Fernando, a good friend and conveniently a former Dolce&Gabbana model, did my hair and makeup so fast it was amazing. In order to make the up-do more substantial/voluminous, he wrapped my own hair around a dark brown sweatband I found at a Japanese cheap goods store. He swept it up like a princess and then did dramatic Arab makeup with sharp eyebrows and deeply bronzed cheekbones. I felt strangely beautiful, bashful. I didn’t recognize myself.
I ran out of Fer’s house at 5pm, a little late, and jetted to Vivid Boutique, the store of a Lebanese designer, Monique Helou. She placed a silver sequined band off-kilter across my forehead, dangling silver earrings and a shimmering globe necklace around my neck to minimize any cleavage (my arms were exposed as it is, the plunging V-neck was a little much). A huge necklace of orange and blue buttons was tentatively hung over my collarbones but swiftly redirected to my waist, where Monique draped it as a belt, its weight sitting gently upon the floor-length ocean blue silk dress that Monique had chosen for me. My face was painted and heavy fake eyelashes had been glued on, so I struggled to see the road a bit as I drove from the boutique to the venue.
Upon arriving at the Jabrin Ballroom of the InterContinental, one of Muscat’s finest hotels, I waded through the white silk-gowned dining tables, decorated with mini chocolate boxes, place cards and wine glasses (that would be used for orange juice, since it was the Islamic New Year and thus beginning of Muharam, the month of not doing anything bad, especially drinking alcohol). I chatted with the magician, “Helios,” who had come from Hungary for the occasion; an awkward and unsettling figure, as was his stiff cheek-boned, underweight assistant, “Eve.”
The event – the Dossier Construction Awards & Summit 2013 – began promptly at 7:30pm, at which time I called His Excellency and His Highness (two cousins of HMSQ) on stage to present the awards. Both wore elegant dishdashas and fringed musayr silks around their heads (boy, they dress well in this country), as well as the traditional curved, bejeweled Omani daggers, or khanjar, slung around their waists.
As I read the MC script, I looked out with a blank, as-persuasive-as-I-could-muster smile onto the brightly-lit audience spread before me. It soon became clear that more than the effortless reading of the script or my native-English-speaker accent, I was being paid to stand in front of a lot of wealthy and influential petrol, engineering and construction executives and government ministers and look white and pretty. But the gravity of this realization did not occur to me, I’m afraid, until I was actually on stage…
It was at this point that I came to understand how my success as a first-time MC for a huge and formal corporate event would be evaluated in exact correspondence to how large a proportion of my time on stage was spent smiling convincingly. However, on stage I was acutely uncomfortable; I finally understood that I was being paid to get literally dolled up in fancy clothes and exaggerated make-up in order to perform a curious fusion of classy-ness and sex appeal for a large crowd of men I didn’t know. Not prostitution, admittedly, but it felt like a visual echo of physical elements I might imagine in that experience. I was voluntarily selling the whiteness and thinness and ability-to-look-normatively-pretty-ness of my body. Those were my only qualifications for the large sum of money, the fame, the networking opportunity I was being fortuitiously handed on a platter. And as Dwayne famously says in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), “You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work…Fuck that.” This quote really resonated with me at that moment as I stood on stage, and had that sinking feeling about life, how privileges like whiteness and thinness and straightness and native-english-speaker-ness are so often more than enough to confer absurd advantages on the people who bear them. I got a sick tummy-drop feeling as I grasped the full range of how professional modeling can delicately but insidiously warp one’s relationship to their own body.
These were poorly timed ruminations, however. The you-better-smile-if-you-want-another-gig-like-this-ever-again iron door-knocker in my head wrapped itself around the waist of my gaze till my doubts sunk, drowning in the ocean of black ties and white shirts poured before me. It was as though they raised the sea level of the room, the buoyancy of those countless white rectangles, visibly spliced by black neck-swords (ties), tuxedoed human checkerboards, interlocked like wreaths around the round table buoys, bobbing dominos beside the stage at my feet.
This strange sea, of Indians and Europeans in their domino suits, punctuated by the sparkling white dishdash islands of fancy Omanis waist-bound with glittering daggers, had a minimal tide: i.e. no one moved. Few spoke. Few clapped. Perhaps the blue crescent moon on stage, with the heavy-buttoned blueorangeblue belt and impossibly bronzed cheekbones, was more tempering than exciting to the blackwhiteblack waves in its slender luminance. Alternatively, one might glean that Oman was, and usually is, an awfully tough crowd.
For example, I felt terrible for the magician – for whom no one laughed or clapped – who started doing stand-up comedy during his 20-minute intermission routine because I guess his scantily-clad assistant just made the audience feel uncomfortable. He even called me out by name from the side of the stage, to ask if I, the MC, was enjoying the show myself. I nodded and blushed coquettishly (eww that word).
As I mentioned, I just kept smiling autant que possible, trying to laugh at the mezmerised, agape expressions of some in the audience who seemed literally unable to stop staring at me, trying not to cry when I made eye contact with the hungry, salivating, tongue-sucking wolf-to-lamb expressions of others who seemed to say we will gladly have you after dessert.
To moderate this queasiness, I diligently imagined Nicholas and Peter standing at the back of the ballroom making faces at me and at the absurdity of the situation, which I confess nearly made me burst out laughing aloud onstage. Additionally, it just made me so happy to see the looks on the men’s (yes, they were all men) faces when they received the awards, because if you really thought about it they were quite impressive, especially the individual awards like best architect and best engineer. It’s incredible! Exciting, to even imagine the creativity and technical expertise of these individuals, the intricate, masterpiece edifices they built on soft sand and elastic budgets in just a few years.
I was standing on stage next to His Excellency and His Highness, the Sultan’s 2nd and 1st cousins respectively, and I was, despite my qualms, terribly proud to be there. I rejoiced internally as the ceremony as I neared the end of the ceremony script, gaining confidence as I soared smoothly through seemingly impossible Indian names like the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award by the President of India or the honoroable Mr. Rohan Thotabaduge (I nearly just called him up as Mr. Rohan). I nailed Mr. Akshay Bhatnagar (who had hired me and who was also a judge on the awards committee)’s name, the cameras reared up like horses on their hind legs in a spontaneous wave as each growd of award recipients gathered with the two royals beside me on stage for a sequence of photos.
Arta came to see the end of the show and despite the delicious mezze at the venue, we decided to go out for steak instead, since he’d gotten a big business deal the same day, so naturally we felt compelled to celebrate our good fortunes.