Traditionally, in many segments of Arab society, female modesty in public is expected and the public display of beauty involved in modeling could run into social and cultural taboos.
Video courtesy of jn1.tv
In Ramallah, recognized as one of the most liberal Palestinian cities, some women have begun venturing out to the runway.
Originally from Jerusalem, Tamer Halabi recently opened the first ever modeling agency in Ramallah.
“I started working in a modeling agency in Jordan since 2007. I worked there for four years. We started a company between me and two friends. It was called Creative Jordan. We did lots of events. Some of our friends wanted us to be ushering an event. We started looking for people, so that was when the idea came up. So we started thinking why don't we do the agency by ourselves.”
A modeling agency in the West Bank is an oddity because modeling itself is potentially controversial in a society like that of the West Bank.
For religious and social reasons, there are many in the society who object to the idea of women's beauty being visibly exhibited. While female beauty and appearance may be as valued in the West Bank as anywhere else, the attention given to them is usually more private in context.
“We face a couple of problems like especially with the parents of the models," says Halabi. "They keep asking us where is the event, who is sponsoring it, the responsible people. So usually once or twice a month we do a meeting with the models and their parents, so they can see who is dealing with the girls.”
God loves beauty
In an uncertain political climate and with tough economic conditions, modeling is also regarded by some as something that doesn't fit within the confines of society.
Yet, some of the aspiring modeling and design professionals who are female view the introduction of a modeling agency as a positive development for women.
Modeling in the West Bank is far removed from what one might usually imagine in the likes of the international modeling world – complete with big names like Elite and Vogue and world famous designers.
Modeling is extremely small scale and it's only the existence of elite and cosmopolitan trends in Ramallah which has allowed for an infant industry to emerge. Most of the demand for models is due to boutiques and stores specialized in wedding and special events attire.
“I think Ramallah has a strong fashion sense," says Faten, a model. "We can see this through the new shops that are opening. The new salons and spas. We also can see this through the fashion the people or the clothes that people wear here in Ramallah.”
Based on prevailing religious and cultural norms, starting a modeling agency in the West Bank is chancy and bold. Some in the society here might say it’s too bold.
But there’s a popular saying in Arab culture which these models seem to have taken to heart: God loves beauty.