lingerie is only one of many ways for them to express this beauty, so to all the women of the world I bow my hat in salute.

Mike said...

I work for www.lvmannequins.com and we have heard tons of issues with just mannequins not to mention Lingerie. It’s a crazy thing and don’t think it will ever go away. I am suppressed they are even able to have stores there.