I know that lots of women don't like the idea of going for a bra fitting for fear that it will be embarrassing or uncomfortable. In reality most bra fitters in North America are friendly women with a great deal of bra knowledge who can make you feel physically and emotionally better. Imagine if going to buy lingerie didn't include a fitting option, didn't include be able to try on a bra and didn't include being served by a woman. Imagine that and you've got buying bras in Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi women are not allowed to work in service jobs where they may come into contact with a man. One scholar explained the reasoning for this is "Women are entrusted to us, we should not involve them in matters far from their nature." How women's bodies are far from their nature is beyond me but it means that ALL lingerie stores have male assistants. Because you cannot expose your body to men there is no fitting service, no changing rooms and there is no returns policy so you just have to buy bras and hope that they're right for you.
In June 2011 Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud decreed that lingerie companies should be allowed to employ female sales people to serve women. Canadian brands La Senza and La Vie en Rose are both making the switch to female assistants, however, this is a complicated business. Plans include having a guard outside each store to ensure that no men enter (which of course means an end to Saudi men buying lingerie for their partners - or themselves for that matter) the stores will either need curtains across all windows to prevent men looking in or else have to be situated in a building with no windows.
These are the provisions set out by the labour minister for employing female staff:
-hired women must be Saudi
-security must be provided
-stores can be family section or women only
-appropriate dress in either traditional abaya or uniforms that conform to hijab
-employer must provide health coverage for female employee and all dependents
-separate toilets must be provided
-sectioning off female-only areas for department stores
The sheer scale of the logistics to allow women to sell women's apparel to women is mind-boggling, but at least it's movement in the right direction. A more direct and let's say in your face, defiance of laws that suppress women in Arab countries comes in the form of Arabian Magazine, Lilac, using the first ever bikini-clad front cover of an Arab magazine. On top of that the model is an Arab Israeli, Huda Naccache. Frontier pushing all round.
Editor in Chief Yara Mashour has worked for over a decade to push the rights of women in Arab countries. While she knows that this issue may never see the light of day in many parts of the country, she sees it as a huge step forward in liberalizing Arab perceptions and says "it was about time someone did this." The social media response has been enormous and on the whole positive "I have been getting tons of Facebook requests from people who loved the cover" says Mashour.
While we have our own issues regarding size, availability and choice in North America, I don't think we can in all good conscience really complain about our rights when it comes to choosing our lingerie. This vital garment is an intensely personal choice and a human right for all women. xx