Miriam Aced: Lebanon. Beauty and Beast

Miriam Aced discussed the role of consumerism and aesthetic self-improvement in postwar Lebanon. She presented evidence from field research, which shows a society obsessed with appearances, consumerism and instant gratification. This can be seen in excessive nightlife, the social importance of acquiring consumer goods or   the widespread plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancements (by some, Beirut is considered the world capital of plastic surgery). In her presentation, Aced addressed the question of how this situation can be explained. She explored four alternative readings:

First, the importance of appearances can in part be explained by the fact that the country had an elevated number of highly qualified plastic surgeons due to the need to take care of people wounded in the war. The oversupply created its own demand.

A second explanation is the countries unbalanced sex ratio – between 8 and 9 men for ten women – , which puts high pressure on young women in search of future spouses.

A third line of interpretation understands the efforts in aesthetic self-improvement as a form of individual self-empowerment. As under conditions of armed conflict expressions of individuality are extremely restrictive, the experience of being master of one’s own life – and be it in the sense of being the master of one’s own body – might become important in a postconflict situation.

A last explanation is sees the obsession with appearances as an indicator for the dominance of short term perspectives. In postwar Lebanon, this is relevant as reducing the life to the present is a strategy to cope with the internal and external problems Lebanese society is facing.

A symbol for this life in tension between lifestyle and (violent) conflicts is the popular club BO18, which is built to resemble a Bunker.

In the discussion, the proposed relationship between this culture focussed on outward appearances and the postwar situation was vividly discussed.


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