Saudi Women Buying More Makeup

24 April, 2018

Eighteen-year-old Shahad al-Qahtani is excited about sales of Rihanna's makeup products in Saudi Arabia.

Rihanna, known for her hit songs and fearless spirit, is popular among Saudi women. Many are expected to buy her new makeup, called "Fenty."

Rihanna and other personalities like Kim Kardashian, who experiment with their looks, are well-known in Saudi Arabia. A lot of Saudi women follow them on social media websites like Instagram and Snapchat.

Their looks and clothing, however, are far different from the way most Saudi women appear in public. Many wear black veils over their head and shoulders. Women in Saudi Arabia must also wear long black robes, known as abayas, over their clothes in public.

Al-Qahtani spoke to the Associated Press at a Sephora makeup store. The teenager said she had tried Rihanna's products in Dubai. "I came here to buy the things that were sold out there," she added.

Al-Qahtani said she likes to experiment with her physical appearance. She wears colorful makeup at gatherings where women and men are separated.

While most women cover their face and hair in public, Saudi women spend a lot of money on makeup. This is partly because of the increasing number of Saudi women who now work and have their own money to spend.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed through a number of social reforms in recent months. Those measures are said to have limited the influence of very conservative Saudis.

Religious police no longer watch women when they visit stores, looking for signs of colorful makeup or women's faces showing.

Unlike in many Western countries, women across Arab Gulf countries often wear bright, colorful makeup. Many carry eye-catching accessories as a way to offset the black of their veils and abayas.

"As Gulf women, we love beautiful things," said Najla Sultan bin Awwad, a mother of two in her 30s. She started working for the first time last year at Sephora. She added that Saudi women do not need a special event to wear makeup.

In this Thursday, April 19, 2018 photo, Najla Sultan bin Awwad works at Sephora in Riyadh. The mother of two in her 30s started working for the first time a year ago at the store, says even women who cover their face with a veil are becoming bolder in public.
In this Thursday, April 19, 2018 photo, Najla Sultan bin Awwad works at Sephora in Riyadh. The mother of two in her 30s started working for the first time a year ago at the store, says even women who cover their face with a veil are becoming bolder in public.

Women usually do not leave their homes without makeup, bin Awwad noted. She said woman are putting on colorful contact lenses and using eyeliner the way they want.

Before working at Sephora, she said she used to spend nearly all her money on makeup.

"The reason my husband agreed to me working is because he sees how much I love makeup and how much I used to spend on it," she said, laughing.

Marketing research group Euromonitor International reports that rising employment has increased the ability of Saudi women to buy beauty and personal care products. Store sales of makeup in Saudi Arabia rose from $410 million in 2012 to $576 million last year, the group said.

In 2012, then-Saudi King Abdullah approved a decision to let women work in makeup and lingerie stores. His decision led to thousands of women getting jobs.

Many Saudis welcomed the move. But some ultraconservatives criticized the decision. They said permitting women to work in stores would open the door to immoral actions and wrongdoing.

Before the King's decision, a women who wanted to buy makeup would have to deal with men, mostly lower-wage workers from the Philippines.

It created difficulties for women. Often a woman wanted to try on a new color makeup, but could not lift her face veil in front of the salesman or let him touch her skin. The reason: Islamic rules about the separation of men and women.

"It's hard to buy makeup when a man is trying it out for me, testing it on my hand or my face," said Haifa Alwathlan. She started working in clothing and makeup stores in Saudi Arabia soon after women were given the right to work.

Alwathlan said that since starting work at Sephora, not only has she learned how to use makeup better, but she has learned how to deal with different kinds of people.

Letting more women get jobs is believed to be important for the Saudi economy. It will help create additional jobs for the millions of young Saudis who will be seeking employment in the next few years.

Prince Mohammed is trying to make it easier for young Saudis to enjoy their lives and increase what they spend on fun and recreation. He hopes this will help the economy as oil prices remain low.

He also decided to end a ban on women driving cars, which will let women get to work easily. Earlier, women had to ask male relatives to drive them.

Other reforms include the return of musical performances and shows that were banned only a few years ago.

Last week, Saudi Arabia opened its first movie theater, showing the film "Black Panther" to a small group.

I'm Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

makeup – n. substances (such as lipstick or powder) used to make someone's face look more attractive

personality – n. a person who is famous

veil – n. a piece of cloth or net worn usually by women over the head and shoulders and sometimes over the face

robe – n. a long, loose piece of clothing that is worn on top of other clothes

accessory – n. something added to something else to make it more useful, attractive, or effective

lingerie – n. women's underwear and clothing that is worn in bed

contact lens – n. a thin piece of plastic which, when placed directly on the surface of the eye, improves eyesight.

offset – v. to serve as a balance for something