mddbSoon after I was married I went on a medical mission to Morocco. At 5’10,” with my fair skin, blond hair, and air of American independence, I turned heads wherever I went. I was constantly approached, called to, whistled at, and admired by people on the street. The team decided that I should always walk next to one of my male colleagues to avoid getting stopped on every block.    
I was interviewed for Moroccan TV about the medical mission, even though my role as child life specialist was far less important than say a life transforming plastic surgeon who had done hundreds of reconstructive surgeries. I’ll admit it was was strangely flattering to be the object of such attention.  In light of this, my fellow team members affectionately dubbed me…Moroccan Dream Date Barbie (camel and Bedouin tent sold separately).                           
It was two weeks of sweet vindication for the many Friday nights spent hanging out at my apartment when it seemed like everyone else was out on a date. (Where was Morocco when I needed it?) I had never been a person known for the way I looked.  I was never the girl with the great hair, or the really stylish clothes, or the one the whose phone number got jotted down on slips of paper at the end of a party or dance. I was known for being the smart girl (aka “the brain child” to my HS classmates) or the good girl, or the Mormon girl, but not the pretty girl.           
While I have occasionally been hit on in airports, that is purely circumstantial and I do not consider it a compliment. Although I have been on the news twice in the US, it had everything to do with being in the right place at the right time and nothing to do with my face catching viewers attention. (Once because I happened to be at my local Exxon when they were doing a story on rising gas prices and the other time for having a baby right before Christmas and the hospital liked to stick them in stockings for a folksy holiday human interest story).                                                  
In Morocco, somewhere between the couscous and tasty tagines, and exquisitely rich pottery and rugs in the souk, I learned something about context and perspective. We tend to look at things only one way. We look at our friends one way, our spouse in one way, our children one way. We get comfortable with our clearly defined expectations of people. We rarely change our perspective. Others look through a different lens and see something totally different.  There is something important, something empowering in getting beyond a singular label, in opening your eyes to view yourself and others in a new light. Even if it’s just the flattering light of a Moroccan lantern on a breezy desert evening.


  1. Laura

    February 3, 2009

    That’s funny because I see you as the lady at church with the beautiful hair (no credit to myself), the tall slender perfect body and cute hip clothes….does that make me Moroccan? 🙂
    Seriously though, I do so agree with this, it’s amazing the way our views change when we look at things in a different light. Love your posts!

  2. shelah

    February 3, 2009

    Some of my greatest epiphanies about myself have come when I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone.

    And you always turned heads, even in college. You just didn’t realize it at the time…

  3. Jennie

    February 3, 2009

    Well, I’ve never even been hit on in an airport!

    I think it’s been interesting in the 17 years that I’ve been married to see how my in-laws view of me has changed. When I got married they saw me as a certain person. They didn’t know me very well and I was a silly 21-year-old, so it was a strange superficial view. I think they’ve been really amazed at who I really am. Both what I am like deep down inside, and the accomplishments I’ve made since then. Every once in a while something happens and I can just see the wheels in their heads turning as they think, “that’s not what we know about Jennie!” I love that.

  4. alanna

    February 3, 2009

    I love this.
    And I think I need to go to Morocco for a little perspective.

  5. Courtney

    February 3, 2009

    I’m another one who never turns heads at airports.

    It’s funny even moving cross country it’s been interesting seeing the different way people view me.

  6. KLC

    February 3, 2009

    I’ve often wondered about what happens inside the mind of a girl who within a few years, around age 13 or 14, becomes a beautiful young woman. Through no effort of her own she suddenly is moved to Morocco where doors open, compliments flow and attention, wanted or unwanted, is paid to her by men of all ages. How does that experience change you?

  7. Leslie

    February 3, 2009

    Laura- you get full credit for my hair, with much thanks- this must be why I love moroccan food?

    Jennie- I love you sharing that- too often we keep people in their boxes and really don’t let them change, improve, become anything other than what they originally were– and I am sure just need to log a few more hours at the airport

    Shelah- yah yah, which one of us was out on friday night?

    alanna- everyone needs a morocco!

    courtney- yes- it is amazing how even regional/cultural expectation viewpoints can play in to it.

    KLC- I wish I could tell you but my experience was a 2 week temporary one…As much as every young girl wishes for such attention, the older I get the more I appreciate that the attention I got was for my more substantive parts. There was part of being known as the smart/good girl that led me on to fulfilling things that I don’t think being “the pretty girl” could have– (not that the two are exclusive).

  8. Emily M.

    February 3, 2009

    That was me on a mission in Ecuador. Whistled or hissed at nearly every day of my mission, from the time I got off the plane until I left.

    As a missionary it was more irritating than flattering. I could never be sure if the single men we taught (with chaperones! or in public!) were interested in the message or in being taught by a blond American. And I’ve never really trusted my physical appearance, so it baffled me too. Once an Ecuadorean sister missionary told me as I was getting ready “If I looked like you, I’d never even comb my hair.”

    She was careful about her appearance, and she was very pretty, and it made me sad that I fit her standard of beauty, but she didn’t, and that I didn’t fit my own standard.

    Great post, Leslie!

  9. Leslie

    February 3, 2009

    oh emily- how ironic as a missionary…It was a good experience for me realizing how I viewed myself- it seemed so silly but it changed me and taught me the power of a label or non-label

  10. shelah

    February 3, 2009

    I remember lots of nights when I was crying into my mail and stuffing myself with chocolate chips and peanut butter right from the jar and you were off making up (out?) for lost time with boys.

  11. jendoop

    February 3, 2009

    Your post reminded me of that scene in Dead Poet’s Society where they stand on the desk to get a different perspective.

    I’ve had tons of experience with getting a new perspective, moving is one way, getting ill at a young age is another. And I think the work we do in the church is constantly forcing us out of our comfort zones. I know that the chorister podium in sacrament meeting is no where in the vincinity of my comfort zone but somehow I found myself there.

    I think your post is a little about seeing ourself from another’s perspective. That concept always intrigues me. Isn’t it interesting how our view of ourself is hardly ever the way others perceive us?

  12. Carrie Snider

    February 3, 2009

    Les- I love that title! Who knows, maybe your face is on a doll over there now? For the record, you are stunningly beautiful. I like the new perspective thing… part of the reason I enjoy attending a Spanish Branch– because I’m different than everyone else. It’s strangely liberating.

  13. Tamlynn

    February 3, 2009

    Ah, I remember the last time I was hit on at the airport. Unfortunately for the young man, I was taking an emergency flight home to my husband who had just had emergency surgery and I was in no mood to socialize. He seemed quite surprised that no, I did not want to listen to music by his band on his headphones. 🙂

    But back to your post. How do you go about seeing those around you from a different perspective? How do we get out of that rut of seeing people only in one way?

  14. Leslie

    February 3, 2009

    carrie- I love how different culutres can give us that alternative vantage point.

    tamlynn- love the headphones story. I think you hit the nail on the head- that’s the hard thing- systems are resistant to change. It takes constantly throwing out the automatic thoughts that come into our heads and trying to replace them with “current truth” (think cognitive behavior therapy). I think alot of it is looking for change or letting people know all the different things we see in them.

  15. Jenny

    February 4, 2009

    Oh! I’ve been missing this enlightening party! Good to be here–fashionably late. I’ve been having my own epiphany for about a year now… it’s good to be recognized for, but better to feel validated for the substantive goodness that is inside ME (you). And not for the fleeting Dream Date Barbie experience, although that has it’s own perks and feel-good moments that are totally justified and valid. You’re an excellent writer, Leslie, and I’ll bet you still turn heads. You’re just too distracted now, to notice.

  16. Leslie

    February 4, 2009

    Jenny- glad you made the party…glad you have had such epiphanies- truly that is the best feeling, validation of the truly good and meaningful!

  17. Amanda T

    February 17, 2009

    Truly love your writing. I’ve read a few of your posts. Love this discussion too.

    My trip to Europe for 3 1/2 weeks was such a great experience in many ways. One of those ways was similar to your experience in Morocco…I loved the attention I was given in Italy. Who doesn’t love to feel admired, wanted and adored?

    Being there with different traditions and expectations also helped me realize how “stuck” I can get with my own ideas and opinions about the way “things” should be.

    Recently, I’ve found it beneficial in situations where I’ve felt “stuck” to force myself to think of all the attributes about that person that I admire. I have tried to make the list as long as I can. This has truly helped me to see people in a more positive light.

    Leslie, you ARE beautiful as I’m sure each woman who has posted is. God has made us each wonderful creatures with such amazing gifts to share with the world. Unfortunately for us, the world fights against us and it is a struggle to uncover these gifts and feel the joy in being who we were meant to be!

    May you all be blessed!

  18. Dale Parsons

    March 4, 2009

    I have no idea what this magazine or site is about but I pulled up the “Moroccan Barbie” story on a google search and really enjoyed it. I have LDS friends working on a Moroccan resort project and was looking for info.

    You ladies all look lovely and I apologize for hitting on you at the airport. My bad.


    Dale Parsons
    Inside Baseball

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