“My bahu is prettier than yours” – When marriage turns into a beauty contest

Published: May 4, 2018
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Beauty is the only scale on which a Pakistani bahu is judged, whether one accepts it or not. PHOTO: PAKISTANI MARTHA STEWART

“Mashallah! Bohat pyari hai aap ki bahu!”

 (Your daughter-in-law is very pretty)

“Bahu hai aap ki? Khoobsoorat hai!”

(Is she your daughter-in-law? She is beautiful)

These are the type of comments that I, a newly married bahu, gets to hear whenever my mother-in-law introduces me to relatives and acquaintances in social gatherings. Some people are very straight forward and say it right away to my face, while others pass comments on my looks in their gossip sessions. Though they are making an effort to praise me via these comments, I never take them as compliments. In fact, I don’t like it at all.

I feel that everyone in my vicinity is only concerned about my looks; nobody even has a hint of interest in my personality, education, career goals and so on. Hence, in less than a year of my marriage, I figured out that beauty is the only scale on which a Pakistani bahu is judged, whether one accepts it or not. The fault in our system of marriage is very deep-rooted. This is the reason why Pakistani women look for tall, fair and pretty girls when they are searching for potential wives for their sons. There is an apparently invisible competition going on between these women over the beauty of their daughters-in-law; they compare each other’s daughters-in law and the criterion is wholly and solely beauty.

The stages for the bahu catwalk are social gatherings like weddings, milads (religious gathering), daawats (lunch/dinner parties) and the likes of such events, where they get a chance to preview each other’s daughters-in-law and rate them on society’s scale of beauty. It is this peer pressure which forces a Pakistani mother to base the selection of the spouse for her son on the girl’s looks. All this just so she can bag the trophy of getting her son hitched to the most beautiful girl in town and win the apparently invisible bahu contests.

Before marriage, I was not very social when it came to attending weddings or social gatherings where you get to meet relatives and people from your community, so I was quite unaware of the bahu beauty competitions going on at the rear of such gatherings. It is quite common in Pakistan to go to an event, weddings in particular, and come out with a few proposals. Every wedding, gathering or occasion feels like an auction; women keep a lookout on what pleases their eyes and immediately rush to “bid” on their favourites. A lot of mothers even force their daughters to dress up and look pretty when they go to weddings so that hopefully, their daughters can catch someone’s attention.

Do they know how exhausting it is to look a certain best, trying to please them, all the time?

Trust me, I am writing this out of experience. Last week, we were invited at the wedding functions of a relative from my in-laws side and my mother-in-law made sure that I wore the best dresses at each ceremony so that I would look the most beautiful out of all daughters-in-law in the family. Just because she said it, I had to wear ostentatious dresses, despite there being no need of doing so. She wanted to be able to flaunt having the most ravishing daughter-in-law.

Similar is the case of other such ladies of her age in my vicinity. They actually discuss each other’s daughters-in law in their gatherings. Please don’t take me wrong as I respect and love my mother-in-law a lot, but at times, I feel that she gets carried away with the useless social thrust. I have no issues in making myself look beautiful in social events but what bugs me is the fact that I don’t want to be recognised in society and community only because of my beauty.

Our whole lives, we work hard to make a name for ourselves. We challenge ourselves everyday and push our boundaries just so we can be successful in life. It is hurtful then when we are only judged by what we look like. Our recognition and value comes from something we had no control over; something that we were born with. At the end of the day then, if a girl is beautiful, she is considered perfect, and if she is not, society will eat her up alive and her self-esteem will diminish gradually. I am sure that does not bode well with many of us.

Marriage is not about looks, you cannot spend your entire life with somebody’s beauty. It’s about compatibility, understanding and sharing your life together. In this rat race of getting their hands on beauties as bahus, mothers sometimes ruin the lives of their sons and others’ daughters. This is one of the many reasons divorce rate is getting higher in our society with every passing day.

It is high time women of this society start valuing other women beyond their looks. While selecting a potential wife for her son, a mother should keep her son’s traits in her mind as she knows him better than anyone else, and look for somebody who she thinks her son would adjust with and vice versa. Marriage is a matter of  your entire life and a sacred bond. Choosing a girl merely on looks just so that the mother of the guy can flaunt in social circles is absolutely ridiculous.

Sorry to say this outright but I strongly believe that most of the horrible things that happen with women in this society are because of other women. To all the aunties out there, understand that what you are doing to your daughters-in-law may be repeated with your daughters. Put yourself in that place and imagine how you would feel if your daughters were being validated and rated based on their looks.

In the end, I would like to apologise if I have hurt somebody’s feelings through this blog, as that was never my intention.

Afshan Zahra

Afshan Abbas

The author is a graduate from Bahria University Karachi. Writing is her favorite pastime and she writes whenever any topic touches the chords of her heart. She likes to raise her voice on issues related to social injustice, women rights and education. She tweets @AfshanZahra2014 (twitter.com/AfshanZahra2014)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • UMER RAFI

    so, who to blame??? This ” beating contemporaries in looks” complex prevails more in Bahuss. In the first place they put themselves in the competition with the wives of their husbands friends and force their husbands to get them expensive clothes just because someone else’s wife was looking so beautiful in a gathering and people were parsing her beauty and attire.
    And I know some newly wed girls who suck at studies and zero in professional lives in a complex to fill this vacuum do everything to look beautiful because this is the only thing they can do to beat their inferiority complex.

    My question is why for God sake why there is a competition in the first place be it in beauty or studies??? If you have some extra ordinary achievements in professional lives and flaunt with medals and want to be compared on that then is also a superiority complex. If your family and your husband is proud if it, thats enough. Be yourself and dont put yourself in any competition be it beauty or any other.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Its human nature…looks matter and at best one should adapt. Why bother about others, if you are comfortable in your own skin ….that’s all that should matter.Recommend

  • Queen

    I wish that when these “pretty bahus” become “saasu maas” then they remember their beauty parade of the past and do not indulge in making other girls [read potential bahus] lives miserable by doing the same. This is the only way society would change….Recommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    Good write up. I can feel your pain. The important thing is to learn from it and not become the ‘aunty’ you despise at the moment.Recommend

  • Was

    I must say Pakistanis in general are extremely superficial people. All the aunty and men care about is girls skin color. In a hot climate country where majority of the population is of dark complexion how can people obsess about fairness? Especially people in Punjab and Sindh.Recommend