Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Indian Greetings & Daily Star Interview, Take Two

Saba7o LOVEanese (or perhaps I should say namaste)! I'm so happy I can finally wish you all good morning again, and from a new place! And of course, good morning to all of the new readers from India and South Asia as well. I am so excited to incorporate new people from a new culture into the folds of not just this blog, but the entire conversation related to love, relationships, and dating, and the accompanying discourses. I've been getting great feedback from people here in South India as well, so I hope I can add to the dialogue.

Now, I know that I said in the last post that I'd be doing a "part 2" to the dating post, and rest assured, I will be working on that! Something I want to include to is my multiple-point criteria for what constitutes a date. It seems that there's so much ambiguity surrounding it, there should be at least some kind of baseline to reference--even it is arbitrary.

As you can imagine though, I've just been really busy with work and the whole "moving to a new continent" thing. Not to mention, my Internet access has been really spotty. Really Bangalore, for being the "tech capital of India," I'm a little disappointed there's not some more free WiFi spots! Even Lebanon has free WiFi--regardless of how slow it is! haha.

Me on a daily basis

Anyway, so I just wanted to give some updates, post some India-related content, and also provide the full-transcript of another interview I had with the Daily Star.

First of all, there's an article I read a few weeks ago that I really loved. It was about Bangalore, entitled, "India's Party People." Really, it's less about partying, and more about challenging traditional roles/clashes between generations (applicable to the Arab world as well). And as you may recall, I wrote extensively about this (global) phenomenon in my thesis.

Second, some other cool articles/links to check out are these two. One is a short opinion piece called, "Will Indian Women Ever Have the Freedom Not to Marry?" The second is a satirical YouTube series by a young Indian-Canadian woman who goes by the screen name Superwoman that I think many will be able to identify with. Her videos cover a variety of topics including dating, marriage, identity, and others, and was covered in a recent episode of Al-Jazeera's The Stream (All The Single Ladies).

Lastly, I was recently interviewed by the Daily Star for a piece entitled, "Plastic Surgery and a Troubled Love Life Go Hand-in-Hand," by Samya Kullab. Bear in mind, I did write an extensive blog post about the intersections between body image and relationships, but the interview went even further. Her questions are shared in red below, and my responses are shared in blue:

Samya: "Plastic surgery in Lebanese culture (for the upper middle class anyway) has become a cliché. The phenomenon itself is far more complex. Surgeons I have spoken to who have been practicing for decades say the rise in numbers began around the 1990s, and post war anomie, is but one of many factors to attribute for the rise. Nevertheless, the numbers are rising because there is a market, which is rising as well. My question to you is, in your experience and in your work, how important is appearance in Lebanese society? Do you think the criticism that Lebanese society is superficial when it comes to love is an overstatement?"

Me: "I think it goes without saying that appearances are incredibly important. As Sarah Mallat pointed out in her MA thesis [Mallat, 2011] pertaining to body image and plastic surgery in Lebanon, it's part of the social "spectacle." However, this isn't unique to Lebanon or Lebanese culture. Our appearance, though, does determine how we are judged. And in a place like Lebanon where good impressions are everything, indeed, appearances become everything as well. Regarding the second part of the answer, I think it is superficial in some ways, but not superficial in others. After Valentine's Day, I saw a map graphing information of individuals across the world that had experienced love recently. Lebanon was actually quite high. I think love is quite abundant in Lebanon, even if it's a bit more subtle or hidden. Love from family, friends, colleagues, and of course, a partner/spouse/girl or boyfriend. It can be very superficial when it comes to love, for instance, with the wedding display. But we're very loving people too (when we want to be!). Love is also valued differently and perceived in a different manner than how it is often portrayed in film and the media. On the ground too, it manifests in a different way than what we see. There is an inherent contradiction there."

Samya: "In Sarah Mallet's thesis about plastic surgery in Lebanon, surgeons explain that women come to them to undergo procedures to find a husband. Mothers are described as dragging their teen daughters to clinics with the same aim in mind. A renowned surgeon, Dr. Chammas who owns the Hazmiye clinic said had he not performed seven surgeries on one woman, it would have taken her "30 years to find a man.”  It appears as though there is a direct correlation between love and beauty in the minds of this segment of Lebanese society. Would you agree?"

Me: "First of all, I am really glad you referenced Sarah! I've already mentioned her, and she is a very good friend of mine, and when I was reading your e-mail, she's the person that came to mind that would be able to answer your questions better. But then I read the rest of the questions and realized they are addressing issues I'm familiar with as well. So, kudos to you for preempting me! As far as the question is concerned, I'd say yes and no, simply because I think it's an accurate assumption that families especially think that the prettier their daughter is, the easier it will be for them to get married. However, I say no because I don't think love has ANYTHING to do with this process. Beauty and marriage are often associated together, but love as a concept or as an emotion really has little to do with this process. And I mean love as in romantic love. It has no place here, based on the mindsets of many. Something I discuss in-depth in my thesis relates to how family and kin are the means of securing capital and resources. Well, if that's the case, the kids become an investment within this model, and parents do all they can to ensure that their child can enter the market in a more competitive way."

Samya: "A theoretical question: How do you define love? And what are the necessary prerequisites?"

Me: "Good question. I wanted to know how the individuals I interviewed for my thesis defined love, and got many different responses. The fact is that it's subjective, culturally constructed, and really, love is whatever you want it to be. You just feel it! Everyone has a different perspective about love--it's one of the things that make it so beautiful."

Samya: "As a follow-up question: Is there such a thing as "true love" in a Lebanese society that upholds appearance to such a degree?  And if you are able to answer that question, what indications (that there is/there is not) are you considering in your analysis?"

Me: "My initial reaction is definitely, I have seen love, REAL love. But then again, it also depends on how you define "true love." To quote one of my thesis interviewees, "What does this term even mean!?" I don't mean to dance around the question. The fact is, though, we all perceive these concepts differently--including love. Appearance is definitely part of attraction. So, it isn't all a bad thing. However, appearances are only one part of the formula for attraction, and even less important when considering what is important in keeping two individuals together and happy."

Samya: "Do you think the rise of plastic surgery is symptomatic of a larger problem in Lebanon?"

Me: "I don't necessarily have a strong opinion one way or another, but I do think it's reflective of larger global issues and that is an assault on women and girls. On their self-confidence; on the mold they "HAVE" to fit into; on having to look a certain way all the time. If anything, it's amplified in Lebanese society. Plastic surgery isn't a bad thing, nor is cosmetic surgery. I don't think it's something awful--it can really help someone in a good way, and many plastic surgeons do routine procedures not even related to drastically altering your physique. However, as hard as it is to be a girl already--much less one that is successful in both business AND love--I think Lebanese society more so needs to let women be who they are, and less so tell them that they need to change. Lebanese women: be proud of the woman you are, confidence is one of the sexiest attributes you can exude!"

What do you think about what I said? Agree? Disagree? Lebanese women especially, how do you feel about this topic? Let me know in the comments!

Spread the love,
-Ogie, MA


Mallat, Sarah E. 2011. More Than Just Another Pretty Face? Understanding Motivations for  Plastic Surgery Among Lebanese Female Youth. Master’s thesis. American University of Beirut: Beirut, Lebanon.

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