"You've lost weight"

Context: in a tailor’s shop in Hamra Saturday afternoon with the purpose of having alterations made to several pairs of slacks which have become ridiculously loose in a my year-plus-walking-everywhere stint in Lebanon.  As well, I had tossed in a dress which, in my defense (sort of) I had bought a size too large as it was an emergency online purchase for a wedding and I figured better to deal with a bit of space then not be able to wear it.  The speaker was a women about my age who also happened to be in the shop.  No introduction prior, no real emotion in her voice, just the matter of fact “You’ve lost weight.”

This constant comment on total strangers’ appearances is a very typical aspect of Lebanese culture, or so I have experienced and been told by other non-Lebanese who have more experience here than me.  I have had colleagues (who I do not know that well!) comment on everything from how I dress to said weight fluctuations to possible alterations to my hair color as well as sales associates size me up with a less then generous appraisals while shopping.  Working in a somewhat international environment, I’ve probably experienced a lot less than most but all the same it’s been an interesting cultural sub-layer to navigate.

Coming from the US, the quickest way to show yourself as an utter ass is to comment on someone’s appearance, to her face.  Yes, we all, save for the few blessed saints, do so in quiet voices or with subtle reactions but no one who is at all socially savvy is going to walk up to a random person and proceed to pointedly assess her looks.  Granted its one thing if my grandmother comments on how I’m not eating enough or eating too much, or if a well meaning auntie proclaims “You are so pretty, and then you put on those glasses…” but a perfect stranger? This is a new one for me.

Most cultures have their norms for beauty and if current trends in plastic surgery are accurate, more and more women are opting to have various features enhanced or reduced to come closer to whatever is most “ideal” for her heritage, be it an aquiline nose or a voluptuous figure.  In Beirut, it’s not uncommon to see girls as young as 15 or 16 bearing the tell tale bandage indicative of a weekend rhinoplasty; its worn with a certain pride, and in some family systems is a veritable right of passage. Plastics in general are big business in Lebanon with a growing tendency for the international set to make special trips just to have work done.

Chances are more posts will speak to this particular phenomenon once I observe a bit more, and endure a few more unsolicited remarks.  In the meantime, appreciative of a decent poker face, and good tailors…