Ms. Marvel not the only Pakistani superheroine
“You’re so beautiful for a Pakistani woman.”
This backhanded remark is quickly followed by a qualifier that compliments me at the expense of my race. This frequent and offensive compliment summarizes the true progress we’ve made while happily celebrating International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, which tend to create narratives that do not represent every woman in this country.
I won the genetic lottery, and I have grown to realize that many aspects of my life have been contingent on this roll of the dice of my genes.
My skin tone, while only a few shades lighter than the norm, was praised and envied by women in my community. As a child, recommendations to not let me become darker in the sun and assurances that I would have it easier in life were bewildering sentiments. I realize now that I was just another strategy to demean and degrade girls with skin darker than mine.
Pakistani women look at our media and an unfortunate truth is reflected. The far-reaching effects and generational implications of colonization have left us prone to finding beauty in the most Western features.
Beauty is defined by colored eyes, pallid skin, light hair and small noses. Campaigns like #UnfairAndLovely and Dark is Divine seek to disrupt this backwards mentality of treating darker skin like something that needs to be fixed.
Bleaching creams contain dangerous chemicals, such as hydroquinone, that can lead to skin cancer and other conditions. These warnings do little to disinterest their users when something as valuable as lighter skin is on the line. Colorism has permeated our culture so deeply that girls have convinced themselves thoroughly that they don’t check the necessary qualifications for beauty.
Representation is an issue in every minority community in America.
This inherited colonizer culture pushes for straightened hair and bleached skin, for us to define ourselves by the things we are not. The real emphasis falls on the ease with which we assimilate; the ease with which we transform our ancestry to an accessory, adorned when convenient, discarded when a burden.
The culture of arranged marriage puts so much emphasis on appearances that women feel pressured to make beauty their defining feature.
This generation has strayed from such superficial behavior, but the culture still persists in pockets of society.
Being a woman is difficult enough with the presence of the wage gap, rape culture and institutionalized sexism. Women don’t need to be encouraged to hate ourselves any more, especially for something as uncontrollable as skin color.
The women of Pakistan are strong enough to carry households on their backs. They are courageous enough to fight for their rights to education like Malala Yousafzai, the Noble Peace Prize winner who would rather take a bullet to the head than lose her chance at an education.
The women of Pakistan are compassionate enough to start foundations for the betterment of all women like Ghulam Sughra Solangi, winner of the 2011 International Women of Courage Award, and push for literacy and equality with countless initiatives.
The women of Pakistan are clever enough to rise to political power like Benazir Bhutto, the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim-majority nation who survived threats and ruthless coups against her family for being a woman.
They are heroic enough to encourage young Pakistani women to strive for more than their stereotypes, like fictional Marvel superhero Ms. Marvel, a Muslim and Pakistani teenage hero who fights for equality and representation.
These attributes and examples support the potential we have when we are not preoccupied by disparaging ourselves to appease our media and colonizer’s culture. We will flourish when we realize our gender is our greatest asset and supporting each other is the only route to growth.
There is an intelligence and patience and kindness and compassion that is inherited from one generation to the next and too precious to be lost to assimilation. From fighting the government for the right to vote in 1956 to fighting a village for the liberty to exercise that constitutional right in 2015, progress is slow but prevalent.
So no, I am not beautiful for a Pakistani woman. I am beautiful because I am a Pakistani woman.
Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected]