24/12/2012 06:19 GMT | Updated 23/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Beauty and the Label

It's a busy and enticing sight. Four by four cars roaring past, taxis consuming the majority of road space, lights flickering on and off. Dazzling neon billboards by Sephora advocating that 'beauty is intelligence'. Timelines showing the constant rise of Coca-Cola and Pepsi sitting side by side as a tram whirls past. Bursts of laughter and giggles. Crowds of chic young girls, elaborately coiffed and darkly mascaraed, strolling arm in arm in a tide of traditional jilbab to Chanel adorned scarves wrapped around their necks teamed with D&G sunglasses.

Where is this, though? Piccadilly Circus? New York? In terms of beauty, spirit and the eclectic mix of nationalities, it could be any of these places and more. Yet, no. This is Dubai. The now capital of capitalism. Flaunting this they are very good at.

The women of the Arab lands have a great heritage of femininity to live up to. Past ages in this area have been dominated and memorialised by the beauty and wealth of Nefertiti and Cleopatra, the allure and diplomacy of Belkis and the Queen of Sheba. Yet it is only in the last decade or two that women in the Middle East have come into their own--nowhere more dramatically has this risen to such shallow heights than in the Middle East's playground of Dubai.

Women strive to be more and more beautiful in today's increasingly glossed-over world of super models and movie stars. And this is one factor that cannot be missed in Dubai either. Each mall is cushioned by another mall, all roads leading to one thing: commodities and plenty of them. Capitalism is in full effect and it's hard to separate the relationship between the city and money. Dubai has time and again been described as the ideal dream world of neo-liberalism, the place where capitalism is allowed to flourish without the least impediment by government regulation.

However, that which is most striking, but not the least surprising, is that money here buys you a western ideal. A western ideal of what the lifestyle and luxuries living in Europe or North America could bring. But instead on their doorstep. And the women are not shy from showing this.

For example, the Arab beauty standard has traditionally, and sadly, favoured ladies with fairer skin. Although you would think that this standard would change with the evolving diversity of society, it remains a big problem in the east as a whole. It seems that the standard is egged on by "whitening" beauty products that promise a fairer complexion and overall success apparently. The companies marketing these brands, are of course, from the West. It's hard to miss the Clinique counter and the barely-speaking-English worker trying to force you to try a sample cream on your hand and "see the difference!" as you scurry past trying to avoid the Scarlett Johansson Chanel advert with her skin an illuminating white.

Unfortunately, in the UAE as well as in many other countries with a non-white majority, racist beauty standards still exist, which assume the superiority of the colour and the features of 'whites'. Internalised racism has begun to crawl to the surface, whereby women assume that all races are inferior to 'whites', marginalising themselves.

But worry not, money can wash away your dark complexion and Givenchy can give you a brand new set of red lips. L'Oreal can tame your hair to make it manageable and sleek like that pop star and, hey presto. You're no longer a Middle Easterner in the Middle East. You're a stranger in your own city.