Upon visiting Pakistan for the second time in my life, it was not difficult to see that Pakistanis are in love with colour. From the vibrant threads that adorn everything from us humans, to our animals, from architecture to jewellery, spices to textiles, even our food is colourful. Not to mention the immense and varied natural colours this land has been blessed with. It is clear that Pakistan is a dense, complex and unbelievably colourful tapestry. Owing to the political situation and media coverage, the blue of the burka, sandy khakis of military uniform and the dark crimson of blood are among the first hues to spring to mind for many who do not live there, but on my arrival last month, I was greeted instead with the hot pink of bougainvailleas, shalwar kamees' in every colour of the rainbow, and fruit carts brimming with mangoes the colour of the sun. Despite being on the brink of civil war and being burdened with immense poverty, the people of this country are resilient, resourceful, creative and I'll say it again, absolutely addicted to colour.
As a result, it seems exceptionally ironic and bizarre, that this piece on Pakistanis and colour is not a celebratory one. Our love and appreciation for diversity of shade applies to every aspect of life, bar one. And with this one aspect, we see not just the absence of love, rather, it is hatred. During my trip, I was overwhelmed by the incessant obsession with skin colour in Pakistan. With the need to have white skin.
This signs of this mental epidemic are plastered unashamedly across every billboard, woven in amongst the sounds of the sitar and drum in every Bollywood song, and are injected, mixed and measured into jars and syringes in every salon in the country. I was constantly scolded for sitting in the sun, not because of potential skin damage, but because a tan is regarded somewhat akin to contracting the plague. I met people who regularly bleach their skin with dangerous chemicals in desperation to lighten it, fuelling the demand for black market concoctions being pumped out to satisfy this frantic desperation. The most recent development in this booming industry is an injection, which apparently whitens the complexion, and happens to be carcinogenic.
One 18 yr old girl, currently at University told me;
'My skin colour is the first thing i think of when I wake up in the morning, we work on it every day. I'm coming up to marriage age and so I need to be fair, its more attractive for everyone, or I won't get a good match.'
I met others who admitted to having developed depression as a result of these societal pressures built upon the concentration of chemicals in their skin. I was seriously saddened and infuriated at what I heard, but on second examination of the diligently toxic media and beauty industry outputs and the cultural shackles present, it was hardly a revelation. When a girl is born into a world where desirability is equated to the level of melanin in her body, where goodness and beauty and general human worth are directly proportional to the whiteness of your skin and subsequent marriageability, it is little wonder that she will tolerate life threatening side effects from creams and potions in order to validate her existence. Growing up in a land that is disunited in political and religious ideology but is utterly homogenous in its worship of whiteness, is it surprising that young girls fall prey to this crowning of patriarchal oppression?
To thoroughly dissect the historical ironies and moral profanation that this country is enslaved to through these Hitler-esque ideals would require days, but simply, the basis on which the worship of fairness is built stems from historical inequality. Be it from the association of dark skin with poverty and long hours of working in the sun, or a post colonial psychology in which power and superiority is synonymous with the light skin of the British Raj, it is tragic and sickening that thousands are self propagating a psyche that Nazi's are known for. This naturally leads us into more serious territory than many of the fleeting aesthetic trends we are used to seeing come and go in the beauty world.
This phenomenon is sadly not unique to Pakistan. This vitriol is poisoning people worldwide, physically and mentally. Something must be done to heal the age old scarring to basic self esteem and respect, to de-colonise our minds.
If one day I am blessed with a child, I will teach them that there is unique inherent beauty in every single skin colour. That beauty is not confined to complexion, just as their worth is never confined to their physicalities, nor their race or gender.