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  • Myra S.

What Do Pakistani Women Look Like?

I’ve been struggling to find the right words to share my thoughts on an experience that has been weighing on my mind for quite some time. It’s about time I finally speak up. I hope that I can do it as clearly and compassionately as possible.

I’m sure that many of you have noticed the increased dialogue lately, regarding cultural appropriation and sensitivity. As a WOC and as someone who considers herself dedicated to working on addressing and healing collective and individual trauma, this is a topic that I feel very passionately about and it triggers something inside of me.

I have so much to say… but for now I’m going to focus on one specific issue, regarding a compliment that I’ve heard many times throughout my life. The compliment usually starts in the form of a question asked by a well-intentioned stranger:

“Where are you from?”, or “what’s your ethnicity?”

When I reveal that my parents are from Pakistan, there is usually surprise and a statement like “wow, I would’ve never guessed… you’re so pretty!”, or something along those lines. Interestingly, this is a compliment I’ve received from almost all different races and ethnicities. While I know that the compliment was coming from a kind place and is flattering to a certain degree, I can’t help but also feel a bit uneasy about the unspoken implications that it carries.

Why is it so surprising that women from Pakistan can be pretty / gorgeous / beautiful?

When it comes to my response though, I’ve always known that I had a choice.

On one hand - I may feel justified to be offended by the back-handed compliment, and get angry. I may choose to assume negative intent, and feel that the “compliment” was actually an insult to all Pakistani women.

On the other hand - I can do what I’ve always done. I can choose to recognize ignorance intermingled with their kind but misguided intention, take the compliment and say thank you, then just let it go.

This latter approach has been the easiest and least confrontational for me, so that was my default… but I’m starting to realize that perhaps neither one of those response choices are actually doing anything to dispel the ignorance and resolve the deeper underlying issue.

All people have certain misperceptions.

Whether it’s because of hidden political agendas and media propaganda, broad assumptions by extrapolation from isolated incidences (ex: all Muslims are terrorists because of 9/11, all cops are pigs because of police brutality, etc.), or just a sheer lack of information and exposure- none of us are immune to ignorance and judgement.

My realization is this:

We do not have to limit ourselves to either confrontation or passivity.

We have the power to choose something above it… it may be a radical suggestion, but please bear with me.

When faced with an offensive or culturally insensitive situation -

What if WE decided to chose compassion, forgiveness and humility - instead of anger, resentment and blame?

What if WE chose to educate others through sharing our own stories and our lived experiences?

And then, what if WE were willing to open our minds and our hearts, and allowed ourselves to be educated in return?

At last night’s event and in her latest book, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown says “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

By becoming angry, or by choosing not to communicate my feelings for whatever reason, I realize that I am unintentionally being unkind. All that does is add to the collective trauma, which all of us are effected by… and so, the only way I can stop my own suffering is by refusing to be apathetic to the suffering and trauma of others.

That is why I am inspired to communicate my feelings as clearly and effectively as possible, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. We have all suffered long enough.

So here it is - loud and clear:

ALL women are beautiful. Don’t assume that you know someone’s ethnicity, race or country of origin just by the way they look. And don’t assume the most negative intentions, when you hear or see something that triggers you, offends you or rubs you the wrong way.

Communicate with kindness and be humble.

I write this with love, as a tribute to all of the Pakistani women I didn’t speak up for in the past.

And I write this with love, for all of the people who didn’t know:

The women pictured below are my family and friends. The first picture is my mom. This is a just small glimpse of what some Pakistani and Indian women look like.

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