ink.

Tattoos; I realize there are mixed feelings about them and can appreciate the view points of love, and those of abhorrence. I tend to fall in the first category, and was in elementary school when I first asked my dad about the ramifications of ink based on social norms and what we, religiously, ascribed to. Growing up in a small town which at times represented all the positive and negative stereotypes, and being just down the road from the university town where all the “liberals” and “hippies” lived, there were a lot of less than gracious assessments made of folks who sported ink, especially that which was visible (somehow if it could be covered, it was more acceptable).

So the idea of ink for me has existed for some time, though it took a long while to actually turn an idea into reality. In the middle of grad school, in the thick of my clinical practicum, I added a small piece, rich in meaning for me and consistently conversation provoking, to the very visible location of my wrist.  (Friends, even those who knew me well, found this shocking, which I in turn found amusing.)

It was interesting to navigate this choice in light of my career, and a layer was added when I decided to come to Lebanon.  That’s not to say that I was anticipating Lebanon to be terribly conservative, more so I didn’t know what I would encounter in terms of assumptions or cultural norms.  (Coming from the PNW, you’re almost considered weird if you don’t have ink and so for the tattoo minded, it’s a cultural haven.)  My students have seemed to find it odd at first and then kind of okay while colleagues are generally polite, and every now and then I catch a parent with a quizzical “Did I see what I think I saw?” look. Recently a student passed by to share a new piece, and I felt quite honored to be let in on the significance. At this point in time, I would say the norm here is the hidden ink.  The beaches reveal large, intricate pieces on both men and women, but those that can be hidden nicely by the weekday suit.

It’s a care-filled and fun process presently to consider what I might add, a process that I don’t take lightly in terms of significance or placement which I am an admitted snob about. 

I am captivated by the expression, significance, and intricacy of a well done piece and grateful that more and more there seems to be an understanding that ink doesn’t mean cavalier or unreliable. And I am grateful for those who have, and those who continue to, create this shift. I met a women a while ago who had chosen to have an anchor, the quintessential sailor tat, placed on her forearm as a reminder of what it meant to authentically be her, and hope for a world where the person is valued because of her contribution and merit, not her appearance and alignment to norms. Beautiful.

"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…