|A Pakistani advertisement for a fairness cream|
In the two years that I have been in Islamabad I have figured that there is no escaping the beautiful portly women who run beauty salons, boutiques and fitness centres.
Last week I was handed a “pink slip”, perhaps for the twentieth time in twenty months, by yet another woman who promised the moon to me at her salon, even though I have no desire of being there just yet.
I flashed my make up-less smile at my savior, my liberator, my nurturer trying to tell her that she was wasting her beautiful pink visiting card on me. But my savior persisted. “I’ll give you a 15 per cent discount!” I gave up and let her indulge me.
She quickly checked me out disapproving of everything that she saw of me. “You need to colour your hair,” she announced. “It’s important to look glamourous. Otherwise your husband will eye other women.”
I smiled at the thought of my husband with four wives. Poor him, I said to myself. Imagine how my un-coloured hair could change his fate.
“But my husband hates coloured hair,” I argued. “Wait till he sees the colouring,” she gleamed.
My saviour also advised me that I should not neglect my feet and hands and should keep my nails painted at all times. “You should take care of what God has given you,” she said. But isn’t painting nails un-Islamic? I teased her. She told me a fresh coat could be applied after performing ablutions. Five times a day? I rechecked. “It just takes a couple of minutes,” she retorted.
Before parting she told me the economics of a minor makeover – just about the same as I would spend on four paperbacks. “This is expensive!” I told her. “You have a lot at stake too,” pat came the reply.
On stake is my marriage – never mind that my husband prefers my make-up less natural, un-coloured hair look. I am sure there are many others like him too.
This, of course, wasn’t my first encounter with “evil” influences. I have had other rich wives of the famous go into the whys and hows of being “tip-top”. The arguments, which sound like folklore, unfortunately run through our subcontinent. Almost always the bottomline is: the going is good for women who look good and who dress good.
I dread to think about how many nice and normal women fall for this trap. It’s so easy to make women insecure and waste resources, including precious time, at these salons – little realizing that hair colour cannot change the DNA of a man who is looking for a fling, an affair, or another wife.
If beauty salon owners weren’t enough to ruin my stay in Islamabad, I’ve had women cornering me on another equally dreadful query: where do you shop for clothes? Before I can even attempt an answer they vomit a list of places to shop at. I politely nod my head and try and look guilty when I hear the “Oh! You haven’t been there? Oh! You’ve never heard of that?”
I also bump into wannabe designers who dismiss my sartorial sense with practiced ease. “This is out,” a fashion-savvy wife told me recently. How can I wear a short trouser when it is un-Islamic? I poked her back. “You can always change when you have to pray,” she suggested. The Taliban may come and get me, I joked. “It’s fashion. Everyone wears it,” she snapped.
She even offered to accompany me on my next shopping trip and help me find the right clothes. Thankfully I have not bumped into her since.
Though I am yet to be personally counselled by women who run fitness centres, I have heard of others being warned to get back into shape to keep their husbands from straying like tomcats. I know women who have somehow managed to squeeze in an hour at a gym, missing out on precious family time, to keep their skins aglow and their husbands at home...