An unfair demand

September 27, 2015

For decades, the Pakistanis’ perception of beauty for women has been unyielding

An unfair demand

If you are a Pakistani woman lucky enough to have been born with fair skin and diligent enough to have maintained an exceptionally slim body, then to the majority of the female population around, you have achieved the ‘ultimate’ standard of beauty.

For decades, the Pakistanis’ perception of beauty for women has been unyielding. Pakistani girls and women are applauded for being skinny and possessing fair skin and light hair. Mothers do their utmost to groom their daughters to this standard, encouraging diets at a ridiculously young age and promoting the use of ‘fairness creams’ in the hope that they will magically cover up the genetic ‘flaws’. This standard has been so ingrained within our society that companies prey off this desire (or insecurity?) among women by producing products such as ‘Fair & Lovely,’ the very name of which explains everything wrong with this mind-set. Our women believe that the only way to be physically appealing is to adhere to this standard.

Almost every Pakistani girl has to face the ‘demand’ -- to live up to this image. When I returned home from my first semester at SOAS, I had, like almost every other student living abroad, gained the dreaded freshman 15. The outrage I faced from my female family members was unbelievable; I was told by all of them on multiple occasions that I absolutely HAD TO lose weight, although I was still well within the range for my age and height.

Here’s the problem with this: had I been told that I needed to lose weight in order to be healthy, that diabetes runs in my family, or that I need to be cautious and take care of myself, this outburst may have had a very different and significantly positive effect.

However, I wasn’t told this at all. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it didn’t cross anyone’s mind. I was told that I needed to lose weight so that I could look attractive to the opposite gender, while ironically I’m also told that I absolutely cannot act out on this attraction.

The contrasts evident within the Pakistani mind-set illustrate the irrational roots from which this psyche stems.

Everyone I know has either faced or is currently facing this same ‘struggle for acceptance’ within the realm of our perception of physical beauty. To this day, my friends are supremely conscious about their weights despite being exceptionally skinny. I remember my cousin being instructed to wear a whitening cream well before we both entered our O’ Level years. And, this does, of course, extend to men as well but definitely not to the same extent.

The issue is the negative effect this emphasis on ‘beauty’ has on women. What message is a mother sending to her child when she forces her to wear whitening cream every night? What effect does that have on her child’s self-image? Does this effect extend to her adulthood? And, why is it that none of the women promoting this beauty standard within their own families have considered these important questions?

The most obvious result is the insecurities that are created. As someone who has never felt insecure about her weight, I was shocked at how hurt I was by all the negative attention I was suddenly receiving since returning from college.

Insecurities exist at every age and no one is immune to them. These insecurities become especially problematic when you create them in children. This feeling of inferiority and constantly not being ‘good enough’ sticks to them until adulthood and diffuses into all aspects of their lives, even if they do eventually manage to significantly lose weight and do whatever else necessary to get them close to this standard of beauty. This leads to these women often becoming victims of paranoia and fear over their body image and letting it control their entire lives, thus limiting their freedom of choice and narrowing their perspective towards life.

Ironically, Pakistani women are adored for their natural beauty abroad. During both my trips to India, my friends and I were constantly told that. The same was the case during our school trip to Morocco where, again, the locals affirmed the beauty of Pakistani women. In America and Britain, people spend hours under the sun in order to attain a tan that we naturally possess and are often so desperate to get rid of.

If we celebrate our natural beauty and encourage confidence and self-esteem instead of self-pity, we should be making a positive stride towards the progression of our society.

An unfair demand