Not too long ago, a well meaning woman came up to me, fervently elbowing her way through a throng of wedding guests. She planted herself in front of me, all 4 feet 9 inches draped in shiny purple chiffon, and said,
“Beta, what happened to you? Last time I saw you, you looked so pretty. Have you been sick? Have you started eating a lot? Stressed out, huh?”
I didn’t get it right away. Nodding emphatically, she continued,
“I mean the taaaan na, beta. You used to be so gori (fair), what have you done? Does your mother let you go out into the sun aiween (carelessly)?!”
“Aunty, I live in Qatar. It’s a desert. It gets sunny,” I offered helpfully.
“There is no excuse for a pretty girl like you to get tanned. You need to get married one day, don’t you? Who will fall in love with you if you have this kaali (black/brown) complexion? You need to think about it,” she warned.
I smiled politely as I’d been taught to do in reply to nosy ridiculous questions, and was about to walk away when she said,
“Oh and one more thing. I understand that college studies are stressful, but there’s no reason to gain so much weight around that area na. It’s vulgar.”
This was said with not-so-subtle glances at my chest. Now this was too much. I had splurged on this gorgeous blue and black push up bra the week before and had practically planned my outfit around it.To me, sporting curves was a sign of my femininity, and hey, I liked when my clothes fit in just the right places.
“You need to be skinny beta. Boys will not like all this chest business. They like the patli (skinny) ones, so no need to be vulgar,” she declared.
“Oh and one more thing. I hear about all these modern girls doing silly exercises. Squats I think. You don’t do it okay? You already have a peechay wali (behind) that you need to get rid of. Remember: boys will not like all this sticking out business.”
She walked away, swinging her own huge and very sticking-out rear end from side to side. Like an elephant butt draped in purple.
I had no words. Of course this had happened before. I’d seen girls with birthmarks being verbally flayed alive by these women. Girls with acne. Girls with short legs. Girls with long legs. Girls with teeth that were too white. Girls who wore heels and girls who did not.
In a lot of ways, when a girl gets married in Pakistan, or at least the part where I’m from, she marries the whole society of women who surround the boy. The aunties pick her out, not the boy himself, poor thing. And girls diet, girls get skinny, girls deliberately lose their curves, mess about with whitening creams and expensive facials, to be the ideals for these women.
Aunties don’t like our butts, they don’t like our boobs, and they don’t like our blemishes. A well endowed girl is vulgar, a well made up one is a slut, and tanned girls have no marriageable prospects.
Aunties, check yourselves before you wreck yourselves (and us).