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Modest seductiveness: Reconciling modesty and vanity by reverse assimilation and double resistance


Rana Sobh, Management and marketing, Qatar University, P.O.Box 2713, Doha 0000 Qatar.



We study conflicting notions of modesty and vanity in the Arab Gulf region by focusing on contemporary female adornment practices and the tensions underlying them. The standard of modest traditional dress that women are expected to adhere to in Gulf countries is intended to conceal their sexuality and promote public virtue. Nevertheless, emerging bodily adornment practices in the region serve the contradictory purposes of emphasizing female sexuality and celebrating fashion. By using insights from observations and depth interviews with young Qatari and Emirati women, we explore the dynamics underlying the conflicting imperatives of modesty and vanity and examine how they reconcile these contradictions in constructing their identities as women, Muslims, Qataris, and Emiratis. We find that the concepts of reverse assimilation and double resistance are most useful in understanding responses to these conflicting imperatives among young Gulf women. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.