Thursday, November 03, 2011

Henna controversy

Yesterday was Henna Day at AUS, so hordes of ladies took over the Women's Lounge in the student center and got their henna on. Of course I couldn't resist taking the girls. They caused quite a stir among the crowd of student ladies and they even let us jump the (sizeable) queue.

Having your small children get henna is fun but also stressful. Miriam is a pro at sitting still and not smearing it, but Magdalena still has a lot to learn. She sat still enough for the application but then managed to smear an edge of her flower design as she got off the chair. The henna artist re-did it and there were no major mishaps after that (key word: major). The girls have never made it long enough to see it dry all the way - I end up getting tired of stressing out about it staining their clothes and make them wash it off early. But even with a shortened soaking-in period, the designs always last at least a week.

And they are gorgeous!
These small flower designs are about all Magdalena can handle at this age.

Miriam loves getting the big-girl designs.

In the above pictures, the henna is still drying and so it's very dark. When you scrape off the paste, it's a much lighter orangish/brownish color.

Now, let's discuss something. I have been familiar with the Middle East for so long that I don't recall having a negative opinion about henna, ever. It's so normal to me that I can no longer pass judgment on it (except to say that I'm totally OK with it, obviously). However, over the summer I was talking with an American friend who had just moved here and I mentioned that my girls enjoy getting henna done every once in a while. She gave me a brave look that showed how hard she was trying to not judge me, but I could see that the idea of henna was strange to her, that she thought it was more akin to a verboten tattoo rather than, say, face-painting.

After that, I realized how I might have been offending my girls' grandparents and aunts and uncles right and left with all my talk and shared pictures of henna on the girls' arms. So I ask you, blog audience: what do you think of henna? Answer the poll and then elaborate in the comments.

What do you think about henna?


Jessie said...

What! That's just plain crazy. If a person had a problem with henna, they'd have to have a problem with painted fingernails, too.

Bridget Palmer said...

But Jessie, scary Muslim people do henna!!!!!!!!!!!

JosephJ said...

I felt like there needed to be an option between "I appreciate..." and "I have no problem..."

Face painting/fingernail painting is something you can do on a whim (and reverse it later that night if necessary), but you have to be dedicated to the henna for a couple of weeks.

In a place where it's the norm, I have no problem with it. If I lived in a place where it would be an anomaly, I'd give it more consideration.

Rather than comparing it to painted fingernails, I'd compare it to dyed hair, which is also not immediately reversible (and not "wrong").

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Henna is an ancient cultural practice, and the application is temporary. Tattoos are forever and have an edgy, rebellious connotation.

Myrna said...

BYU has a cultural festival every November, and my friend Laila (probably your friend Laila, too, maybe) said they had some flack about the henna booth when they first wanted to do it, but after explaining what it is, the cultural connection and the temporariness of it, they got the go ahead to do it. I love henna, though I have never had it done--I am not a fan of standing in a long line to wait for many things. :o)

Katie said...

I can honestly say that I don't know enough about it (i.e. anything) to really have any strong opinions.

The only memory I have of henna was of some weird emo/goth girls doing it occasionally in high school. So obviously that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But so did their icky died black hair and the fishnet stockings they wore on their arms.

As far as seeing it on your sweet little girls, it doesn't seem outrageous or icky at all.

Katie said...

P.S. I just read Joseph's comment. And I agree with him.

Liz Johnson said...

No problem here. In fact, I've often wanted to have my pregnant belly painted with henna, just as a celebration of new life (and also to take advantage of such a ginormous painting surface). I just think of it as being artistic expression, which I don't have a problem with at all. I agree - it's comparable to getting highlights in your hair or something.

Jessie said...

Dyed hair. Definitely a better comparison. Both TEMPORARY, both superficial.

I have little tolerance for people who take one guideline to the extreme, then judge other people against their new standard. I wouldn't have been very polite to the judgy lady, is what I'm saying.

Bridget Palmer said...

I should add as a footnote that after one month of being here, my American friend was happy to have her hands and arms and feet hennaed, and she let her teenaged daughter get it, too. So she overcame her initial prejudice.

I have to admit, I am really surprised to not hear anyone condemn henna. Also: happy.

Crys said...

I have ZERO problem with Henna! Of course I also was the child who spent many hours writing on myself and even today as a mother I never yell at my kids for writing on themselves. The walls, yes, their bodies, no :) Then again though I really like watching LA Ink...I'm sorry but some of those tattoos are just pure art and enjoy looking at them. Would I want something permanent on my body, personally no, but I love looking at body art. Henna is a great in-between...beautiful body art, last for awhile but then goes away so you can do something else :)

Kathy Haynie said...

I also think that the dyed-hair analogy makes a lot of sense.

(When I was growing up, within my family culture--my southern grandfather's ideas--it was mostly the "bad" girls who dyed their hair. Women with dyed hair were very suspect. I think I'm over that, but...I am wearing my middle-aged gray. I have this internal debate about it. On the one hand, all the other middle-aged teachers where I work dye their hair. No gray. On the other hand, I don't want the bother. Who wants to touch up roots? Not me. Ugh. So I'm gray, at least for now. I tell myself it's my "badge of wisdom.")

Ooh, I would love to have my feet and ankles hennaed.

Katie said...

Ok, maybe I'll be the dissenter, since you haven't had a comment yet against Henna yet. For starters, I'm not at all offended by anyone else doing it, but would probably not let my kids do it, for the same reason why I don't let them put on the the "fake" tattoos. I guess I'm a bit old-fashioned, but even though it's not permanent, it gets the idea into their head that they DO like tattoos on their body, so later in life, it would be a lot easier to make that leap to a permanent one. Of course, this is coming from someone who wanted to get a tattoo as a rebellious teen, but thankfully I did not. Anyway, not really having been around henna art too much, I may change my mind if I was in another country where it was the norm. I really do think the designs are beautiful! So, the long and short of it: I don't think it's bad, just not for me! :)

Sherwood family said...

I went to a friend's henna party in Cairo, the toned-down version of a bachelorette party. It was a lot of fun, and the henna ladies were Sudanese. So after I peeled off the henna, instead of orange-brown it was almost black! Even after it came off my skin, my arm hairs were still dyed, so I had to do some selective shaving.

Loradona said...

So, once my roommate got this DIY henna kit, and we had all sorts of fun painting henna on our legs (we are both teachers, and our legs are more easily coverable than hands, and I know I didn't want to answer questions about it/distract from my lessons).

At church, however, we ran into two reactions: One woman saw my design and said, "That looks really cool! Is that henna? How did you do that?" A second woman gave me the stink-eye and said nothing. (My roommate got a more verbal disapproval, and was kind of amazed by it.)

The thing I didn't understand was why someone would be judgmental about it. If someone with tattoos shows up at church, aren't we supposed accept them, no matter what? Henna is just a fun, temporary decoration to me, something that easily goes away. I have zero problems with it.

Katie said...

I feel like there needs to be an option after "I have no problem with it", called "Henna is Awesome, where can I get some?"
It looks beautiful!

Alanna said...

I had a 24-hour layover in Oman once and took the opportunity to have henna painted on my hands and feet. I loved it, even though it looks better on skin that isn't as pasty as mine is! They had lots of design books, so I chose one I liked and requested it. The lady doing the painting looked at me funny and said she preferred to make it up. That made me nervous, so I asked her to please just do it like the book. After she finished one arm, I told her to do whatever she wanted with the next, and her made up version was SO MUCH prettier! So then I gave her free reign on my legs!

I got some pretty strange looks when I returned to Seattle the next day. My favorite was a little girl in church who leaned over to her mommy and whispered, "I bet that girl got in BIG TROUBLE!" Her mom later apologized and explained that she'd been trying to get her daughter to not draw on herself! It made me laugh!

I love henna!

Susanne said...

I don't mind it, but then I don't mind tasteful tattoos in moderation.

I've heard that Muslim women must remove nail polish in order to pray. Or at least before washing for prayer. So nail polish and henna are different in their eyes, I assume.

I saw a picture on Facebook the other day someone posted and thought it was blood running down someone's hands before I realized it was henna.

OK, now I'm curious about its history. Is it pre-Islam and/or something only Muslims do?

I guess I need to start googling.

Lark said...

I think about 10 or more years ago, henna was really popular in the states with musicians (Gwen Steffani I think? or maybe Madonna?). Anyway, that was the first time I had seen it and thought it was the coolest thing. I also remember seeing booths in Venice Beach, CA where you could get a henna tatoo and was always so tempted to get one... but never did. All that to say that I have always wanted to do henna and that therefore I have no problem with it.

Bridget Palmer said...

I love hearing all these opinions and experiences! It sounds like maybe our initial exposure to henna informs our later opinions. I don't think I ever heard of henna before I went to the Middle East. I certainly never heard it referred to as a "henna tattoo." So for me it's always been a benign, beautiful, very cultural and traditional form of decoration.

Myrna, if it's Laila married to Bashar, then it's my friend Laila, too. :) And now if I encounter any judgy Mormon naysayers I will inform them that henna is permitted at the BYU, so there. Ha ha.

I should also elaborate on Sherwood's point that there are different intensities of henna. There is the dark black stuff which shows up a little too starkly on pasty skin. When my girls walked in to the women's lounge on campus, the henna ladies immediately put them down for the brown henna, which is not as extreme.

Maybe the question I'm really getting at is this one: some American friends of ours who live here had the great idea to bring some henna back to the US to do as an activity at a family reunion. Personally, I think that is a BRILLIANT idea. But would that freak out the family??

Jen said...

I know I'm late to the party, but I think henna is fantastic. I'd have to disagree with JosephJ, however, because I wouldn't even equate it with dyeing one's hair. I think there's a big difference between enhancing the aesthetics of your body for the sake of feeling/looking better and an ancient cultural tradition that HAPPENS to remain on the body for a period of time.

Full disclosure: JosephJ is my husband, and he and I will spare you the remainder of our debate.


sarah-lucy said...

My mom always told me that henna was not okay, too much like a tattoo.

She would also get upset when my grandfather fave us temporary tattoos, or when we'd right homework assignments on our hands.

I think she's wrong, and I totally embrace henna.

sarah said...

I love it! I'm jealous that the girls get to have it done and not me! :) I must admit I WAS surprised to see a woman with henna on her hands here in the U.S. at first, but when I realized it was henna and not a permanent tattoo, I thought it was so cool. It's just not very common around here, so it was suprising, but not offensive. I think it's a great alternative to getting a permanent tattoo. I had some done on my legs in Cancun on my honeymoon and saw nothing wrong with it.


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