OK, we’re no strangers to pampering and perfection in Dubai. We’ll admit to a penchant for pedicures and a passion for fashion. You could even accuse some of us of being ever-so-slightly vain and superficial, if you really wanted to be cutting. But seriously; a full face of make-up and towering Louboutins at the school gates at 7.30am? Cocktail frocks, silk jumpsuits and diamonds? I did my first-ever school run recently and, boy, did I get a shock. I’d worried I might have been overdressed because I’d applied a hint of make-up so as to go straight to the office after – but as it turned out, I was the most underdressed mum in the car park, by several layers of slap.

I’ve always been aware that the average Dubai woman tends to err on the side of most-is-more when it comes to attire and make-up. A trip to the mall any day of the week is evidence enough of that; faces immaculately painted, nails and toes lacquered to perfection, glossy locks bouncing over buffed shoulders, the latest looks from the fashion capitals of the world carefully fitted over gym-honed figures. 

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Even a schlep around Spinneys on a Friday morning is enough to make many of us feel completely inadequate on the appearance front (well, those of us who would happily sport pyjamas at the supermarket if there weren’t strict public indecency laws here).

I asked my friends in Dubai whether they feel the pressure to be dolled up to the nines all the time. One says she hates feeling inadequate every time she steps out the front door, and feels totally bombarded with this superficial idea of beauty. Another says she feels awkward in many social situations, given that she’s a good few sizes on the wrong side of zero (or is it double zero these days?). Still another, who moved here not long back, says she dreaded coming to the UAE because she had heard everybody was groomed to perfection and she wouldn’t fit in. 

But, on the flip side, another friend – who I’ve never seen in less than a full face of make-up and a perfectly coordinated outfit – said she liked that she felt comfortable going to the mall in her glad rags if she so chose. To her, dressing up in the morning is her way of feeling like she’s still her own person, that she’s still attractive despite two children, and can still turn heads. But is that because she genuinely feels less worthy as a woman if she’s not immaculate? Does she worry she won’t fit in if she’s anything less than perfect?

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It’s a depressing thought that’s apparently true – a study by Dove found a staggering six out of 10 women strongly agreed that society expects them to enhance their physical attractiveness. And the UK’s Daily Mail says two thirds of women admit to dressing up purely for the school run, so Dubai’s divas are not alone.

So, am I going to have to join them? I’ll admit to recently making a conscious decision to make more of an effort in my appearance, having spent most of the past four years up to my eyeballs in baby sick, nappies and Play-Doh.

I’ll also admit – aghast as I was about the school-run divas – to having felt better about myself since the effort-making began. But am I comfortable judging myself purely on my appearance? Shouldn’t I be more focused on whether I’m being a good parent, and a decent human being? I’m all for doing whatever it is that makes us feel better and gets us through the day. I just don’t think I’m all for it if we’re not necessarily doing it for the right reasons.

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Image by Shutterstock

This article was originally published in Aquarius magazine