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What Does It Mean to Be Beautiful in Dubai?

An Emirati shopping mall offers a glimpse into the world of Muslim fashion.

Photograph by Farah Al Qasimi

It feels like everything in the world is on sale in Dubai’s Global Village. In one visit, you can eat Indian biryani, catch an Argentinean ballet, pose as an Egyptian pharaoh, and shop for Saudi niqabs, like the ones pictured above. Like much of Dubai, it is at once an ode to, and a caricature of, the cultures it represents.

Foreign residents outnumber native Emiratis about eight to one in Dubai, attracted by construction jobs and the growing finance and tech sectors. The city’s thriving tourist economy is built around luxury shopping: Salons and fashion boutiques populate Dubai’s many malls, where shoppers flock to escape the oppressive heat. As newcomers stream in, their beauty standards mix with those of the conservative Muslim country.

Farah Al Qasimi, who splits her time between the United Arab Emirates and the United States, has been documenting the globalization of beauty trends in Dubai over the last three years. She’s seen products like skin-lightening cream (popular in India and South Korea) spread across the Persian Gulf, and international brands like Hugo Boss and Chanel rise to dominate the region’s luxury goods market.

Emirati women are moving away from the simple black shaylas (head scarves) and abayas (cloaks) Al Qasimi remembers from her childhood. It isn’t uncommon now to find intricate embroidery, bejeweled accents, and even neon fabrics on traditional Muslim garments. Perhaps nothing is more telling of the convergence of cultures than this: Last year, Juicy Couture introduced a velour abaya, complete with its signature crown logo encrusted in rhinestones on the back.

On May 15, Farah Al Qasimi takes over the New Republic’s Instagram account with selections from her series ‘“Make Me Beautiful.”