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Looks Un-Wise

Cover your hairs, shameless


She changed her picture on Twitter. And the abuse began to flow.

A few nights ago I changed my Twitter display photograph from a picture that portrayed me with my hair prettily curled, a soft smile on my face to a silly photo of me grinning like a fool, my teeth bared like a dental advertisement. I've always been playful with my Twitter profile, changing it from serious to clownish to angry to pensive: it's my profile and like some kind of graphic barometer, it indicates my mood from time to time to the 15, 000-plus people who follow me.

I didn't expect any kind of reaction to the change in photo beyond a few laughs. I was wrong. Immediately, men I don't even know started messaging that I was "ugly", "frightening", and "disgusting". Some begged me to change the picture. Many of the men doing this had no display picture of their own. One had Imran Khan's photo on display instead of his own face. All of them, however, thought they had the right to make a judgment about my physical appearance and tell me how I should present myself to their view.

I've also been told in the past to "cover your hairs" or that I'm shameless because I'm wearing sleeveless shirts. But none of this really intimidates me. I know that men hit out at women's looks in order to intimidate them, to make them feel insecure and worthless. Men think that if they call a woman "ugly" she will be more than crushed - she will be annihilated. Luckily, I have a stronger sense of self-worth than that. I place my value not in how I look but how I act and behave, what I do and accomplish. (And no, putting on makeup and getting my hair done is not an accomplishment. Nor is catching a man. ) Furthermore, my profession is not that of a beauty model, but a writer. I'd rather look interesting and intelligent than beautiful.
This happened the night after French player Marion Bartoli won the Women's Wimbledon Final on Saturday but her win seemed to be overshadowed by people lining up to abuse her on Twitter for being ugly. A BBC presenter made a crass comment, saying, "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little 'you're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?'".

Bartoli's response was classier than mine would have been if I'd been posed the same question: "I am not blonde, yes. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely. " Still, the abuse on Twitter was even more crass. Men called her a fat slob, an ugly c*nt, said that she was too ugly to get raped, and that she was "the first man to win the Women's Final".

Marion Bartoli isn't the first extremely accomplished woman to be treated this way. Take the case of British historian Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at Cambridge University. After she appeared on the BBC's Question Time in January, she received comments online that were so vile and misogynistic that they can't be reproduced here. And then there was Hilary Mantel, who won the Man Booker Prize for the second year running, but her extremely intelligent essay in the London Review Of Books about the Duchess of Cambridge earned her every epithet possible deriding her for her plain looks and overweight figure (Mantel is diabetic).

All of this illustrates how women are primarily judged in this world by their attractiveness, rather than their intelligence, personality, accomplishments, achievements, hearts, souls, dreams. It's as if a woman's worth begins and ends with her physical features and attributes. It's also as if a woman exists only to please a man's gaze. And if she's not attractive, she might as well not exist.

Beauty is an illusion. It is temporary. But more than that, it is, for women, a form of tyranny. If you don't have it on the outside, people tell you comfortingly, "But you're a beautiful person" or "But you're beautiful on the inside" or "You have true inner beauty". What nonsense. Does anyone tell this to a man who's ugly? Has anyone told Andy Murray, "Hey, don't listen to them, you're not ugly, you're beautiful on the inside" ? No? Then this is a sexist, nonsensical thing to say to a woman. Women are expected to be beautiful or possess beauty. This becomes a tiresome burden only after about the five hundredth time you hear it.

From now on my new motto is going to be "Embrace your inner ugly". Because at times we are all ugly on the inside, even if we aren't ugly on the outside. And being not beautiful is more than just okay - it is the normal human condition. Nobody can be beautiful, perfect, good, angelic, virtuous all the time;nor should they make it their life's ambition to be so. It is a facade that is artificial and distracts you from the real work you were put here on this earth to do: to educate yourself, to learn, to accomplish, to discover, to explore, to invent, to compete, to evolve. All of this requires you to be more concerned with what you do than how you look. So go ahead and free yourself from the tyranny of beauty.
(The writer is a Pakistani novelist)


Marion Bartoli isn't the only sportswoman who has been has been criticised for her looks.

In last year's London Olympics, British weightlifter Zoe Smith was criticised for "not being feminine enough". After her performance at the Games, the teenager said she had "stuck two fingers up" to her Twitter abusers.

The London Olympics also saw much discussion over three-time gold medallist Leisel Jones's weight, with Melbourne's Herald Sun igniting the controversy by remarking that Jones was looking heavier than usual There are hundreds of web posts on Serena Williams's "manly looks". Rolling Strones magazine called the tennis ace "black, beautiful and built like one of those monster trucks that crushes Volkswagens at sports arenas. "

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