Fairest of ’em all? Is lookism also a problem in Islam?

Pakistan has the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia. Islam is the official religion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.This means many women cover their faces partly or fully in public. 

Lookism in Pakistan?

In light of these figures,  a lot of women probably wear veils in Pakistan. Thus, it’s amazing that lookism is a problem in this Islamic country,  just as it is in the West. While I’ve not delved into all the whys and wherefores of “veiling” women’s faces, I do know that covering faces and bodies is thought to be a way to minimize attracting unwanted mail attention. And so one would think that few people in Pakistan would be familiar with enough faces to be able to generalize about looksim. 

 Because of important language and cultural nuances, I’m reproducing verbatim an article from The Express Tribune about lookism:

“Think about this: at the workplace, do people open doors for you more than your other counterparts who are plainer Janes? Does your boss make you stay in his room a wee bit longer for a work-related tete-a-tete, not because he or she is necessarily lecherous, but because you just bring a certain light to the room? More importantly, did you being a looker have a little bit to do with you getting the job more easily?

Good looks do make life simpler and popularity easier. Undeniably, cricketer Shahid Afridi and cricketer-politician Imran Khan have more than good looks to their credit. However, the fact remains that Afridi’s TV endorsements and Khan’s female vote bank do have something to do with their looks. Our hearts went out to Princess Diana but never Duchess Camilla Parker Bowles. Is that just because Diana was (undoubtedly) a good human being, or did Diana’s being stunning have something to do with being the people’s princess? Why do women who, at the hands of some callous remark of a man in their lives, feel less than beautiful and struggle with self-esteem issues decades later?

Good looks come in handy especially in the service industry, and by that I don’t just mean models or airhostesses, but even bankers and other professions pertaining to public relations. Even the girl who collects parking fees at Jinnah International Airport should be presentable, as should my maid. My point, however, is: where, then, do the non-lookers go and what do they go through?

Move over, racism. The latest kind of discrimination is here; it has always existed, but now they actually have a term for it — lookism.

Our inherent adoration of beauty is not a problem that should be blamed on society; it is our problem as a species. Some of us are, by no merit of our own, what American educator and activist Warren Farrell describes as “genetic celebrities”. This preferential treatment was once limited to the rishta bazaar, but with more women venturing into the workplace realm, this “body fascism” enters the work place too. Beautiful people have one less barrier at the workplace when it comes to success.

This does translate into a discrimination of sorts and many of us end up being discriminatory without even realising it. People guilty of this kind of discrimination may generally be socially aware and ethically correct. Yet, they end up doing things that may dampen someone’s prospects and shatter someone’s confidence — someone who falls short of the typical social notions of beauty.

How many times have you whispered “poor her, she’s ugly as hell” or “I don’t really blame her husband for his infidelity. I mean firstly, she’s tacky and secondly, she has horrible skin and bad teeth” to your attractive colleague as someone leaves the room. This doesn’t just stay limited to gossip. The ugly truth is that a better looking candidate may have secured a job instead of an equally or more qualified candidate with weight issues or severe acne.

In a so-called civilised society, even people who always stand up for the underdog and detest marginalisation on the basis of race or creed, end up discriminating on the basis of physical appearances. It is common that an obese person or a woman with unkempt hair may not get an opportunity in which her work involves socialising and networking. The discrimination, while mostly women-centric, can at times affect men too. Not only did Snow White have to be the fairest, the prince also had to be unarguably handsome.

It is natural to be attracted to all things beautiful. But at the workplace, in particular, impartiality is not a favour; it is a responsibility.”

So what to make of this?

I’ll bring to bear a few more facts and considerations in my next blog post before answering the question ‘Is lookism also a problem in Islam?’



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