I Lost My Confidence In Dubai – The Truth


Living in a city whereby every aspect of perfection in life is the ultimate goal, I never felt like I could reach it. Besides when you are living in Dubai and you want to discuss anything remotely critical, even with constructive contributions in mind, you will be immediately disregarded as ‘negative’. We don’t want that in our bubble of perfection. I kept quiet. But now I want to write about my experiences because I know this will be beneficial information for women.

I used to love making YouTube videos about beauty and ‘thought provoking’ topics, as I called them. I could express myself, openly and honestly all whilst starting a conversation about topics that are little bit deeper than just my favourite foundation.

When I was 19 years old, I lived in Milan, Italy for one year. At times I was exposed to the fashion side of the city and was even scouted by a modelling agency on the street, however this never appealed to me because although I am naturally 188 cm (6″2ft ), I’m not naturally a size 0. I knew this would never be an achievable goal for me and moved back to Dublin to start my degree in journalism.

At 23 years old I moved to Dubai, UAE and started a new adventure; living and working there for nearly three years. I decided it was time to leave at the end of December 2017, which I discussed in more detail in a video. Upon arriving to Dubai, the first thing that shocked me was how glamorous everyone was all the time; at the local corner shop, mall, supermarket, work, gym, everywhere. Full glamour means a regular appointment for a blow-dry at your favourite salon, bi-weekly manicures and pedicures, eyebrow threading, eyelash extensions, facials, waxing, tanning, the list is endless. The pressure to look ‘perfect’ is a 24/7 job for every woman. 

I cannot say I trust or believe all newspapers in the UAE, but I did stumble across an interesting article called ‘Is the UAE Making You Infertile?‘. This is something I regularly thought about as I frequently saw rows of IVF clinics across the small city. Furthermore, the UAE appears to be a Mecca for twins! Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common condition that many women seem to develop soon after arriving to the UAE. Personally I know many young women who were diagnosed with the condition. A doctor in Sharjah believes this is a result of women gaining a large amount of weight (around 10 Kilos) in a short period of time, with any other reasons such as the quality of water or the desert environment, deemed as false ( I’m weary to be honest). Secondly there are studies that show PCOS is connected to diabetes as a result of fluctuating insulin levels. There are numerous symptoms of PCOS – weight gain / difficulty to loose weight, irregular periods, excess hair growth, anxiety, depression, ovarian cysts and acne.

Nearly immediately after arriving to Dubai I could feel the negative impact of my new environment on my body. The tap water is extremely ‘hard’ meaning there is a high mineral content that can cause dry, dull hair and eventually lead chemically coloured hair to snap altogether (I 100% recommend you buy a filter for your shower). On top of that the extreme heat and equally as extreme air-conditioning caused acne to explode all over my face, especially around my chin and jaw area. I was in a well-known makeup store in Dubai Mall, busy picking up some Christmas presents. Makeup free in the hopes to calm down my angry acne, I asked the sales assistant at one of the makeup counters for the products I needed. She handed them to with a smile on her face until her eyes met my face. ” Ma’am, how about something for the pimples all over your face?” I honestly never felt so upset by a comment regarding my physical appearance in all my life. I made an official complaint to the store and they simply got back to me to say, ” That is the sales approach.” According to the answer I received, it demonstrated the overall ethos of their business strategy. The objective of each employee – find an insecurity of a customer, exploit it, lie, manipulate and bring in that $$$. 

Androgens are commonly known as ‘male hormones’, although both men and women produce these hormones, but of course in alternating amounts. The most important androgen most frequently mentioned is testosterone. According to a study carried out by the University of Zurich, the connection between high levels of testosterone and increased aggression is a myth. That means our brothers got away with so much more during puberty! Excessive levels of testosterone in women can cause the over production of sebum in the sebaceous glands, clogging your pores and leaving you with a situation that no topical treatment can resolve.

After doing my research I decided it was time to solve my skin issues with the controversial contraceptive pill. Many women and even some males have messaged me about the availability of this ‘taboo’ tablet. Yes, the contraceptive pill is available in the UAE, however they have recently changed its freedom of distribution. Once available over the counter in the pharmacy, you will now require a prescription from a doctor to get your hands on it.  Unfortunately many people believe the only reason you are taking an oral contraceptive is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy outside of marriage, similar to the belief that many people seem to have that you’re a “slut” for dating. ( Because you HAVE to sleep with a man that you are dating..UGH absolute nonsense!)

I have had a few very worrying experiences with doctors in Dubai. One with a female Indian doctor with strong religious (Hindu) views that immediately silenced my suggestion of tackling my acne with an oral contraceptive. ” I’m sorry dear, but morally I don’t think that would be a good choice for you. “ Nearly immediately after her scolding, she was quick to encourage a course of the notoriously strong and dangerous Accutane that according to the law in Ireland requires women to take an oral contraceptive and regular pregnancy test in conjunction with the medication, regardless if she is sexually active or not. Another incident happened in the Saudi German hospital with an Egyptian (Muslim) dermatologist, who he too immediately looked at my skin and suggested Accutane, without even questioning the history of my health. (Damn, it was like a #AD #Sponsored #BrandAmbassador for doctors with this drug!) Once he discovered I was a #SinglePringle he decided there was no need for regular blood work to monitor my liver because – ” You’re not married and cannot get pregnant, so no chance of having baby.” ARE YOU EFFIN’ JOKING ME?! I understand sex outside marriage is illegal in the UAE and I respect that law, but to deny me the same assessed blood work as a married woman because I’M SINGLE. Well, that was the worst ‘ you’re so single’ insult ever. I marched straight out of that hospital and never looked back.

Let’s get back on track! There is a very limited amount of oral contraceptive brands available in the UAE ( Yasmin, Yaz, Diane, Belara, Marvelon, Gynera, Logynon, and Cerazette). Personally Yasmin, Yaz and Diane all made me feel like my existence on this planet was useless ( Dramatic, I know but unbalanced hormones play havoc with your emotions, therefore I recommend you consult with a respectable doctor if you have never take an oral contraceptive before). Long story short, I waited to return to Spain to buy a trusted brand I had previously used, Edelsin or branded as Cilest in the UK and Ireland. It contains Norgestimate and Ethinylestradiol (Female hormones). My skin was absolutely GLOWINGGGG after a few months and as a result I decided I would stop taking it because, well I was all balanced, right?

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 19.39.01
The BEST my skin has ever been.

Five months later, smaller chest and a few kilos lighter, the acne started to make its return but this time worse than EVER. Along with guy issues, work issues, life issues, just issues, you know? Behold the ‘Quarter-life Crisis’ as it has been coined. I was constantly anxious, not eating properly, depressed, did I say guy issues already? As everything overwhelmed me, even the smallest inconveniences, I could feel the acne boil rapidly beneath the surface of my skin. My skin was sore to look at, touch, and as a result I felt miserable. The pressure to look good for work, during the weekend, just all the time was driving me insane. I am a little embarrassed to admit this but it was ultimately causing me to feel more insecure than I did as a teenager. Aren’t we supposed to become more self-confident as we get older, or is this just another myth?

I stopped wearing makeup altogether and the lovely Nathalie at Essa Beauty was giving me fortnightly facials to help sooth my enraged face. Work turned into a nightmare for because no matter how many times I told people that I had acne I always got the same, ” OH MY GOD! What happened to your face?” , ” Is it an allergic reaction. Ew!” so many glares and horrible comments. I genuinely believe people started to treat me differently because I looked, well, ugly. I don’t ever talk about my work life on my blog because I don’t think it is relevant or necessary. However, there was one day which I will NEVER forget. In the midst of my depression I had a meeting with a male colleague and two female colleagues. I had already told them, ” I have acne. I can’t wear makeup because my skin is so painful.” As usual the two female colleagues were super glam and my male colleague said, ” Holly, look how much effort X and Y put into their appearances with their clothes, hair and makeup.” I was humiliated but at the same time sad for numerous reasons. What if a man had said the same thing to his mother, wife, sister, daughter? But most importantly why was my physical appearance surpassing the importance of my functional abilities to do my job. I’m not a model, neither was I working in the fashion industry. Am I only useful if i’m looking pretty?

Looking back I feel this experience has taught me a lot. It broke me down and shattered my confidence. It gave me an insight – empathy, compassion, and understanding on a larger scale. Regardless of age, there are many people around the world being treated immorally because according to societal standards they are deemed ‘ugly’, which sadly has the potential to prevent them from progressing in a job, finding an other half, etc., Yes, anti-discrimination policies are in place in many countries around the world but that doesn’t guarantee it doesn’t actively exist.

In all honesty, readjusting to life outside of Dubai feels like someone burst a massive bubble but I no longer feel the need to throw my money away on the upkeep of my physical appearance. I am regaining my confidence, slowly but surely. There are somedays where I feel terrible and I question everything about life.  I ultimately stopped my beauty YouTube because I was angry with the obsessive importance that it played in my daily life. I would like to continue with this blog and openly share my experiences. I think I have more to offer the world than just a pretty face and so do you.

** If you would like to contact me to discuss this article – please e-mail – hollylenny@gmail.com **

Instagram – holly.lenny

Facebook – NakedWithoutMyLippy


19 thoughts on “I Lost My Confidence In Dubai – The Truth

  1. Thanks for sharing this experience Holly, this was very enlightening on many levels, socially, medically and career life in Dubai. Keep doing you, the best form of beauty cannot be seen or touched, it is felt.

  2. Ah Holly! You poor thing! I understand the acne thing – the pain especially! Also knowing you just can’t wear makeup because it hurts (and you are probably just making it worse) … thankfully I can only remember one person saying a thing about it (a pre teen boy). Now with a bald head, no eyebrows and some serious bloat I can’t even IMAGINE how I’d feel if adults started talking about my appearance! Of course you were knocked – but you have always been beautiful in my eyes! So clever, so sweet, so polite, so funny … and such a beautiful smile! I hope now that you have your confidence back and that’s what has made you able to write this — you do not deserve to be feeling this way! You really have SO much going for you, I know you know that but just to remind you! And I always described you as confident – I never knew this about you! Big hugs!!!

  3. You are absolutely gorgeous hun. Iv been following you for a while now. I’m moving to Abu Dhabi in two weeks from my home which iv never left before South Africa. I’ve been watching and soaking up all the advice from you and friends that live and work in the UAE. I’m really happy that you are doing well and getting back your mojo. I’ll be working in Abu Dhabi and studying in my free time.
    I have a diploma in marketing but unfortunately I’m not getting anywhere so I’m going to study online for my degree in marketing (one year) and then I’ll hopefully get a job in my field work ,travel, save money and get some experience.
    Make up shouldn’t define your beauty, it should just enhance the beauty that you naturally have.
    Don’t let anybody put a clock on your shoulder, take your sweet time in any decision you make…that’s like the best advice my mother ever gave me.
    I hope you enjoy your new home.
    And I’m looking forward to New vlogs and videos in your new home. Spain is beautiful in my top 5 for soon to travel too. Lol I like don’t make sense😂

  4. Felt sad with your article, but your experience will surely make you a better and stronger person. You should come here to Canada, simple yet better living. 😊 Take care Holly.

    P.s.: been following you in youtube for quite some time and I think you are beautiful inside and out.

  5. I’ve been following you since you were making videos in your bedroom back in Ireland! I’m m so sorry to hear of those awful, negative experiences I’m Dubai. I just hope you know that you are indeed, beautiful, and however painful those experiences were, they are making you an even stronger, more resilient human being.
    Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope to see/reads more content from you. xoxo

  6. I find it really upsetting that people think it’s ok to put down somebody else (intentionally or not) based on their appearance. Absolutely disgusting. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to experience that. And I know that there’s many women and men that deal with the same thing and slowly start to lose their confidence. It’s something that is not really talked about but I think it should be because like you said, anti-discriminatory laws exist, that doesn’t mean everyone follows or agrees with them. There will always be a close minded person that believes appearance is key. News flash, it’s not. Determination, respect, kindness, all of things are way more important than a person’s appearance. If we all respected each other and saw beyond our outwardly appearance, the world would be a much much better place. But sadly, this is reality and the best thing we can do is try to help these ignorant people or if they really are a lost cause, move on and continue living your life the way you want, ignoring the negative and meaningless comments of those people. Lots of love and tremendous respect for dealing with all this so well. Keep being the amazing person that you are Holly 🙂

  7. From someone with a science background this is a seriously impressive article! You should definitely look into more scientific/healthcare writing topics because you have a natural talent.

    I too took had a huge dip in confidence in my mid 20s. A mix of feeling my life was stalling, guy trouble etc. Now ive moved cities, got a new job, travelled a bit more and lost a bit of excess weight. Lifes not perfect but I started chasing my own dreams and feel so much better!

    I feel a huge responsibility on social media to younger relatives to post the good and the bad photos. I went to San Francisco recently and my hair went frizzy and makeup melted off. Really though in 20 years what will I think when i look at those photos? Shame at my imperfect curls and uneven eyeliner? Or laughing about the hilarious fat swollen feet after the flight, the random redlight in our bathroom (Rooooxxxannne), the bus tour in the pouring rain and my friend helping me put my coat on after too many $3 margaritas?

  8. Wow … this article blew me away with its honesty and courage. Opening up about all that couldn’t have been easy. I had heard about some of the challenges of living in Dubai before, but this post really gave me a huge insight into how difficult it can be. When I got to the part about your male colleague criticising you because you didn’t look as “glamorous” as the other women in the room, according to his standards … well, that made my blood boil. 😮 I hope things are getting easier for you now.

  9. Me too! Been following you since you were in Ireland too. i believe you had an adorable puppy at the time too. 🙂 thanks for sharing your story. Looking forward to more stories as well.

  10. Yup also had the comment when I wandered in a pharmacy for a browse “hi ma’am can I get something for your
    Hair problem” cheeky cow! Like you I walked straight out angry and pretty upset. Similar happened to my friend but replace hair problem with “weight problem”. How they haven’t been slapped yet with that “sales technique” I don’t know!

    The water definitely doesn’t do good things for hair or skin and I also feel so guilty about all the plastic bottles I get through as you can’t just drink from the tap here.

    So far for me there’s more positives than negatives living in Dubai, but as soon as that changes I’m outta here!!

    Best of luck for whatever is next for you.

  11. Pingback: Embracing You

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