Whittle Me Pretty!

By Sonya Rehman

Walk into any bookstore and the first thing to catch your eye would most probably be the display rack of thick, glossy, glamour magazines.

So you pick one up and skim through it, soaking in its fun, trashy content. And then you come across a series of photo shoots, some of which are brilliantly executed. But then you furrow your brow and bite your lip, tilting your head a little for further inspection. What’s probably caught your eye is the model being featured in the spreads for a designer’s new collection. ‘She’s actually quite dark in real life’, you’d murmur, ruminating, ‘but here her skin looks as white and as smooth as alabaster.’

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chances are the model’s anatomy would be airbrushed to high heavens – so much so that she looks almost unrecognizable, and then at second glance you’ll acknowledge: ‘oh yeah, wait a minute that’s…her’?!


Airbrushing magazine covers and photoshoots have been done for decades, and sadly this ‘obsession’ for ‘perfection’ has wound up giving women just one cold, dark message: that no matter what you do, you’ll always be physically unfit and unworthy.

International magazines such as ‘Vogue’, ‘Sixteen’, ‘GQ’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and others have for years resorted to pinching waists, tucking lumps, elongating legs, enlarging eyes, and reducing size – and unfortunately Pakistani fashion publications, seem to have too, jumped this horrendously plastic, look-ma-I’m-perfect, bandwagon.
Today, if you ask any model and/or ‘celebrity’: “Bibijee, aap ki khoosurati ka kya raaz hay”? You can almost expect them to flutter their lashes, chuckle and say: “Photoshop, aur kya?”

“Airbrushing in Pakistan happens to a large extent most definitely”, Rizwan (of Deeves) states. “But Pakistani models in general are very skinny so such severe airbrushing isn’t really required. The only time we may have to resort to airbrushing is probably when it comes to our local film stars. Look at our models such as Neha and Misha – they don’t need to be cut…but it still happens, both locally and internationally where the models will have smaller jaw lines and waists. Of course it makes women insecure about their looks, but at Deeves we only touch-up a model’s face by enhancing it and that’s it – in foreign magazines you can actually see the model’s skin pores on the front cover, but here in Pakistan, the model’s skin looks so unblemished and so doll-like”, Rizwan enunciates with a tinge of disgust before proceeding, “that the skin texture is totally absent”.


Just the other day, I came across an edition of ‘Elle’ which featured such a thoroughly emaciated Kelly Clarkson in a plum-coloured drape dress, that I felt myself being reduced to Edvard Munch’s human version of ‘The Scream’.  “Buss karo, buss karo!”, I imagined the buxom Clarkson to be yelling as the graphic artist clicked away on his mouse and sliced off her square jaw, and nipped her healthy waist down to a painful 24.

“The airbrush was a diabolical invention. I’ll look at a photo and say, ‘God, I wish I still looked like that.’ Then I realize, ‘Oh, I never did.’ I long to see actresses as they really are, with wrinkles and blemishes”, American actress, Kate Beckinsale, had stated candidly in an interview.

While some of us are ‘evolved’ enough to mentally toss aside pinching insecurities – after a quick flip-through of a fashion spread – and rationalize within, a majority of the rest of us will eventually wind up being afflicted by the super perfect models, women and celebrities that we see in these very rag-mags.
But are these supermodels really all that ‘super’? Superbly-photoshopped rather!



“Airbrushing distorts the way beauty is perceived”, styling and make-up virtuoso Tariq Amin states, “I absolutely hate Photoshop and I’m just not interested in that type of ‘photography’. Airbrushing is a complete misinterpretation of reality and a social injustice because it creates terribly poor self-esteem for young girls. Look, I’ve always been a naturalist when it comes to my work – but elongating necks, plumping mouths and sculpting the body…good heavens it just doesn’t stop! This concept of ‘beauty’ is totally cosmetic – I mean these days, you actually have local stylists suggesting botox and nose jobs! I know of many young models that’ve been approached by XYZ suggesting lipo injections in the face…it’s all so demoralizing for young girls.”

“There are two types of photographers”, Aamminah Haq – one of the country’s most well-recognized and unconventional models – says; “one is a graphic artist who uses the photograph as a canvas, and the other photographer is the one who is not going to make his/her captured image make me look like I have a 14-inch waist. Ten years ago, the photographers in Pakistan worked on transparencies, there was no levy for correction…but now I believe there are many photographers who use their captured images as canvases. International magazines will depict things such as Madonna on the cover of ‘Cosmopolitan’ with enhanced cheekbones, stretched eyes and a heavier chest – and in comparison to the way things are airbrushed abroad, locally, we’re like a teddy bear’s picnic! For a decade I was told that I had to compete with girls aged 16, all of whom had tiny waists and twig-like arms. But now my theory is: I don’t want to be anorexic. I want to be athletic. I get depressed when I see magazines like ‘Vogue’ and sure it makes me feel bad about my image, but I would prefer looking fit and healthy at 50, rather than looking like last night’s leftovers!”

Is fashion really all about deception, lies and Photoshop? What’s scary about this whole airbrushing trend is that from a sociological perspective, it resorts in a pattern of deeply embedded discontented thought, which makes individuals – both men and women- unhappy with anything that they perceive to be less than ‘perfect’.

It’s this whole vicious cycle of: ‘But I’m not good enough, I simply don’t feel physically appealing enough’, that results in the gradual breakdown of a person’s self-worth, in addition to high expectations (regarding one’s physical appearance and that of others), along with judging each other simply on the basis of the exterior make-up. And that’s what is truly disturbing.

Instep, The News

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