The definition of growing old gracefully; 61-year-old Egyptian actress Sawsan Badr is defying outdated beauty norms with aplomb. Asked to stop dyeing her hair for a role in her current film, Welad Rizk 2, she tentatively embraced the request and was met with an heartwarmingly positive response from other women, all praising her for challenging the status quo.
The star debuted her flowing grey hair on social media in June, telling us, “It had been on my mind for years. When I had to go grey for this role, people just went crazy, so I decided to keep it.”
Lovingly dubbed ‘the fugitive from the museum’ due to her uncanny resemblance to the Ancient Egyptian queen, Nefertiti, Sawsan’s reputation precedes her. Add to that a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, and her persona in the public eye is almost unparalleled. But does that mean growing older is harder than for the rest of us?
Dress, Dhs11,750, Kojak. Earrings, Dhs13,300, Azza Fahmy
“Back in the ’80s, the concept of ‘ideal beauty’ in the Middle East revolved around curvy white women, a mould I did not really fit. So it’s a bit of surprise that, some 30 years later, people are referring to me as a beauty icon!” she beams.
Is that thanks to the rise of diversity in the industry, we wonder? “Arabs are finally starting to admire their own skin shades, and for me to be part of that awareness is something I cherish,” she reveals. “I wish for all the little girls growing up now to live in a society where beauty standards are more inclusive, and for every woman to be celebrated no matter what her age or skin colour is.”
Sawsan’s age seems to very much be her strength, though. Despite the widespread debate on ageism in the film industry, the award-winning actress has starred in more movies and taken on a number of complicated roles later in life than in her formative years. How does she feel that beauty – and age – had a part to play?
Top, skirt and sleeves set, Dhs12,120, Kojak
“Younger women are always regarded as an accessory in film… something pretty to look at which is something that I hope one day will change,” she explains. “They are never really explored for who they are as complex beings, or the layers that make a woman who she is.”
Given her storied career, celebrated aesthetic and refusal to bow down to societal pressures, Sawsan Badr exudes serious confidence. Ultimately, she explains, it all comes from within. “Love and believe in yourself, have plenty of gratitude always, accept others for who and what they are, and always give to them. I read a quote recently that I loved: ‘Give the love you wished for but never received.’”
From the September 2019 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Arabia
Photography: Tarek El Mokaddem
Styling: Ahmed Srour