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.”
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?
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.’”
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.
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.”
“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.”
Paperazzi, Pakistan Today
Photography: Mohsin Khawar – Hair/Makeup: Shoaib Khan (at Mohsin Khawar Photogaphy) – Styling/Coordination: Ayesha Mohsin Khawar – Set: Mishal Aleem