During the most recent season of Coke Studio, Momina Mustehsan (of Afreen Afreen fame) became a viral sensation across social media, predominantly for her looks rather than her vocal prowess or musical skills. Similarly, over the past few days, a chaiwala from Mardan, Arshad Khan, hit social media users across South Asia by storm. The pictures (and videos, in Mustehsan’s case) of both these individuals have been shared widely and even helped Khan land a modelling contract. However, the underlying issues in both these cases have once again not been addressed - the colonial remnants of beauty standards that are prevalent in our society today.

The promotion of fair skin and coloured eyes, and the superior status of those who speak English is by no means a new phenomenon in Pakistan, or across South Asia for that matter. In fact, one only has to turn to the dozens of billboards promoting brands that promise fairer skin, or alternatively, one can look towards families selecting potential mates, ideally of fairer colour, for their soon-to-be-married children. Additionally, the idea of English-speakers being superior to the rest of society is highly prevalent and can also be witnessed across our society.

And although there is no shortage of people with fair skin across Pakistan, it is the darkness or rather the colonial past on which our society is built that has created the negative perceptions that are held by people regarding dark-skinned individuals. For example, certain communities in Pakistan are grouped and judged based on their darker skin colour, such as the Christian community of Pakistan, or members of the Mohajir community, amongst others. It is sickening to see that our society has built upon this idea that being fairer is better, and this superficiality is so entrenched within how we perceive one another, almost as if we are the colonisers in reverse.

This, of course, brings me to the works of Edward Said, the founder of postcolonial studies. Said extensively discussed the sexualisation of the Orient in his works, by expanding upon ideas such as the emphasis on the beauty and objectification of, the peoples of the Orient (also known as the East) by Western colonisers, across art, film and other forms of media. Ironically, in some sick and twisted way, the remnants of the colonial past that are prevalent in our society today show a near-complete reversal of this aforementioned sexualisation, which can be observed and witnessed across Pakistan and the wider region, where the fairer you are, the more likely you are to be put on a pedestal that epitomises a fake standard of beauty.

Hence, it is no surprise that Khan, with his blue eyes and fair skin, is at the forefront of this social media frenzy, much like Mustehsan, with her fair complexion, was lauded for her looks. However, by doing so, we continue to objectify and glamorise people in our country based on the previously discussed ideas. Moreover, this only ties into the fact that we are still referring to Khan, as the chaiwala, which of course, is inherently a problem in itself. By refusing to refer to him by his name, we have reinforced the notion that Arshad Khan is who he is, based on how he looks.

Therefore, I cannot help but wonder how this situation would have played out if Arshad Khan and Momina Mustehsan were dark-skinned and did not have physical features of any sort that were promoted by our colonial masters of past?

Would Mustehsan have been considered as just another singer on Coke Studio? Or maybe her education and singing would be assessed and analysed instead of her looks? Rather, she might have fizzled away after her performance? Similarly, would Arshad Khan have received a modelling contract? Or would he simply have disappeared amongst the pictures of dozens of other chaiwalas?

It is by no means a hard guess, as to what the outcomes would have been. For one, we probably never would have heard of Arshad Khan - the chaiwala, and the rendition of Afreen Afreen on Coke Studio, would not have received as many views on YouTube as it did.

Alas, it is too late for either of those two things to happen. At least in this scenario, we can say that Pakistanis do not discriminate based on class, as Mustehsan and Khan, both of whom come from significantly different backgrounds, received a similar reception on social media from our society.

Actually, let’s forget that I ever wrote that in the first place.