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Two women the secret behind many Beirut beauties.

Summary: BEIRUT: They're like ghostwriters: Other people receive the compliments for the work their hands perform. Behind the visible displays of Beiruti beauty, invisible hands are at work. Perfection from tip to toe is their motto. Cosmeticians Noha Atris Saidi and Hamida Khodor Fawaz live their lives in between pregnancy, dishes and diapers

People and places

BEIRUT: They're like ghostwriters: Other people receive the compliments for the work their hands perform. Behind the visible displays of Beiruti beauty, invisible hands are at work. Perfection from tip to toe is their motto. Cosmeticians Noha Atris Saidi and Hamida Khodor Fawaz live their lives in between pregnancy, dishes and diapers, and the pink and purple world of meticulous manicures.

What looks like an ordinary accessory shop on the outside holds a surprise on the inside. Behind the sales area of "Shape" close to Hamra Street, a two-storey beauty salon lies hidden. It is a women's world in which Noha and Hamida work alongside their colleagues. In the entirely pink- and purple-painted studio rooms, colors that the two close friends have chosen for their "femininity," veils are removed and at the end of the day only beauty remains.

Each cosmetician has an average of 15 customers per day: women of all ages, both Lebanese and foreigners. Friday and Saturday are the busiest days. Women get ready for weekend parties, formal occasions or simply want to refresh their pedicure for a day on the beach.

Multi-tasking is a must in the beauty care profession. Hamida just finished an elderly woman's pedicure in a decent shade of red, while talking to another customer on the phone she holds between her ear and shoulder.

The lady is waiting for the freshly applied polish on her toenails to be consistent enough for Hamida to apply the top coat, the transparent polish layer that is used last, in order to seal the color.

The color takes only a few minutes to be dry enough, but Hamida can't afford to wait. Another two women are waiting outside for their manicure and waxing appointments. Hamida seizes every minute.

In the meantime, Hamida has made sure to heat the wax and is shaping the eyebrows of a student who walked in without an appointment. She always finds a way to squeeze "little" jobs like this one into her tight schedule.

Thirty-something Hamida works at possibly record-breaking speeds, which isn't surprising given the fact that she's been in the business for 15 years, 11 of which were spent in the salon. She's self-taught, having never received formal training.

"The job can be very stressful," Noha reflects. "Especially when there is a queue of women lining up intent on seeing nobody but you. But you have only two hands. You must be Wonder Woman."

The cosmetician, who is fluent in English, French and Arabic, is a perfectionist. "I like to give every single woman the attention she deserves."

Despite the grinding daily routine, her job means more than just work to her. When it comes to applying make up, the 38-year old defines herself as an artist.

"When I do facial treatments I am completely in my element. Then I feel like I am Noha! I have developed an expertise in this field over the years," she says, her beautiful dark eyes sparkling proudly.

Hamida is a bit more pragmatic about her job definition, focusing on the concept of aesthetic hygiene. "I just love to see everyone neat and clean," she laughs genuinely.

Clients often see more in Noha and Hamida than their manicurist or make-up artist. "Sometimes women tell us their entire life story the very first time they come to us," Noha says. "And sometimes they even disclose intimate details about their sexual life," Hamida adds with a bright grin.

"'Is this normal?,' we ask each other."

At times, a client's personal story pursues them beyond their working hours. "When I hear about someone's family tragedy, for example, I can't sleep at night," Noha admits.

Noha tries to separate the private sphere from the professional one and when she gets home, exhausted after a seven-hour work day, she tries to leave behind everything that's work-related. "I try to change my mood. I'm a mother after all," she explains.

Not only is Noha the mother of --a 18-month-old child, but she's also a mother-to-be. She's pregnant in her eighth month and intends to work until the last day before her 40-day maternity leave.

"It's not my first time. When I was pregnant with my daughter Lynn, I finished work on a Saturday and delivered on the following Tuesday," she recalls.

"You have to be strong in this business," she states seriously. Then she turns back toward her client, who is lying back on what resembles a dentist's chair.

Noha holds the end of a piece of thread with her teeth while pulling the other end with her hands, so the thread takes on a triangled shape.

She leans over the woman's forehead in order to remove facial hair on her upper lip. The more she pulls the thread, the closer the triangle moves together, until it functions like a pair of tweezers when the ends meet. She uses this technique very carefully on the woman's upper lip in order to avoid cutting her lips or nose.

Despite the nature of their job, investing considerable time and effort on their own look beyond basic physical care isn't an option for Noha and Hamida. Only rarely does Hamida sport full make-up, or color on her nails. On such days, one can find the door to her pink studio room permanently open (except during body waxing treatments).

On most other days, when she is not made-up, she utilizes a short break between two customers to privately perform her prayers in the little studio; it's the only time she dons the hijab inside the salon.

Like many of the clients, the young woman removes her head covering in the familiar privacy of the little pink and purple women's world.

For Noha, even having enough time to let her own nail polish dry is a challenge.

After she picks up her young daughter from the home of her mother, who takes care of her during the day, Noha's own household awaits.

Women like Noha and Hamida have to be all in one. They are mothers, wives, make-up artists, manicurists, cosmeticians, and they listen to women's problems like a therapist would. In their turn, they'll never make you feel how tired or exhausted they might be. They always have a smile for you.

Behind a powerful man, there is a strong woman. We have heard that before. And behind a beautiful woman, there might be a strong woman, too. It might be Noha or Hamida.

Copyright 2009, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Sep 6, 2010
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