Embracing Raw Beauty

By Sonya Rehman

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign is perhaps one of the most consistent and commendable efforts on the part of a multinational brand to promote raw beauty in all shapes, sizes and skin tones. There was India’s ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, too, initiated in 2009 by the NGO, ‘Women of Worth’ to counteract the country’s bias towards fair skin. The campaign gained vast media attention after a series of advertisements were released featuring actress, Nandita Das, with the slogan; “Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful.”

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However, on home turf, we have yet to tackle the perfection stereotype in local fashion and media. On the positive side, Pakistani fashion magazines (weekly and monthly) have begun to adopt a fresh take on Pakistani fashion, and, the whole social media (Twitter/Facebook/Instagram – primarily) culture has finally taken off. We never had young fashion bloggers before, but now we do. Fashion weeks in Pakistan are today’s open air gigs/plays (so popular in the 90s in Pakistan). Socialites flock events in the hopes to be snapped by photographers, only to be splashed across the pages of a local magazine a week later, making it to a ‘Best Dressed’ list.

However, through all of this, it seems as if we’ve morphed into one, massive blob of everything perfect-sparkly-fashion. Holistically, there is little originality, far more plasticity. Why hasn’t Pakistan ever launched its own real, raw beauty campaign on a big scale? Why have big brands shied away from featuring Pakistani women with curves, embracing the charming voluptuousness in our neck of the woods? Size zero is now getting thoroughly boring, as is striving for a pasty cream complexion. It’s ironic that Lollywood – since it’s initiation till the present – has continued to feature curvy actresses, never one, uniform ‘type.’ So why is local fashion not breaking out of the mould? What gives?

Mohsin Khawar
Mohsin Khawar

A few months ago, I got into a conversation with Mohsin Khawar, a well-known fashion photographer in Lahore, about the need for featuring real women in local fashion campaigns. I recall him telling me that brands weren’t interested in using every day women. “I pitched the idea to a few brands,” Khawar told me over the phone, “But they never replied. You know it’s part of the brand’s corporate social responsibility to launch campaigns like this. The cliché needs to be done with – beauty isn’t perfection. Our clients want fair models, pretty, very thin. When women see models like Nargis Fakhri, they think ‘I’ll look just like her if I wear those clothes.’”

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This month, in a bid to do our bit to break the mould – in whatever little way we can – Khawar and I teamed up for a photo-shoot that features real, curvy working women in Lahore. We had the sprightly Saba Sharjeal, who runs an online cake business (‘The Mad Chef’) via Facebook, Zahra Hameed, the Head of Events at the PR firm, Latitude, who also, just launched her own plus size label (‘ZAHA’), sharp-witted lawyers; Zainab Chughtai and Sahar Ahmed, and Anum Pasha, a Public Awareness Specialist at an international development organization.

(L-R): Saba, Anum, Zainab and Sahar.
(L-R): Saba, Anum, Zainab and Sahar.

Sharjeal told me that she only began feeling that she was ‘different’ in university. “For more than half my life I was overweight. But the problem actually began at university level when the whole rishta bakri mandi nonsense starts. What basis are we rejected on? Day after day you look at yourself in the mirror and ask what’s wrong with me? Who are we being compared to?”

“The reason why so many successful, beautiful and confident women are single is because of these shallow men and their mothers who compare us to model-like women the men and their mothers see in the media,” Sharjeal states.

For Ahmed, the models featured in local lawn advertisements don’t feature “the actual women who buy [the] suits in droves.”

Our 'real' models!
Our ‘real’ models

“I have seen ‘fashionistas’ quote Kate Moss’ ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ far too often, not realizing that we can never look like her – at least not most of us,” she says, “I can lose as much weight as possible but I will never lose my inherently Punjabi hips and it is high time that I be able to walk in to stores of leading designers and not feel embarrassed when they say they don’t make trousers in my size (a perfectly normal ‘un-obese’ size that just happens to not lie between 0-6)!”

For Khawar, sitting right in the heart of the business of fashion in the country, the stereotype can be broken if one leading name initiates a campaign. That’s when other brands will follow pursuit. “I think there will be a saturation point soon,” states Khawar, “Personally; I felt it was my duty to make this statement now. I was pleasantly surprised with how confident the girls we chose for this shoot were infront of the camera. It was promising. I’m certain other girls will relate to them.”

saba sharjeal - left - and zainab chughtai on the right
(L-R) Saba and Zainab.
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(L-R) Zahra and Anum. “Every woman’s body is different and magnificent in its own right and deserves to be appreciated…we should embrace nature and nurture it. It may be fashionable to be size zero, but curves are all about cultivating a sense of personal style and being proud of who you are.” – Zahra Hameed. “I remember growing up as a tall girl, and always being conscious of my height in school. I also grew up being slightly overweight, and have had to deal with weight management off and on. However, with time one learns to love their body, embrace it and focus on healthy weight management. Things have changed for me completely so much so that I’m super confident about my 5 feet 10 inches height and also get appreciated for it, even here in Pakistan! We have to let go off the photo-shopped images of the female body, get rid of the crash diets and unhealthy eating habits. We are already neck deep in the competition of looking like those undernourished, hollow-cheeked people in the magazines; that is NOT hot!” – Anum Pasha
“Our women need to realise that the photoshopped limbs and bleached white complexions plastered over fashion rags are not, and never should be considered bench marks of beauty. I hate the notion of ‘body shaming,’ regardless of your body type, the colour of your skin, your height, your weight- it is your body, your choices, your business. I want women to embrace their dark skins and shun every fairness cream advert telling them they’re not beautiful, I want them to revel in their curves, I want them to learn to love themselves, and I believe our industry needs to shift it’s focus on catering to these ‘real women,’ to bring this ideal of beauty into the mainstream.” - Zainab Chughtai
“Our women need to realise that the photoshopped limbs and bleached white complexions plastered over fashion rags are not, and never should be considered bench marks of beauty. I hate the notion of ‘body shaming,’ regardless of your body type, the colour of your skin, your height, your weight- it is your body, your choices, your business. I want women to embrace their dark skins and shun every fairness cream advert telling them they’re not beautiful, I want them to revel in their curves, I want them to learn to love themselves, and I believe our industry needs to shift it’s focus on catering to these ‘real women,’ to bring this ideal of beauty into the mainstream.” – Zainab Chughtai

 

Paperazzi, Pakistan Today

Photography: Mohsin Khawar – Hair/Makeup: Shoaib Khan (at Mohsin Khawar Photogaphy) – Styling/Coordination: Ayesha Mohsin Khawar – Set: Mishal Aleem

 

 

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. ywwp says:

    good to read it… nice post

  2. anum says:

    Excellent article!

  3. Maham Sajid says:

    Loved every bit of it. Brilliant.

  4. skinnychino says:

    FAT IS NOT BEAUTIFUL! i’m sorry! it is just a concept plus size people want to spread to gain acceptance. Has it quite worked anywhere in the world? As hard as they tried, you still see gorgeous skinny models walking the ramp and appearing on magazine covers. How can u expect it to work in Pakistan where acceptance is already so low and people are so freakin materialistic! I would suggest these intelligent ladies should focus on their work rather than trying to get praise for their curves from the society. It is more important to be amart than pretty.

  5. Dynamiteprawns says:

    Dear skinny chino, I pity you. I pity you because you’ve been brainwashed into such a limited sense of appreciating beauty, of subscribing to whatever mass media hypes and feeds to “sheep mentalities” without taking time out garnering as an aesthetic sense on your own terms. In fact, thank you for sharing your opinion! It is exactly what people needed to see- the regressive mindset prevalent. It is people like you, people who are “materialistic” and so averse to change that will hopefully see the light one day. Till then, kudos to these initiatives, kudos to these intelligent, beautiful, REAL working women who are appreciated and successful regardless of your acerbic opinions.

  6. skinnychino says:

    dear dynamiteprawns (I get from your name that you are a food lover :)), if you want to get personal , I pity you for being so delusional, and wasting your time and brains on this initiative which is not helping anyone. My point is, if intelligent women, like your models, put their brains together and help the country achieve something, that would be a much better use of their abilities, than trying to tell the world that their curves are beautiful.
    If they are able to really achieve something, who gives a damn whether they are fat or skinny, dark or fair!

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