When I was growing up, I was always told not to discuss religion and politics in company so as to avoid awkward or heated conversations. I’m beginning to think that weight should be put in that ‘no discussion’ zone as well.
Until recently by the standards of the entertainment world, I was considered to be quite ‘chubby’. There have been many occasions where I was reduced to tears by the cruelty of people, especially journalists, and their comments about my weight. About two and a half years ago, I finally decided to do something about my ‘weight issue’.
Two months of dieting and rigorous exercise later, I was lighter by more than 30 pounds. I thought finally people would stop commenting on my weight. I was dreadfully wrong. From bulimia to liposuction, social media had a field day speculating about how I had mysteriously become thinner. Previously the same people who used to look at me with great concern and tell me I needed to lose weight. Now look at me with great concern and tell me that I’ve become ‘too thin’.
As a person who lives part of her life on screen and in full view of the public, I have little choice but to live with a constant public commentary on my life. But seriously, have we all run out of things to talk about altogether?
To be clear this is not just an issue for public figures. Every woman lives in dread of gaining a few pounds and being savaged for ‘letting herself go’. Does no one realize how unnecessary, personal and tacky such comments are? And, by the way, studies have proven that men are just as sensitive about this topic!
The funny thing is that our culture certainly wasn’t this way earlier. Many of our earlier movie stars were not even slim, let alone scrawny. If anything, some women never made it in the movie business because they were too thin.
Before the age of cinema, the situation in the West used to be the same. Take a look at any painting by Peter Paul Ruben (from where we get the adjective ‘Rubenesque’). His artwork features very beautiful, very full-figured women who are clearly quite comfortable in their own skin. But none of them would ever be asked to work as a model today.
If anything, we have the internet and globalization to thank for, for our new Pakistani vision of the perfect woman, the size-zero dutiful bahu. Rishta aunties used to focus on the skin tone of prospective brides. Now they also want to know about the girl’s diet and body mass index. It’s SICK!
This current female fantasy is driven by exposure to runway models and magazine shoots. Everybody wants to look like a supermodel. And while that is difficult enough, it is even more difficult for the models and actresses themselves. As we all know, the camera adds 10 pounds to your looks. To look normal onscreen, one has to be skinny. And to look fashionably thin, one must be emaciated.
The media’s vision of beauty is not just a minor issue. Millions of Pakistani women look to the media for affirmation and role models. What many of them find now is an unattainable ideal, one which destroys their self-esteem and makes them miserable.
Between the internet, cinemas and fashion magazines, Pakistani women are under increasing pressure to look like Parisian ramp girls. But looking like a living clothes hanger is difficult even for Parisian models. What that means is that if you are not naturally blessed with the perfect body, it is always going to be highly impractical to maintain a fashionably thin silhouette, and in many cases, just not possible.
One additional complication is that while Pakistan’s media might have become Westernised, Pakistan’s diet has not changed. The same social media, which celebrates the stick figure fashion model, also publishes odes to nihari and haleem.
I don’t have an answer to all of these problems. All I’m saying is that our relationship to food and weight issues is becoming dysfunctional, just like that of Western women, and that we need to sort ourselves out now.