The show is simplistic at best and dangerously flawed at its worst. The women’s experiences-at war with their bodies-are in multitudes and deserve a far more complex retelling. The solutions are as messy as the battles.
Oye Moti- a weekly episodic series airing on Express TV, didn’t make headlines when it was launched back in February. Some articles here and there about a hatke ‘social cause’ drama (the adjective itself screams snooze fest) about the body-shaming Pakistani women face, did find some dead space in the newspapers. Its latest episode (episode 9) however, is currently trending on YouTube whose promo had gone viral a few days ago. How did the show get here?
Was the show that good? Has THE social message drama to beat Udaari, finally arrived?
Oye Moti has gone viral for the reasons most things go viral in Pakistani web space: their ability to be made fun of. The drama wasn’t even on my radar until I, too, endured the cringe-worthy trailer. Everyone all of a sudden became concerned about fat-shaming, body positivity and what not. In a way, the misleading cringe-fest of a trailer has proved effective for the makers who would do anything to draw attention to their otherwise average and (mostly) questionable handling of the issue.
Oye Moti Upholds The Very Stereotype It Seeks To Break
Beginning with that title, for heaven’s sake. My issues with the artistic merits of Oye Moti (somehow typing the name induces distress in me – wait till you hear the OST), require a full page Op-Ed somewhere. Just to give you an idea, the first episode, featuring the incredible Hajra Yamin (Pinky Memsaab) has her wearing a fat suit (still tolerable, we have all seen Monica Geller do it for 10 years !!!), and fighting the prejudices against a plus size woman in an office space. The episode ended with her character getting recognition for her intellect by the boss. Ok, so far so simplistic. If the series debut depicts a ‘fat‘ woman having to somehow compensate for her ‘condition’ by having some other ability, then the show could only go downwards from here. And it did, by going viral for all the wrong reasons.
The promo of episode 9
Has the indignant twitterati reeling with either laughter or disbelief as it shows Kanwal Aftab playing a girl whose fiance – (played by Furqan Qureshi) – gives her a ‘choice’, to either lose weight or lose him (since losing both isn’t really an option for her apparently). I watched the entire episode and true, the makers do subvert our notions, but at the cost of hammering in a point about obesity. The episode, while avoided being preachy, got so carried away by its own lightheartedness that it left all sensitivity at the altar of a cute little love story.
Instead of delving into the eating disorder of the girl, the episode instead has her flat out rejecting the doctor’s warning that she would soon develop fatal health conditions (heart/kidney failure) if she doesn’t lose weight; only to have her sweating out in a weight-loss montage because she really doesn’t want to lose a man.
This is a problematic story in itself
The agency that a girl, regardless of weight, loses in the race to get married is scoffed at here. Maybe the makers played into the ‘fat and dumb’ trope that no one seems to notice here because only a stupid person would say ‘I will not die’ in front of a qualified doctor who thinks otherwise.
Then the barrage comes: ‘but at least they are addressing the issue”. Well, highlighting something we all know exists in our society is just that – A Highlight.
Important or well-intentioned doesn’t always mean good or effective. We need more complex, bold and layered depictions of body shaming in our culture, something that would be as deeply-rooted as this epidemic is. Alas, it’s foolhardy to expect nuance in the Pakistani drama space where daring shows are getting banned left right and centre. So I won’t lament the shallowness of the Oye Moti (it’s killing me to type this EACH TIME !!) And move on to the discussion we can have on women and their too fat, too skinny and never good enough-bodies.
The Purging Woman
On the outside at least, Pakistani culture shown in Oye Moti, predominantly, follows the West’s cult of super-thinness. We, as a society, like our girls to be dubli patli up until there is a trace of youth in them. Mothers or women over 40 are desexualized enough to render them free of the scrutiny of waist sizes. This mindset is just a symbol of a problem though: the problem is of power; of a dominant girl or rather a girl who looks so. She needs to shrink in the space she occupies – via her body size and posture (women being told to sit with knees glued together etc).
Needless to say, pop culture ( both American and later Indian) since the late 2000s (already guilty of hypersexualizing female bodies) has largely influenced this mentality and grilled it to such a level that girls right from puberty, entered into a negative relationship with their bodies. The curviness of Rani Mukherjee gave way to supermodel abs of Deepika Padukone and that became a norm so much so that now Sonakshi Sinha or Vidya Balan are considered successful ‘despite’ possessing unusual (read: big) body types.
If the backlash around To the Bone (Netflix) – a film starring Lily Collins and her character’s harrowing struggle with Anorexia Nervosa – is any indication of how varied the experiences of women suffering from eating disorders are, you wouldn’t dare to make such simplistic portraits of a woman’s body image issues.
If at 16, I had the choice between: gorging up three meals a day with a chocolate flavoured protein shake to buff up and impress girls, or feeling guilty of every single morsel going into my body making it half an inch chubbier than it was yesterday, I would have gladly opted for the former option. As it turns out, there are women who are gorging on food whilst others are hollow-ing out themselves. And for very similar reasons.
The Bingeing Woman
I once attended a wedding at my ancestral village where women commenting on the bride had just one objection: “she is too thin”.
Is this a class thing then, an urban/rural divide?
That we, city dwellers and consumers of western culture have developed a preference far removed from the rest (70%) of this country’s populace? Are rippling fleshes not considered repulsive but alluring? Or are we hypocritical in what shape we want out of our women? As it turns out, traditional societies – South Asian, Arabic and so on, actually preferred plump women (and still do, it seems). Women’s voluptuous bodies with fat hanging from the arms made them desirable. This ideal of beauty, resulting from men’s preference obviously, indicated a man’s wealth (his ability to feed his family). A massive body size alluded to a woman being physically more mature than she actually was (most were 12 year old girls back then). A big woman became a symbol of fertility, prosperity and richness. What’s not to love about that? In these cultures, Oye Moti (seriously, I should be given a dollar each time for typing this) would become a term of endearment and not an insult.
Everything about the two extremes discussed above, reek of the ‘gaze’. The gaze that objectifies a living breathing human. The gaze that forces one woman to take pills to puke or defecate all the food she has consumed, and the other woman to take pills to increase her appetite and fatten up – something done to sheep and chickens as livestock.
So what’s the answer here? Size 6 or 16?
Because trust me, if you give us one number, we, the women, would lap it up like hungry lizards lap up mosquitoes, and internalize it, and pass it down to our daughters, and actually crucify our hearts and kidneys and livers and ultimately kill ourselves in the process to achieve it.
Because, who says it’s up to us to decide?
Who says our bodies belong to us?
If the ideals of feminine beauty are decided by what men like, then let it be. We will stop eating for them and if they like us soft and fleshy, then we will eat to death for them. What are women, after all, but sources of comfort and eroticism – both visual and visceral, on the streets and in the beds. We live outside of ourselves, to please and to appease, to see ourselves how we believe men want to see us. Just give us a number and I promise, we will transform our self image whichever way the canon of beauty swings.
Watch this Pakistani drama instead for real mental health conversation !!!!