Before the Spectacle: Shaping Gender and Class in Beirut’s Beauty Salons
“Beirut, in the words of one designer, is like a third world city that’s put on some makeup” writes Rima Suqi in the New York Times (2016). Indeed, scholars worldwide have coined Beirut the trendsetting beauty city and nightlife capital of the Middle East. My ethnographic fieldwork in Beirut in July and August 2016 examined the construction of women’s beauty work in salons and how it affected gender and class performances in nightlife venues. Contemporary discourses on the popularity of beauty work and nightlife consumption in Beirut are often explained by the reaction to the Lebanese Civil War, and by postmodern, individualistic attitudes celebrating life, glamour, and living in the moment. However, such assumptions overlook the extent to which social and familial networks constitute women’s bodies in Beirut’s small, interconnected and highly visual upper-middle and upper class society. In my research, I ask: Why are so many young Lebanese women willing to undergo extensive beauty work and engage in opulent nightlife agendas? How do social and familial pressures motivate women’s desire for beauty work? How do women envision and construct gender and class as an outcome of beauty work? How and why do women further class distinctions using beauty work? How do women foster solidarity in the salon space? How do men and women display and perform gender and class in nightlife venues? How do preparation rituals in beauty salons influence women’s performances in nightlife venues and vice versa?