Saudi Arabia: Perceptions of Image

A regular follower of American Bedu posed the following…”I would be curious to read about body image perceptions in Saudi Arabia. What is considered the ideal figure (for both men and women), how healthy is this perception of beauty, and how common are eating disorders? I am not sure if this topic has been covered on here or not…?”

This question will likely have as many answers for as many times it is asked.  Much will depend upon the age of the Saudi, their gender, their upbringing and lifestyle.

What I can say based on my own observations is that the young single Saudi women (18-25) are generally very conscious of their appearance.  They are similar to Western women in that most prefer to have a proportioned hour glass figure.  They are conscious of their hair and how it is styled.  Some will take pride in highlighting their eyes creatively with make-up giving them a mysterious aura behind their veil.   There are also some single Saudi women who are conscious of their appearance in that they wish for their natural beauty to shine through their veil and elect not to wear make-up unless for special occasions such as a wedding.  Too many do not seem to worry on whether their food is viewed as healthy or not.  Fast food or foods high in fats remain popular among all.  Eating disorders exist but are generally kept quiet behind closed doors.

Young single Saudi men can be very conscious of their outward appearance too.  Some of the young men like to go out publicly in western dress favoring the skinny jeans and tight t-shirts.  These guys are aware of their body and the picture they wish to present.  Other Saudi guys feel most comfortable in their traditional dress of thobe but will express themselves and their personalities by the way they place the smaugh atop their head.

Many in Saudi Arabia may want to be more conscientious of what they eat but they also do not want to disappoint a Grandmother, Mother or wife who takes great pride in presenting her best dishes to her family.  Saudi food is delicious but not always the best if one is on a diet!

I realize the answers provided to your question are probably more generalized than you may have wish.  However I hope that many of American Bedu’s Saudi followers will share their perspectives.



21 Responses

  1. I’ll add my 2 cents or “hallalas” on this one 🙂 Actually, I was quite surprised during my time in Saudi. I am an American, and my husband is Saudi. During female gatherings, I was probably, along with my older sister-in-law, the most conservatively dressed. In the States, whenever I felt my thighs and backside were getting a little too hefty, I’d always wear garments to cover that area. In Saudi, I was very surprised to see the women expose their cleavage and curves in all their glory! Oftentimes the clothing was form-fitting in areas that I would usually cover. I saw that these women were confident in their figures, no matter the size, and I also saw their beauty! It gave me confidence as well, that even my figure might not be perfect, I could still be beautiful.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post. I also enjoyed Kristine’s addition.

  3. plz dont take me wrong but it seems like many saudis r overweighted or i even have to say very very overwieghted..
    im specifically concerned about kids. i honestly havent seen so many young children in such a poor physical condition. and i really dont understand where their parents look at, especially when saudi women usually dont work,stay at home and have all their time to take care about their kid.dont they understand how bad this will influence on theirs kids health and the quality of life in the future?
    another thing that shockes me is how many young saudi girls insteed of doing diet and starting some fitness routine, do surgeries to loose weight with small/no efforts

  4. How about after marriage and kids? Do Saudi women still obsess about thei figures the way some segments of Western society does or do they take it easy? I would assume with polygamy an option for husbands, the wives still take a lot of care of their bodies or is that a wrong assumption?

  5. Thanks for sharing and answering my question AB! ❤
    Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, too!
    I can't wait to hear more about others' experiences. 🙂

    What steps are being taken to prevent obesity, especially among children?

  6. I dont see any steps being taken to prevent obesity among children. They are allowed to eat anything they wish at any time of the day.

    Ive noticed lots of very skinny women that weigh around 35-40kg around their 20 and 30s. I think they want to be very petite and keep theirselves so underweight.
    Rarely I see an anorexic patient but we do occasionally have a teenager suffering from eating disorder but from my observation the underlying causes for them are different from the western world.

    Regarding the surgeries, gastric banding is very popular among the richer saudi women and some men. Especially royals have this procedure done,unfortunately its not always succesful and it has high risk for complications. One 18 yr old very obese girl just died from complications recently. Its very sad really that they cannot see any other solutions for treatment or prevention of obesity.
    A patient that had gastric banding can eat few teaspoons at a time after surgery, which can be overwhelmingly difficult for a person used to eating 5 bigmacs in a row, so when they eat more their stomach literally bursts..

  7. Layla, you mean one can eat more than the tightened stomach can hold until it bursts?
    That is scary!

  8. Western doctors are promoting gastric bypass as a way to lose the belly fat. They get to make $$$$$ and the problem is generally not solved. They claim the risks of the surgeries are less than the risks of being morbidly obese. Now there are people who are not termed morbidly obese wanting the surgery because they are too lazy or lack the willpower to deal with their weight in a healthy fashion. Too many people look for an easy way out and there is no ‘easy way’ out when it comes to weight loss. A sensible diet and hard work/exercise are what’s needed.
    I gained almost 10 pounds during my month in Saudi. I could have kept my mouth shut and not eat so much but I figured it was only a month and not worth hurting people’s feelings but eight months later the weight is still not gone but it’s going. Hard work and sensible eating!!!

    Saudi needs some good nutritional guidelines. There is waaaay too much sugar and white bread/refined starches consumed. Diabetes is out of control among other things.
    I have one SIL who keeps a healthy kitchen, who exercises and who keeps her daughters slim and fit through diet and exercise. She’s a smart lady!

  9. I will also add the following comment from a physician friend of mine …

    “After gastric bypass surgery the patient has to observe a diet even more complex and strict than a straight weight loss one, because of resulting absorption problems.
    The emotional and habitual eating patterns are not resolved, and recur.
    A very poor solution except for those who are at imminent risk of death because of their weight, and have no time to pursue normal weight loss.”

  10. There is no concept of nutrition here. I used to argue with my childrens school. They started early in the morning and had breakfast there. Cookies or doughnuts. Then lunch was usually something like fried chicken and french fries. We went round and round. I was told that if they serve vegetables, kids don’t want to eat them so why serve them? I pointed out many students also don’t want to do maths but they aren’t given an option.

    I located nutritionist willing to work with the school (which had a kitchen and cooked the food there). Not interested. So my kids ate breakfast before school and treated the cookies etc like a snack and only had a little. And I packed a lunch for them.

    I finally just about lost it when my kids were told they were no longer allowed to bring their lunches from home and had to eat the school meal. They backed down on that one. I think they realized I was never going to let up on that one.

    Anyways the kids (not mine) just kept getting bigger and bigger-rounder and rounder. It’s very sad and I think inexcusable.

  11. Sandy! what a story! Actually to try and force your children to eat fried food! You could write a book! (I could do the illustrations, I keep seeing kids growing rounder and rounder)

    There was this really interesting program with Jamie Oliver about English school meals (Extremely yuk) and most children will actually eat more healthy after you show them what they are actually eating, (waste products) and if they get good decent food most like it after getting used to it.
    And really, they are kids! Adults should teach kids, about decent food for example.

    I am losing weight, very nice, slowly and surely. I have thrown out all refined foods, and all non-perishable foods, I do a lot of juicing, for breakfast and lunch and as a snack. And those juices are sooooo gooood! They are so delicious! I have made one part of my kitchen into a juice bar. Smoothies are fantastic too.
    And I eat fats, the right kinds of fats.
    I work out. And one does a lot of cycling anyway in the Netherlands.

  12. I think it really depends on the area and families women come from in Saudi regarding how conscientious they are or are not about weight. I also wish there were more emphasis places on what the children eat.

  13. Carol,

    How are you doing these days? Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching must be very beautiful in the states, how lovely that you will be able to spend it with your son and his family.

    @ Aafke Art,
    you seem to be on the right path to great health! Keep it up I know it feels wonderful. I am sitting here day dreaming about cycling through the Netherlands, as I sit in the UAE trying to force myself to get up on my INDOOR cycle, blah…. well the weather is finally becoming bearable outside, so we will be spending more outside.
    Myself nad my 2 teenage girls are being treated for low Vitamin D level (it was actually below a measurable level) and we have only been here for 5 years, this place sucks the life outta ya!


  14. Hi Jessica,

    I’m very glad to hear from you. I’ve been busier than a whirling dirvish these past few weeks. I’m now in my own little place and working on getting it all set up.

    Yes; enjoy these next few months in the UAE.

    Best Regards, Carol

  15. Glad to hear you are doing well Carol!

  16. Eid Mubarak!

  17. For getting children to eat healthy, why not have them grow a garden? Fresh-picked fruits and vegetables are SO MUCH better than ones that were picked even a day or two before. Plus, if children grow their own food, then they will usually take pride in what they have grown and want to eat it. Taste buds adjust to the foods we eat. I have found when I cut out refined foods, the foods that are left in my diet seem to have so much more flavour! So this should also be considered, too. Also, parents need to set an example for the children by eating healthy themselves and encouraging healthy eating. This means educating the parents on what is actually proven to be healthy rather than what is generally accepted as healthy eating.

  18. @strangeone,

    A garden is a great idea but it is not an easy feat to accomplish in Saudi Arabia where most items need to be imported due to the climate and conditions.

  19. I just got back from spending five weeks in Saudi Arabia. The food was wonderful but I had no idea what was in much of it. When I got home I was shocked to find out that I had gained 22lbs!

    While I was there a Saudi friend took me shopping for an abaya (I actually wore my western clothing to the mall for this purchase!) After the trip we stopped by her house and I got to see her without her abaya for the first time. She was much like me (fluffiness and all) but her clothing was tighter and, like someone else just pointed out, more revealing.

    Who would have thought?

  20. You’ll have to share more of your experiences and perceptions, Diana!

  21. I honestly wish eating disorders would get a little more concern in Saudi Arabia, but I believe it is very hard because most women suffering are not even aware that this is an illness and that it could be treated. Also, some doctors in Saudi Arabia consider ‘anorexia’ just general loss of appetite for a small period of time because of maybe a feeling of nausea or digestion problems and NOT a mental illness. If doctors themselves are not aware of it, how would a patient? such an illness needs to be recognized before it’s taken far and sadly no one knows not only in KSA but in the Mid East in general it’s frustrating. I wish that would change in the near future.

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