Women across the globe have come forward with their experiences of body shaming, sometimes even publicly naming those who have ridiculed them for their physical appearance. In this regard, the world has witnessed the emergence of several human right movements and feminist campaigns in the recent past too. Body shaming is something that has been frowned upon for generations and continues to be considered a misconduct. Female celebrities from Hollywood, Bollywood and Pakistan, who have been mocked and fallen prey to critical comments regarding their body shape and size, have shared their horrific stories with fans from time to time on social media. But does that mean women are the sole victims of the phenomenon? Ace Pakistani writer Saji Gul begs to differ.
The theatre artist and writer of the famous Bilal Abbas and Sajal Aly-starrer O Rangreza, recently uploaded a post on the photo-sharing platform Instagram and captioned it, “Men are also victims to body shaming.” In his note, Saji revealed that while he is in complete agreement with the fact that women are taunted for the way they look and sympathises with them, he believes most men around us are also subjected to the same at some point in their lives.
Talking to The Brown Identity in an exclusive chat, the father of child star Shees Saji Gul weighed in on the consequences of body shaming, something which he previously highlighted in his 2019 web series, Shameless Proposals.
“Whenever we talk about body shaming, it is often associated with women. I myself have been body-shamed since childhood due to a birth defect in my right eye. I have faced it since I was young. There are a few educated people who never ask me about the problem I have been living with all my life but there are some who don’t think before talking and end up hurting you,” said Saji, who currently has his hands full with the upcoming ZEE5 serial Mr and Mrs Shamim, featuring Nauman Ijaz and Saba Qamar in lead roles. “I think when people pass such comments, it is a direct and intentional attack to a person’s self-esteem in the hope that they lose confidence even before they start talking,” he added.
Referring to his mother as his biggest support system, Saji admitted that she made him view his disability as a source of power instead of a weakness, often telling him that he should feel special because he is “one in a million”. He continued, “I actually credit my disability for the fact that I am so creative in my work and have grown so much as a person because of the pain I have endured all along. Recently, I have heard stuff about bigwigs from the industry talking about my personal life wondering how I managed to marry such a beautiful wife and have such beautiful children. Even if they are looking at me as a work rival, it should remain professional and be healthy competition. Personal attacks are not right.” However, Saji is aware that other public personalities go through the same too. “It happened when Mahira Khan was married to her ex-husband. People would talk about how he was not good enough for her. It is important for everyone to mind their own business and look at their own life first before pointing fingers at others. It just makes matters worse for those who are personally experiencing it and trying to deal with it.”
Mentioning how social media users are so irresponsible and harsh with their comments, Saji added, “Women and men are affected in the same way when they are body shamed.” His play Iltija also centred on a powerful storyline about children with special needs who are often stereotyped and judged for the way they look. “Beauty is linked to being ‘good’ while ugly is linked to being ‘bad’ in our society and that is ruthless and not how it should be at all,” Saji stated. “If you want to get into a relationship with someone or get married to them, it still makes sense to look at their physical features to be attracted to them. But if your teacher has some disability or when it comes to working on a professional level with someone, you have no right to body shame them and how they look should not matter. People should look at the work. It hurts most when such comments come from people who are directly involved in the creative field. Most things are given to people by God and are beyond their control so it is not right to make them feel uncomfortable over it. We live in a hostile society.”
Saji believes it is extremely essential for drama writers and artists in particular to be sensitive about such things. “If they want to compete, then they should do it on a creative level, instead of making fun of a woman about her character. When Ali Zafar’s harassment allegations came out, he was typecast by people and his talent was instantly forgotten.”
Drawing parallels with the Western World, he said, “People are very considerate there. No one would point out another person’s disability and make a mockery out if it. This cruel practice is only prevalent in the Muslim world.” He then went on to give an example of a hurtful incident he met with during his visit to the UAE. “When I visited UAE, the immigration officer kept telling me to open my eyes. I kept telling him I cannot open my right eye but he kept pushing it up and insulting me,” Saji lamented. He concluded with, “Look at my work and my creative stories. I am a writer. I sit and do my work behind the screen, so why does it bother people about how I look? God has created people of all kinds.” Saji confessed that his son Shees, who recently portrayed Humayun Saeed’s son in Meray Paas Tum Ho, is often praised for his handsome looks and talented acting skills. However, while it does make him very happy as a father, he does not want Shees to grow up with a narrow-minded perception regarding beauty standards in our society, nor does he want him to ever believe that being beautiful on the outside is the only thing that matters.