Monday, March 30, 2015

It's all in your head: "Shoes of Saudi Arabia"

Shoes of Saudi Arabia photography project Al-Khobar blog
Jori is a 17 year old student from Al-Khobar.

Jori shows up to her interview with her sister Razan and friend Al-Anoud.
What are your favourite pair of shoes?
Um, I like high shoes...
High heels?
No not high heels, but wedges. I'm short and the abaya is so long, you want something to elevate you.

How do they make you feel?
When I walk with them I feel elegant, like I'm on a catwalk. And they're comfortable.

Do you wear these in public?
I mostly wear them on weekends.
Everyone's here, you have to look your best. On the weekdays you can wear whatever.
I've heard that, that it's common for people to notice what you're wearing. 
Yeah you're bracelets, your bag, your makeup.
It seems like there's so much pressure! To impress everyone...

Now think of your entire shoe collection. What shoes do you wear for what activity? What role do you assign each of your shoes?
Heels I only wear them for parties, weddings, big gatherings. I have flats, but I don't like to wear ordinary flats that everyone wears. I like mine to be different from other people. I like the ones that have a triangular point at the end. I also have boots, but I don't like to wear them here, I wear them in London.
Do you wear them in winter?
No no. I think it looks weird with the abaya.
Really, you think so? I met a girl last night who always wears ankle boots, but she's always indoors so...
I mean sometimes I make my abaya short so I can wear other shoes.

How do you think about your shoes in relation to your outfit?
It completes it.
Is it the last thing you add to the outfit?
Even when I'm wearing my clothes, I know what shoes I'm going to wear. If you wear something girly and flattering, you wear heels. If you wear flats, it makes the look different.
How do yo think about your shoes with your abaya?
I do't think it's a big problem you know abayas are black. I have a beige abaya, but I go with everything.
I know how Western women think - our abayas are very plain. We don't have seasonal abayas. We just have one or two of the them. We never think about it. When I came up with this question, I was thinking that Saudi women might have several abayas that they try and match with their shoes. 
No, I have lots of abayas, but it's not a problem with your shoes. Any shoe can fit with your abaya.
So you don't think of your abaya as part of your outfit then.

How do you think others see you or judge you by the shoes you wear?
I don't know... when I see someone, when I see something that makes me look twice, that's what I want. When someone looks at my shoes, I want them to say, "Wow! Those are new shoes!"
I interviewed a fresh university graduate in the shopping mall and she said she prefers darker colours, but if you're a teenager, you can wear bright colours. You're 17, do you think that that applies to you?
Kind of. Take my mom, she wears colours that represent that she's an adult, but she likes to be fashionable at the same time. So I kind of agree.

Do you make sure that you wear a different pair of shoes that you go out?
Every time that I go out?
Yeah, every time that you leave your house.
It's not a big issue for me, but... I like to change. I have two kinds of these shoes, I don't like to wear the same kind of shoes tow days in a row.
I guess what I'm trying to get at is that, since there are mutawwa that police what you wear and there's an expectation for how women should dress and behave, do you ever feel like that extends to your shoes?
Yeah like when I go to the malls, I don't wear heels or wedges, there are so many different kinds of people there, I prefer to wear flats.

What do you want your shoes to say about you?
Can I say what I said before, fashionable?
Yeah sure if that's the word that you want to use!
Ok then yeah, I mean, I'm here every day and I want people to think that way about me.

So like her sister, Jori cares what people think and likes to wear wedges. It would be interesting to interview her when she becomes a university student and later on, to see how her responses would change. Like me, she felt pressure to change her clothing because of a public setting, such as the shopping mall. But it's very telling that while Jori takes into the account the opinions of others, she cares more about those of the people who go to the cafe and the surrounding area in which we met (which is in the compound), not in places like the mall. Are the people here more important than those who go shopping? Are they her peers or are they people that she would aspire to look like? While we do assign roles to the shoes we wear, we also assign roles to the people that we meet and those that we don't meet. These people become our judges without even knowing it and a glance or a look our way makes us feel self-conscious and changes our behaviour, which in turn changes how we think about ourselves and presentation. In a way, it's all in our heads.

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