Nepali Times
Resisting a Barbie world


Most fashion makers and breakers, the designers, and their glassy-eyed followers assume we are all made the same. How many Barbie images of womanhood seem to have permeated our psyche even in Nepal? A nine-year-old sized me up, and asked bluntly why I don't have a Barbie-like figure. Unflinchingly, I replied that I'm not one of those plastic dolls. Wake up, girl, humans come in all sizes and shapes.

Think of the agonies of a teenager who could not overcome her genetic code to come anywhere close to her peers she admires in looks or skills. Too bad she is not genetically programmed to accept and appreciate herself as she is.

Imagine the aches inside a child's mind whose parents cannot afford the latest video game and whose friends can. Or the complexes a young man develops because he cannot speak with the same accent as his mates. As a society, we practice political exclusion and it extends to cultural exclusion by not teaching self-esteem, dignity and self-respect in our schools.

The majority used to win, now it is the minority, the less than one percent in a million who walk the ramps, fill the celluloid and TV screens, who spout instant answers vowing to save the earth and serve the mankind by creating artificial parameters of beauty. The images that come to mind when you speak of great looks are the same names that rule the electromagnetic waves. These looks set the standard of beauty and success.

Let's look for non-Barbie beauty and create lifetime achievement awards for toiling mothers struggling to feed their families in the remote hills, the 'physically challenged' tailor who creates beauty by training others to sew, the waiter who never grew above two feet who makes a living entertaining children in a restaurant. Not out of pity, but for their understanding, compassion and what they can teach us. Just having faith and hope to sustain themselves and yet continuing with their lives the best they can.

Success as defined by the media today is a one-way traffic from the 'developed' West to the 'developing' South, and then Eastwards to our own 'under-developed' side of the map. Values laden with aggressiveness, materialism, winning at any cost, facial features of certain textures and tints, bosoms, waists and hips of pre-ordained proportions. This onslaught of imported preferences have taken over local choice.

Strategic international yardsticks now promote the products that are sold through cable, internet and glossies. Are we educating our young to see through all this, to scratch hard at the veneer for the truth? Are we protecting them for a life in a world which will turn them into clones that buy cloned products? Will they be forced to sacrifice their identity, uproot themselves and forget who they are?

They each have unique characteristics, special qualities that deserve to be nurtured and given space to grow. Diversity that should be respected, celebrated and treasured. Homogeneity is not natural, it is a slow synthetic poison. We need to teach ourselves the value of self-worth, relearn the meanings behind what we do as a community and practice it, accept our differences in the world and within a nation, and learn to co-exist within our diversity.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)