I find it interesting to note that many of the pictures I took in the Middle East were of mannequins. It may have been because I was told not to take photographs of the women, so I focused on the mannequins. I was reminded of a theme which ran through my life: it began with paper dolls.

I grew up with two older brothers. My mom had worked as a fashion stylist for Seventeen Magazine and NBC Studio in the 50s. She was a beautiful woman and for a time was a leg model. I remember before I left for school in the morning my mom would try to stylize me, and accessorize my outfit. It was no small wonder that when we visited New York City staying with my grandmother in Jackson Heights that we shopped, walked, and ordered deli. My father stayed home in the Catskills. My mom loved the city and I am sure at times, felt like a deer caught in the head lights relocating to a tiny Catskill town. But she did it with grace and no driving skills because if you lived in the city, you didn’t have to drive. I remember the story that was passed around of my mom inquiring of the liquor store if they delivered as my father was away on business training in New York. The driver told my mom years later that the only reason he delivered was because he heard there was “a good looking blonde from New York City living there.” So, I played with my paper dolls. I stylized them, accessorized them, and careerized them imagining all the wonderful jobs and lives they had as I listened to my mom’s stories of life in the big city.

As I grew older, the dolls I collected sat on a shelf above my books and they were from other countries: China, Spain, France, Indonesia, and I would spend hours rearranging them as to who was their best friend. Since our nearest neighbor was 2 miles down the road, my fantasy life was arranged around the dolls. Eventually, my mom collected some interesting summer friends from the City who had a second house in the Catskills. I had a few friends but never a crowd. When I was away in France for a year at the Sorbonne studying French and working as an au pair for a family in Paris; I told my mom, “Sell the collection.” She did and they sold our ice cream small business and left to travel around the country in a fifth wheeler which my mom loved. She loved adventure and she loved travelling.

So I was looking at those pictures of the mannequins and I thought how elegant they looked and like the women of the Middle East how little I learned of their life. There was a strong façade there that I did not penetrate. Then I thought of all the dolls beginning with the paper dolls, the international dolls, and the mannequins. It is natural that as a woman in another country and culture that I look for guidance to women from that culture. The other day as I was bike riding, I met a young lady dressed in a heavy black abaya covering her body and a hijab covering her head walking to the bus stop. She timidly said, “hello” to me. I thought of how uncomfortable she must have felt with the heat and mugginess of Florida in her heavy clothes. She may have received a few stares. Someone once said to me that they wear it by choice and it is not for religion. I am not sure who to believe but I remember in every country I have visited visiting the doll section gives me insight as to how they perceive their women.

I remember how much I liked having some control over the accessorizing and arranging a style for my dolls. Allowing the individual beauty of each doll gave strength and depth to the character. Each was different and the diverseness of each lent strength and definition. Maybe I was trying to get beyond the façade. And the mannequins let me.

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