Sitting with friends joking about the latest gossips in town, one of my friends brought up that her sister was at H&M CityStars the other day and saw that they started covering the models’ bodies in the photos like they do in some countries (i.e Saudi Arabia). When that first came up we just made fun of that and laughed about it, as both my friend and her sister were not sure then what this is really about or if it happened by mistake in one photo. But, it wasn’t until the next day that my friend’s sister went back to the store and this is when we saw the first actual photo from there.
What started as a joke turned into a serious concern when i decided to go beyond the photo taken at the story, and dig more in the website.
When I saw the first photo my intention was just to simply go on the website and find the same photo of the dress there, and see whether it is the same on the website or they just covered in the store. My surprise was when i decided to open both the Egypt and US versions of the website and compare the latest collections. It was funny to see the two sides of it as the same model appears in one photo wearing shorts and on the other version with legs covered.
I was faced by a question: is that a new direction H&M Egypt is taking or it was always there but we never noticed? Being a frequent visitor to the store, i remember well that i have seen photos of models wearing shorts and skirts without having their legs covered, which makes me sure now that this is kind of new, but just not sure how recent it is. What i found funny is that unlike Saudi they are not covering all the skin, but they cover the legs and arms in one photo, legs only in one and then arms in another, which was a bit weird and not clear. I understand that in Saudi it is part of their culture that they cover-up the models in photos as women are all covered there, as well as doing it from a religious side. But, the fact that maybe the owner took this decision lately or suddenly noticed that the store here is different than other stores needs to be justified. We have a totally different culture here, one that we even see now stricter than how it was back in the 60s and 70s, but still not a seriously strict one; not as free as Lebanon now, but at the same time different from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Living in this country for over 24 years now, I am totally aware that there might be many frustrations about life in Egypt, but there were also some privileges that I always enjoyed and was not sure that anything would ever change those privileges. Although women get harassed almost anywhere they go, no matter what they are wearing or their age group, but at the same time we enjoyed some freedom that maybe some other countries in the Middle East (example: Saudi Arabia and others) might not have. Visiting Saudi Arabia once, i might not be the best judge, but i was able to notice some of the differences between Egypt and there. While shopping there, i noticed that most of the international stores there have a specific fashion line for ladies there, for example Mango, Vero Moda, as women there wear long skirts or dresses underneath their abayas most of the time.
When i went to looking for the fitting room in most of the stores i found out that women are not allowed to try the clothes in stores, instead you have to buy them, maybe go try them at the rest room in the shopping mall, and if they do not fit you go back to exchange them. Walking around with my cousins at the mall, when we tried to find a cafe’ or somewhere to sit for a bit, i found out that many of the cafe’s and restaurants wouldn’t let you sit unless you are with your family. Not only that, but most of the cabs wouldn’t take you if you are a girl on your own; we were in groups most of the time. Other than the shopping and cabs’ experience, most importantly, women of the country were always prohibited from driving, and also Saudi women, as well as those visiting, are not allowed in or out of the country unless they go with their guardian (mehrem).
Back to Egypt, although the numbers of veiled were dramatically increasing over the past years, still we never had the pressure of having to be all covered to leave the house, like in Saudi, no one limits who you sit with at restaurants and women were allowed to drive. Also, men and women sit together normally, without someone asking how they are related to one another, like the ‘Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’ Committee in Saudi do, as they enforce the Saudi rules on people of the country and visitors there.
I remember maybe a year or couple years ago Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris brought up that the country we’re living in is not the Egypt he knew. He pointed out that the veil covering almost half the body (what’s referred to in Arabic as khemar) and the niqab (full-face veil) were transferred to our country from other countries (like Saudi and Afghanistan). When he said so people attacked him claiming that he offended the veil, but what he said was actually true. It’s not that the other countries are bad or it is a shame to have these veils, but it is just that it’s not our country.
The H&M thing might be a coincidence, and I might be overreacting about it, but it is just that i feel that our country might be moving to a new direction, a kind of backward direction, one we did not plan or aim for. I guess I or someone needs to visit the store to find out the story behind that because it is not like a trend in CityStars. It is more an H&M thing as i saw the same in H&M Dandy Mall.
Please check the website to see the difference yourself: http://www.hm.com/eg/summertime#path=1.1.7&transition=10&duration=500 & http://www.hm.com/us/summertime#path=1.1.7&transition=10&duration=500