Does a model have to have long locks to be able to do her job? Not at all. But then this is Pakistan we’re talking about; the idea of beauty here is more conventional than not. Case in point: our obsession with fair skin, long hair, unrealistically skinny bodies and so much more.
Earlier this year, a local model took a brave step and cut her hair to a short almost boy-cut style. Saheefa Jabbar Khattak not only made this bold move but also carried it with the right attitude. She simply did not care if her fans hated it or if brands cancelled their campaigns with her. Saheefa faced all criticism bravely until yesterday, when she felt the cyber bullying had gone too far.
The model then went live from her Facebook profile, talking about the mean comments her recent photo-shoot had received. In an emotional state, Saheefa read and retorted to the ridiculous comments that called her names and ridiculed her for having a strong personal style. The model went on to appeal to the public to broaden their horizons.
“Cutting my hair doesn’t make me a bad person, a bad Muslim, or make me unsuitable for marriage…” Saheefa says in her video.
We got in touch with the model, who told us how everybody in the fashion industry loved her look and praised her, but at the same time those people weren’t giving her any work.
“The encouragement didn’t give me a job; I was home for 3-4 months. I got appreciation yes and while it didn’t help my career I was still okay and happy.”
Saheefa actually resigned from a brand she had closely been working with because she was getting a hard time after her haircut, but the lack of modeling stints was just the beginning of some bizarre events. Saheefa revealed how, in the past few months, she was mistaken as a boy at the airport quite a bit, during the immigration process and otherwise.
“The personnel there would tell me to go through the security check post for men; they stopped me from entering the ladies washroom. I initially laughed it off but what I noticed was that the men in these public places would stop me by holding on to my arm or touching me and that wasn’t just confusion on their part, it was harassment.”
One wondered what finally convinced the model to go public with her sentiments and make the video, since she cut her hair a few months ago and has been receiving backlash ever since. Saheefa told us that she regularly reads the comments on her photo-shoots that brands upload, even though 80 per cent are negative, for feedback. This time, for a recent shoot it was one particular comment that triggered everything.
“The comments under the photographs were so bad; they had commented that I look gay, I look like a transgender and what not. The most painful one was from a lady, who later messaged me and even deleted her comments, saying ‘she posed very masculinely and she is a bad vibe to our younger generation’. I was deeply hurt. What our leaders are doing doesn’t influence the younger generation, the cable channels that show Sheila ki jawani don’t influence the younger generation, but they are influenced by me and my hair even though I’m completely clothed and covered. Our younger generations shouldn’t even be on social media!” Saheefa exclaimed.
The model went on to highlight the importance of education and creativity in local households. Saheefa told us that since a young age her parents raised her as an equal to any man, giving her independence and responsibilities in her life.
“When I was in 8th grade I came home and told my father about some boys who were harassing me at school. He told me I couldn’t get scared and needed to kick them between their legs! But even my dad is scared now. He asked me why I had made this video and what I would do if someone stopped me at a traffic signal and did something to me…but I can’t stay quiet now.”
Though it is an extreme example, Saheefa referred to Qandeel Baloch in her video, reminding us it was the comments on social media that eventually led to her murder, on the hands of her brother. Saheefa’s incident may be forgotten in a few days but it raises an important question that should be addressed: while gender and beauty concepts remain severely stereotyped, what is the price a public figure has to pay for showcasing individuality?
This article was first published in Instep on Wednesday, August 23rd.