The burgeoning fashion and beauty industries in the Middle East are becoming an international power, and with them, massively successful Middle Eastern bloggers and photographers have begun to enjoy many of the same perks as their Western counterparts. Just like ones based in New York, L.A., London, and Sydney, Middle East fashion blogs represent a spectrum of people, personal styles, and philosophies. From religious fashion bloggers who advocate for modest dressing to fashion-forward bloggers who champion standing out, personal style in the region is, as anywhere else, nuanced and varied.
Yet, blogging in the Middle East comes with its own set of challenges. Attitudes throughout the region range from the more lax, like Dubai, where you can essentially wear whatever you want, to Saudi Arabia, where women are not permitted to drive or even leave the country without explicit written consent from a male spouse or guardian. But regardless of city or state, there is value placed on the traditional.
As blogger Lana El Sahely told Savoir Flair, the Middle East’s first online fashion magazine, “We need to always be careful to draw the line between being fashionable while remaining conservative and respectful of the traditions.” In most cases, this means dressing modestly, and in some countries, wearing a hijab is required by law. Failure to follow suit in public can result in punishment; models were recently arrested in Iran for posting pictures of themselves on Instagram without the veil.
This is not the case in a country like Egypt, where I’m originally from and where I recently shot some street style looks for my blog. But in Egypt, too, women’s clothing and bodies are policed, either for being too conservative or not conservative enough. Women who do not cover their hair or who wear clothing deemed inappropriate are often met with insults, spitting, and sometimes even physical abuse.
Despite this, Middle Eastern individuals are taking to the internet more and more to document their personal style. As Mariyah Gaspacho, a blogger based in Dubai explains: “It was difficult when I was first starting out and when blogging was new here, but the past two years, blogging has hit the Middle East, so it’s a lot easier now to go around the city and shoot.”
That said, having shot most of my blog content in London, it was with both excitement and trepidation that I took to the streets of Cairo a few months ago to shoot some looks from one of my favourite Egyptian designers, Amina K, with Egyptian photographer Aisha Al-Shabrawy. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but I attempted to cater to the environment as best I could, ensuring to style the pieces in such a way that I would not be showing too much skin.
My family members were not very happy — to say the least — with what they considered my complete insanity in wanting to draw attention to myself in this way in Cairo (they have absolutely no problem with me doing it elsewhere), potentially due to the fact that Reuters statistics reveal that 99.3% of women in Egypt have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetimes. This is compared to 65% in the U.S. and U.K. I was however, pleasantly surprised at the humour and good grace with which we were met; I only occasionally felt uncomfortable.
Of course, each country is culturally and politically different, but click through below for the five things I learned while shooting there…
This article was originally written for Refinery29. Read the rest here.