India-based W4 guest blogger, Poorvi Shrivastav (right), shares her thoughts on the resilience and courage of Saira Laiqat—a woman from Pakistan who was tragically burned by acid at the hands of her husband-to-be after she expressed her wish to pursue an education. Our editor-in-chief would like to alert readers that the following piece contains material that may be upsetting. Saira is photographed here by photojournalist and women’s rights advocate Izabella Demavlys.
For many girls and women, beauty is epitomized in an elegant face: refined, symmetrical features, a wide smile, fluttery eyelashes and lustrous hair. Perhaps, for some, true beauty exists only when a beautiful appearance is reflected in an equally beautiful inner character. But I believe that beauty goes beyond all physical considerations. It is about how we embrace and face life.
Seeing women and girls who have been burned has forever changed how I regard beauty. Often, in the street, we may see a woman or a girl whose face or body is burned. She quickly becomes the object of our unblinking stares. The sight of her may even move us to tears: then we feel comforted, by our own, small gestures of compassion, believing that, simply by caring, we have fulfilled our duty towards this person who is so different from ourselves.
Being burnt is, I imagine, one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Even the small, light-brown burn mark on your right cheek—to which your mother immediately applies Burnol (an Indian antiseptic cream)—can cause you to weep, worrying that it might dim your marriage or career prospects.
I always imagined that for someone whose face and body have been badly burned, beauty could have little or no meaning. I believed that living with such disfiguration would lead, inevitably, to an existence of perpetual despair—sitting in one’s house, only able to dream of a beautiful tomorrow.
But Saira has proved me wrong. For me, Saira is the personification of beauty.
Saira was burned when her fiancé attacked her with acid after she expressed her desire to complete her education before moving in with him. Saira’s burns left her with a scarred face and partial vision, causing her to lose all hope in life.
But the woman we see today is not the Saira who was shattered by the betrayal and atrocities perpetrated by her own life partner. She is not a woman hiding away at home, desperately avoiding the stares and smirks of relatives and neighbors. Instead, Saira dared to go out and complete vocational training and is now active in the world, earning her own living—as a beautician in a beauty salon. All day, she is surrounded by mirrors. Her confidence, inner strength and generosity are immeasurable, enabling her to face the world and help others to look beautiful and see their own beauty.
There are many women like Saira out there—women whom we do not know personally, but who move us and inspire us because they have faced the wrath of society and of their loved ones and have found strength and courage to move beyond their suffering. Women who show us what real beauty means.
Having the courage to fight against all odds, the willpower to face and change one’s life, and the ability to glow on the outside while remaining true to one’s inner self—these are the qualities that define beauty for me.
‘Your soul, your heart,
The smile you bring,
The courage in life that you have shown,
Always smiling, not a single frown,
Beauty that is beyond the skin
Residing in oneself
Even when things go very wrong…
In beauty, she stands strong…’
© Women’s Worldwide Web 2011