Orientalist Projections

Please. You are not just a mere fleeting Facebook picture;

you are not how big your eyes are. Or how fair your skin is. Or whether your face is more ‘oval-shaped’ or ‘square’. A body type is far less than what you are, but here you are. Counting calories; bearing the brunt of all that ‘beauty’ asks of you. Eyelashes elongated; lips pumped. Snapchat filters promise to imbue our cheeks with youth; enlarge our eyes; make us fairer, more… faultless-seeming.

I so believe in beauty that fails to be neatly defined so easily. Who told you you had to be taller, thinner – but curvier, high-cheek-boned, knife-edge-jawlined, in order to be worth your weight in what is good, and of value, about this world?

Eurocentric. Whose standards must you compare yourself to? Who is catching a glimpse of your skins, thinking they must know of all of the truths of you?

In India they learnt to walk beneath umbrellas. Mem Sahib. Speak in a ‘dignified’ way — in English, of course. Comb out the kinks in their hair; reduce and reduce those “beastly” caterpillar brows, until they are made… tolerable. Yet, always be something of an untameable child, wild and jungle-like, in their eyes.

That ‘Saracen’ men are savage and despicable: they want your women, and your values, and everything that you have decided must be good about this world. A lack of English speaks of unintelligence; darker skin is dirty; they define what is to be seen as ‘polite’, and who, by contrast, is to be subtly seen as being subhuman and lowly.

But, at the same time, brown skin is “exotic”, they say. Thicker eyebrows are “fierce”; ‘barbarianism’, when dressed up in a particular manner, is, of course, ‘alluring’ and ‘mysterious’. Bronzed playthings; value solely ‘skin-deep’.

We allow ourselves to walk as though we are images. Let people project onto us ideas that they so will. And it is not so much about refusing to care, altogether, about what ‘people’ think: it is not for us, to be so solipsistic. But nor should it be, for us, to care so much that it, while we recognise it not, renders us hollow: mere vessels, perpetually just making room for their projections.

From whence ought a man derive his value? From a suit, and a tie; an accent, and body mass? A woman: from the makeup that makes our features so much ‘better’, from sitting still, and from being tame and giggling; trying to pander to every fleeting person’s projected whims?

There is something greater that we all belong to, no matter what. And we are not – not ever – defined purely by how little or much we befit these picture frames; the filters, the captions, which other people – whomsoever they may be – have tried to bring us to fit over ourselves.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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