Aiming to change and challenge stereotypes, the three-day Beyond Beautiful event featured music, dance, master classes, panel discussions, awards and basically everything that could help take the conversation beyond surface level.
The world today is fascinated by ideals where every individual is expected to conform to certain beauty standards set by society; conventional beauty is usually judged by the perfect height, weight, hair, skin colour and an overall balance of physical features. This puts tremendous pressure on people who do not fall into conventional standards; they feel the need to look a certain way to be acceptable by society and they suffer when they are unable to. Addressing this multi-faceted problem, and challenging it, was Beyond Beautiful, a three-day event aiming to help society break away from superficiality.
As Frieha Altaf, the brains behind the initiative, explained, “The idea of beauty is: if you are not beautiful inside then outside there is nothing.”
Echoing similar thoughts, Safinaz Muneer, one of the Advisory Board members for Beyond Beautiful, shared with Instep on the sidelines of the event, “It really is about being much deeper, not just about how you are looking, how thin you are, how thick your hair is. It is important to understand that it really is beyond beautiful. What worries me is that we all have younger children and the effect that social media actually has on them. Our children have become obsessed by that and it is a very dangerous age to get into it. There has to be awareness; I think this is the topic of today.”
The three-day expo kicked off with an Awards Gala Night that honoured individuals as well as groups of influencers who had, in some way, contributed to changing the perception of beauty in Pakistan. The awards recognized the contribution of those who had made an attempt to break stereotypes and bring around a positive change in society. Those who have worked “beyond the traditional boxes of beauty and have brought an impact in other people’s lives,” explained Aamina Sheikh, the host for the Awards Gala Night alongside her Cake costar Adnan Malik.
Those who were honoured that evening included names like The Robin Hood Army, an organisation that works voluntarily to get surplus food from restaurants and provides it to the less fortunate segments of society in cities across India and 12 other countries; Shehzad Roy, who is the founder of Zindagi Trust and has been actively engaged in social work, and Khadija Rehman of Generation, who has pushed the envelope by highlighting inclusivity through her designs. Sana Mir, Captain of the National Women’s Cricket Team, was awarded for bringing pride to Pakistan and by echoing the belief that women need to be strong to be beautiful. There were almost a dozen people honoured and each one was ‘beyond beautiful’ by way of the philanthropic work or perceptual change they had helped bring around.
“The first step to a social change is to imagine a world which is very different, which has different attitudes and to imagine a world with hues, with brightness and vitality of women; of all sizes, ages, proportions, sexualities and persuasions,” Khadija Rehman said, while accepting her award. “We as a design brand must expand ourselves to encompass bold ideas. At the end of the day, social change is about telling stories. Through my work I have met countless women who have had inspirational lives in which they fought many hardships. We want to use our brand and what we do to celebrate these women.”
Celebrities who graced the Gala Night and also presented awards to winners included the likes of Ali Kazmi and Meera Jee, who will be seen on the big screen in Baaji this year, Zeba Bakhtiar, Parey Hut Love star Sheheryar Munawar, Hina Dilpazeer, Asim Raza, Natasha Baig, HSY and UK Deputy High Commissioner Karachi Elin Burns, among others.
Other agents of social change who received awards on the Gala Night included Mushtaq Chhapra, Chairman of The Citizens Foundation which is non-profit organization; Ayesha Chundrigar who works for animal rescue and welfare; Leslie from Dar ul Sukun who has devoted her life to make this world a happy place to live in for special children; healthcare specialist Dr Farah Bari Khan and transgender model and activist Kami Sid, who also walked the ramp on Day Two of the exhibition.
Filmmakers Asim Abbasi and Adnan Sarwar, who broke the monotony of male-oriented films with strong female representation in Cake and Motorcycle Girl, respectively were also honoured at the Gala Night for their unique contribution to Pakistani cinema.
“Representation in cinema matters,” Adnan Sarwar asserted in his acceptance speech after receiving the trophy. “The way women have been represented in the past should change. I am glad that we have been able to play a small part in the ever-changing conversation about the place of women not just in cinema but in society in general. I think a lot more needs to be done within the industry for women, for gender representation, for minorities both in front of the camera with stronger narratives as well as behind the camera.”
Beyond Beautiful was not just about honouring these people who have been able to make an impact with their meaningful contributions to various fields, but it was also about promoting new talent. Models (male, female, transgender) and other artists, who were chosen under the ‘Model Hunt’ and ‘Talent Hunt’ programs, were given the opportunity to walk the ramp and take centre stage during the exhibition.
The first-ever beauty expo in Pakistan had a lot more in store for attendees – from corporate stalls of makeup brands that offered free makeovers and discounts to food stalls, from a display of unisex hair trends to a modern bride show, from makeup master classes by internationally acclaimed artists Zeena Feygina, Nabila and Saba Ansari to a session on skin care by renowned dermatologist Dr Tasneem Nakhoda.
Besides this, issues surrounding body image and gender representation that drove, or rather contaminated, our society were brought to the fore via panel discussions with some influential people on board. The first talk, moderated by lifestyle journalist Salima Feerasta, was titled ‘My Face, My Body, My Choice’ and featured plastic surgeon-actor Fahad Mirza, makeup maestro Mussarat Misbah and Dr Tasneem Nakhoda, amongst others, on the panel. It focused on letting go of societal pressures with respect to body image and allowed men and women the right to change their bodies, if they so wished to. This was followed by an elaborate discussion on ‘Social Media and its Impact on the Perception of Beauty’ with panelists Mawra Hocane, Alia Fawad (ITP Media Group, Dubai), pediatrician Kishwar Enam and Dubai-based beauty blogger Manal Muffin.
Being in the public eye, Mawra and Manal were invited as social media influencers who had experienced the pros and cons of being popular on social media.
“How I am supposed to ignore comments about something which is beyond my control?” Mawra, who is often trolled for her voice, questioned. “We say that we put up a brave face and we should learn to ignore but in the end we are not thick-skinned. These harsh comments do get to me especially when it’s about my family and close ones.”
Manal, on the other end, was of the view that one should simply avoid responding to these negative comments as trolls just seek validation. “These trolls are seeking validation; the more you respond to them, the more they will grow,” she asserted.
‘Masculinity In 21st Century’ was another subject that took centre stage on the final day of Beyond Beautiful, with rapper-comedian Ali Gul Pir, actor-director Adnan Malik and comedian Shehzad Ghias on the panel. This session offered some deep insights and opened the floor to some much needed discussion.
“The societal concept of ‘masculinity’, as opposed to its biological definition, is imposed on men; it leads to a lot of psychological problems men have which then trickles on to women I believe,” Adnan Malik maintained while Shehzad Ghias and Ali Gul Pir added to it, bringing in their own life stories.
Health, wellness and nutrition was a prime focus at Beyond Beautiful; hence, the final talk of the evening, titled ‘Wellness, Nutrition & Exercise’ focused on organic and natural ways through which wellness and fitness could be achieved. Panelists included social activist Shaniera Akram, CORE founder Sheema Sultan, Conatural’s co-owner Myra Qureshi and nutritionist Amna Mujib.
Without a doubt, Beyond Beautiful paved the way for a constructive approach to beauty and a meaningful conversation surrounding the concept of beauty that is otherwise limited to one’s physical features. That said, the idea was also to allow freedom of choice, allowing men and women the liberty of undergoing extreme procedures to change or enhance the way they looked, if they so felt like it. It was an interesting three days and one looks forward to see how it evolves over the year.