Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dressing Up

Yesterday was school photo day. Now I know things have probably changed a lot in the last 20 years, but when I was seven a school photo involved smart school uniform and a formal levelled line up with the teacher. Here in Saudi the ideas are a little different. The girls were dressed up like dolls in these pink frilly things that would've had me in tears as a kid (I do actually remember crying once when my Mum made me wear a dress to my sisters birthday party). There were bows and sashes galore and even floppy silk hats and hoods. All of my girls except one-who's not Saudi- came to school with their hair straightened, because 'straight hair is good in Saudi Arabia.' I'm not sure I like the idea of changing your seven-year-olds natural appearance to create a supposedly more beautiful look. Again I know times have changed and straighteners weren't even around when I was their age, but I can't help finding this all a bit scary. The kids are already taking on their parents views and ideals of how they should look.
Perhaps I'm not being fair. I was, after all, a tom boy who had a bowl cut and was pleased when my teacher referred to me as a boy (it took me a long time to realise it was a joke). Maybe other girls of my era were just as conscious of what they looked like as the students are in my class. Maybe nothing has changed, and this country is normal.
No, that doesn't sound right.

For me the fact remains: whether this dressing up of young girls like dolls has been around forever or not, I dislike the way it prematurely prepares them for a life of preening and altering and generally being overly self-conscious.

Modelling one of the more understated numbers 

The admin staff had the job of getting the children dressed up and ready. You'd think this could be a fairly easy affair, like give the children their dresses and let them all put them on, then go round and help with zips. But oh no. Adults here encourage prudishness, teaching the children to hide from each other and be embarrassed about getting undressed. I've actually had a student before push a bookcase forward so she could get changed behind it. The girls yesterday were brought one by one into the office where I was working. The teacher signalled each child behind the door, then turned the light off, which made hardly any difference at all, as if to hide the children's modesty or something.

It's the end of the year, and as well as the silly photos, we also have a 'graduation' next week. All the mothers are coming (no men allowed, obvs) and they expect to be wowed with the cuteness of their offspring. My boys have been working really hard to put together an extract from Mr. Brown by Dr. Seuss. Unfortunately it's a bit of a mess and we've practiced up till now with me on the stage too, counting the boys in, passing them their posters and generally helping them to stay in time. I was also going to do a little intro speech, thanking the kids for being good and wishing them luck in their future endeavours etc. etc. But now, a week before, I've been told I'm not allowed on stage. So it's up to the kids to figure themselves out. I had a dream the other night where they got a quarter of the way through, got out of time from each other, forgot their lines, then gave up and just walked off the stage. I fear this could be a premonition.

In other news, it's raining hard. Day off methinks?


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