Three Faces of Beauty: Casablanca, Paris, and Cairo

By Early, Evelyn A. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Three Faces of Beauty: Casablanca, Paris, and Cairo


Early, Evelyn A., The Middle East Journal


Three Faces of Beauty: Casablanca, Paris, and Cairo, by Susan Osman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. x + 162 pages. Gloss. to p. 190. Sel. bibl. to p. 196. Index to p. 204. $54.95 cloth; $18.95 paper.

Susan Osman offers readers an innovative look at status, power, and cultural ideals via the body - not the words - of women who frequent beauty salons in Casablanca, Cairo, and Paris. Osman teases out the universal of a beauty salon experience. In each city women finger fashion magazines which blur the exotic of North Africa with the classic of Europe. In each salon women seek an identity with which they are comfortable. How this identity emerges is what distinguishes three types of beauty salons. The first are proximate salons which offer face-to-face exchanges of cozy, bodily sociability associated with the idea of locality. The second are "made to order" salons where clients order ready-made haircuts which are predictable and speedy in a salon equivalent of McDonalds. The third are "something special" salons where hairdressers use famous products to treat their clients softly in a calm and deluxe setting...

Susan Osman's verbal description of the non-verbal is lilting and illustrative. Few authors so well capture the physical, the ephemeral in text. In fact it is difficult not to string together Osman's delightful prose and avoid writing a review altogether. Listen to Susan Osman recount catching images of beauty as elusive as the butterfly: "Like a butterfly hunter, using Casablanca, Paris, and Cairo as my territory, I have stitched nets to capture such ephemeral pictures and to record stories people tell about their life cycle. In imitation of those capricious creatures, I have taken flight, then hovered over where these beauties meet....Beauty appears as a movement, and as a means of attraction. It is a lure we hope to become in the process of pursuing it" (p. 154).

Osman's project of linked comparisons details "the common knowledge and the turns of hand that twist the tresses to hold them together" (p. 3) in these three cities. Osman does not aim to describe a total culture or total place but rather the experience of beauty in varied locations with varied techniques, products and results. …

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