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How the Media’s Portrayal of Beauty Standards Can Have Negative Effects on Women

Pakistan is considered to be a multilingual and multi-ethnic country since it comprises of a diverse number of cultures, languages and ethnic communities such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashtun etc. This would mean that there is no one way to describe what a true Pakistani looks like, however our media has filtered down the ideal Pakistani woman to a set of beauty standards that prescribe upon having a light skin tone and a light body weight. This notion plays into current Pakistani traditions and norms which may have harmful effects on the women who do not live up to the standards set and may set difficult challenges ahead of them.The notion of fairness has been characterized by the media in many ways. Beauty advertisements such as Fair And Lovely promote products that offer skin lightness and characterize the concept that a girl cannot be happy in life unless she changes her skin tone. Moreover, in television channels and soap operas, the media presents beauty standards by featuring actors with light skin tone and light weight figures, and stereotyping dark skin with maliciousness. 

These negative beauty standards can create harmful effects on Pakistani women in many ways. In Pakistan, due to the centrist ideal that white skin equals to beauty, marriage proposals are mostly centered around the fairness of a girl, which greatly harms prospects for women with darker skin tones. In addition, due to the skinny figure idealized by the media it leads to fat girls being stigmatized and shamed by school peers, parents and fellow relatives in society for their figure. In schools, more girls with fat figures have been reported to being bullied by fellow school members for their weight. Recently, a documentary “Battling Body Shaming” explored the stories of 5 Pakistani women and their encounter with body shaming. A girl in this video recalled that even when she was laying down, she was told she looked so vulgar.  

Moreover, due to excessive stereotyping of the skinny figure as the ideal figure, there has been a rise in eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia among girls between the ages of 10 and 15. In 2015, Indian psychiatrists noted that in the past decade the number of women suffering from eating disorders such as Anorexia has increased by 5 times. Indian psychiatrist Rajesh Sager said that the main contributing factor was the rise of westernized media which idealizes the skinny body type. Moreover, due to sexism in Pakistan, women with darker skin tone are more likely to face stigma and exclusion in society rather than men. Regardless to jobs, education or marriage, women are crucially judged on their appearance before their academic achievements which is why they are more likely to face barriers in society and be subject to trauma and depression. 

However, despite all of this women still have the power to fight back against these harmful beauty standards by learning how to embrace their body types and skin tones. According to professor and activist Gail Dines, "If tomorrow women all over the world looked in the mirror and if they liked what they saw reflected back at them, then we would have to reshape capitalism as we know it. If you take away that self-loathing that women have, then you will see industries all over the globe go bankrupt."