“Self-esteem in its gendered dimensions informs the will to empower through the transformative capacities of beauty for not only emotional well-being (feeling good) but also cultural competency (doing good).”
–Nguyen, page 370
While reading about the women of Afghanistan and the functions of Beauty without Borders, I was reminded of the “Smile Again” organization in neighboring Pakistan. In the city of Lahore, human rights activist and make up artist Musarrat Misbah founded the Salon Depilex Smile Again. Her goal is to give “new life” to women victimized by acid attacks. An acid attack occurs when acid or similarly corrosive substance is thrown onto an individual with the intent to main, disfigure or kill them.
Acid attacks occur throughout the world, for a variety of reasons. In South East Asia and The Middle East, acid attacks are occurring more and more frequently. In Pakistan, women are often attacked by their husbands for “dishonoring them”—sometimes for dressing inappropriately other times for marriage proposal rejections or being the victim of rape. If the victim survives the acid attack they are left on their own, cut off from their families and disfigured.
In 2012, Sharmeen Obiad-Chinoy won an Oscar for her film “Saving Face” which follows two acid attack survivors as they attempt to bring their attackers to justice and change the punishments for assailants. Also in 2012, the Pakistani Senate passed two bills imposing punishments on people who attack women with acid, but the laws do nothing to curb the violence, as it is difficult to implement these laws. In the absence of a true form of justice, Misbah is doing her part to help victims.
Her organization not only provides medical treatment and legal representation for the victims, it also provides a safe space for the women to coexist. Nguyen said “beauty becomes a human right through the traditional concept of dignity.” The women become trained cosmetologists, helping each other and non-victim Pakistani women improve their appearance. Smile Again also provides psycho social workshops for acid burn victims, where they get to know other vicitims, and improve their body image and self confidence.
I felt Nguyen’s article was placed a little too far outside the localities Beauty without Borders was trying to aid. There was a huge focus on humanitarianism and trying to “save” women in from the regressive and premodern cultural standards (i.e. the burqa). The divide between the west and“the “rest” was too clear. The case of acid attack victims is interesting because it brings up elements of the make-over culture (as they often need full reconstructive surgery), and Smile Again itself utilizes the beauty industry to help these women who have been stripped of their dignity. And importantly, it is the result of local women helping other local women as they rebuild their lives.