It’s a Breast, Not a Bomb
It is what makes the Pakistani Twitter-sphere explode (and not in a good way) when Veena’s nude image appears on a magazine cover, or when she stars in a music video wearing a bra lit like a Christmas tree. It is what causes angry Egyptians to assault Aliaa Mahdy for posting a naked picture of herself on her blog. It is what makes the Iranian government ban Golshifteh Farahani from returning home because of her nude photoshoot for a French magazine.
It’s not just about conservative values, or religious laws. There’s just something so awfully disgusting, deplorable and distressing about the female anatomy that it makes us want to scratch our eyes out. It leaves us traumatized, ashamed. A world fraught with criminals, terrorists, embezzlers, swindlers and plain destructive assholes, all comes to a grinding halt at the sight of a woman’s nipple and says, “Whoa! Hold it right there!”
As a rationalist and a psychiatrist, such behaviour has always intrigued me. What is it about skin exposure that drives society up the wall? Here are some common concerns I’ve come across talking to different Pakistanis online.
1) Veena is a bad influence on women!
Worst case scenario, Veena influences all Pakistani women to start wearing shorts and posing nude. Then what? Everybody contracts small-pox and dies?
Frankly, I’m yet to find a hijab-clad Muslim woman who says, “Now that Veena has started dressing provocatively in Bollywood music videos, I’m going to rip off my hijab and start parading the streets in my undies!” No, I think the statement made by Veena, if any, is that a woman should be free to do whatever she wants and wear whatever she likes. Those of us who are conservative and “pious” will continue to remain so regardless of what Veena does or doesn’t do.
2) Veena is an embarassment for Pakistan!
Yeah, that and the fact that Osama bin Laden was found living next door to a military academy in Abottabad, and that almost every terrorist activity in the world can be traced back to Pakistan these days. But I’m sure that in the midst of all the cross-border terrorism, religious extremism, corruption, injustice, xenophobia and intolerance, it is Veena’s glow-in-the-dark bra that has sunk this country’s good name.
Veena did nothing that models around the world from Hollywood to Bollywood, do not normally do. Besides, the rest of the world doesn’t normally shit a brick about nudity like we do. Skin exposure never really killed anyone.
3. How would you feel if your mother or sister acted like this?
A common, puerile argument. Reminds me of the time my annoying neighbour banged on my door and yelled, “Your dog growls at all those who pass by your house! Can’t you control it?”
My mother and sister aren’t my dogs. They are free individuals. I don’t march into their closets with an ink pad and stamp “APPROVED” or “REJECTED” on their dresses. They dress themselves. At most, I may express my disapproval with their choices, but at the end, they do what they want to do and I just have to make my peace with it.
A civilized man cannot control what the women in his family do, not by coercion at least. Maybe this is not the norm in homes of the more “honourable” Pakistani men who believe that it’s a man’s job to control and maintain ‘their” women. If supporting a woman’s right to her own body makes me shameless, I embrace that title with relish.
We’re so hung up on absurd pseduo-morals like keeping every inch of our anatomy draped, and praying a certain number of times every day, that we lose focus of things that truly matter: helping the poor, condemning violence, being friendly towards each other irrespective of our religious or cultural differences, not being a dick to people who choose to follow a different lifestyle than ours, stop finding excuses to excommunicate and look for reasons to embrace them.
The day our public starts feeling more appalled by terrorism, poverty and illiteracy, as opposed to nudity, is the day I can proudly proclaim that we’re starting to make serious progress.