Dawn News

Where the grass is greener

-Photo by Mahjabeen Mankani/Dawn.com

A heat wave had hit New York in recent weeks. “Slayings soar as city hits boiling point” screamed the NY Post headline. Outside, the deep grey of the concrete and asphalt that give the city its customary hue, looked washed out in the blazing sun. The silvery tones of glass and steel shimmered and sizzled.

But here at Central Park — a man-made oasis at the heart of Manhattan — the grass was as green as ever, at least the patches that were not covered with towels, tarps and sheets on top of which lay picnickers and, astonishingly, sunbathers. The term ‘sunbather’ refers to people who like to, well, bathe in the sun, implying sunlight is something like a shower. But given the intensity of the rays that day, the effect was more of a deluge than a gentle sprinkle. And yet, there they were sprawled across the sloping grounds of Sheep Meadow — several football fields’ worth of clear grassy land enclosed on all sides by thick-trunked trees.  It was like Woodstock for sun seekers.

“I’m just hanging out with my boyfriend,” said Vanessa Anderson, a 27-year old blond from Long Island. “It’s nice to be out. We were cooped up in his apartment yesterday because it was too hot,” she said as sweat dripped down her neck in the 90-degree searing heat. Anderson said she liked the sun. “I don’t mind,” she said, referring to the sweating. She had been lying in direct sunlight for close to 3 hours now. I could feel a patch on my leg burning as I sat next to her. Surely there was more to this than making acquaintance with Apollo? I asked her if she was trying to get a tan.

Anderson, who worked in the shipping business, said she had been out in the sun around 10 times already this summer. She did not like going to tanning salons, she said. But she did like a bit of sun and a bit of color. “I think you feel good and you look thinner,” she said.

I thanked her and moved on to the two Brazilian ladies sunning themselves nearby.

“We are used to the sun.  But I guess it does feel good because if you look around everybody is doing the same. It’s like a drug,” said one of them.

For Hannah Zeffrico, a 28-year old financial consultant and her two friends the activity was also a way to get together with friends.

“We haven’t seen each other in couple of months so we’re getting updated on life and love and men,” Hannah said.

“Having a few snacks,” said the second friend.

“And getting a tan and being outside and getting fresh air. We’re all inside 50 hours a week,” added the third.

Hannah described tanning akin to “having bronzer on your face,” she said. “It defines any sort of muscle contour.”

Then Hannah asked me “Do women in Pakistan like to tan?”

I looked at myself. I was a study in contrast to the members of this congregation. Unlike the bathing suits, shorts and t-shirts around me, I wore full-length trousers, a cotton top with a denim jacket (yes a jacket, I did not want to burn) and a large sun hat I had bought at a specialty store. Nothing had been left to chance and whatever little skin was exposed was slathered in 40 SPF sunscreen. Sunglasses covered half of my face; that is, if you could see them under the hat. I may have been overdoing it perhaps, but in Karachi, where I grew up, the sun was ever-present and thus not much appreciated. A cloudy day was our idea of good time to venture outside. Sunbathing would never occur to us there.

On the contrary we did everything to avoid its rays: from the tinted window on expensive cars to the schoolgirls holding their folders to shade their faces. The huge market of skin lightening products in Pakistan speaks for itself, with advertisements splashed across bus stops and an armada of products available at every price range.

“It’s like the weight loss industry in the West,” Hannah said.  “I heard that it’s comparable to the skin lightening industry in India, and probably Pakistan, where everyone aspires towards lighter. Everyone here aspires towards thinner,” she continued.

Then Hannah remembered something she had seen recently seen on a news website.

“Did you guys see the thing about bleaching on Jezebel?” she asked her friends, referring to the recent advertisement for a bleaching product for women’s nether regions being aired in the subcontinent.

“It was like an absurd commercial where a woman walks in and she is like sitting on a couch next to her partner, like feeling really unattractive, and then she goes into the bathroom and bleaches herself and comes back and he ravishes her. It was absurd,” she said.

“That’s just scary,” her friend added.

As I walked home in what must have looked like a beekeeper’s suit on this record hot day, the old saying about grass being greener came to mind.  It seemed this was especially the case in Sheep Meadow.


The author is a freelance journalist based in New York. She graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she majored in magazine writing. A former model/anchor/actor from Pakistan, she currently spends her time chasing stories.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

Jul 25, 2012 10:45am
In fact its vice versa situation as East wants to become West and West wants to become East in terms of skin care....
Jul 25, 2012 10:33am
On one hand bleaching industry and on the other hand the tanning products both are really earning well.
Jul 25, 2012 10:26am
In fact its vice versa situation as East wants to become West and West wants to become East in terms of skin care.... How strange ...
Jul 25, 2012 10:24am
I wonder why did she ask you do women like to tan in Pakistan. We have very very small fraction of white people in Pakistan, not white like in Europe and North America. We have mostly olive skin color people, brown and black. Everyone's need is different. Some need tan and some need bleach. Common sense, folks!! People of olive skin color, brown and black don't need tan. Do they?
Jul 28, 2012 07:32am
The Girls do take additional care of themselves for covering their face with folders, using creams and much more but in my opinion taking care of yourself is not.
Jul 25, 2012 09:08am
hmmmmmmmm .... got a strange feeling after reading this one ... feel like commenting but dont feel like commenting :D:D:D
Jul 25, 2012 01:13pm
What a waste, If I would write an article on "Do American get allergy from Dust or smoke on the road", I would certainly get the same comments like I am leaving here now.
Hoor Nain
Jul 25, 2012 01:01pm
Seriously, whats the point in that article. Its the western way of life. Just like we could be sipping hot tea relentlessly on a hot day. do we see westerners coming to Karachi and going OMG you drinking hot tea in this weather ???? I know this comment will not be published but all im saying is its better to write on something which is not a common knowledge.
Jul 25, 2012 09:35am
Strange and well done.-- great story.Skin Cancers in "Europeans" are the fastest growing numbers as light /white skin is most at risk and yet to look darker is aspired to which cannot be permanently achieved..As Global warming worsens dark skinned people will have an evolutionary advantage.I am light brown but admire black and have given up trying to lighten my face.Be happy with what we are given as MJ found.
Karachi Wala
Jul 25, 2012 04:58pm
During the same hot cycle, I ran into an African American whom I usually see during my lunch break time walk. The gentleman was doing cleaning and maintenance work in the college's open field. When I asked him how he was doing? His reply was, "Doing great, I get lots of Vitamin D and TAN, both for free" I again asked him if he had had enough? He folded the corner of his shirt around his arm, and said, I still need a little more; with a piercing smile
Jul 25, 2012 08:24pm
Pakistan has a lot of fair skinned people. But overall Pakistanis feel content with the colour of their skin. Indians on the other hand have a massive complex where every man and woman is aspiring to become 'fair skinned'.
Jul 25, 2012 08:47pm
And what exactly your point would be madam writer. This is quite a pathetic article.
Jul 25, 2012 08:51pm
Poor article.
Jul 25, 2012 11:28pm
Why not spend your talent on writing something that really helps the image of Pakistan in West or something that inspire Pakistanis in homeland. I am totally baffled by this article.
Jul 26, 2012 04:47am
I find the article good and thought provoking. things have come to this that Shanrukh Khan is advertising for a men's fairness cream. really Shahrukh? When I first went to USA the first tings that I thanked God about was my skin colour!! Thanks God that when I look at my wife I dont see all those horrendous pigmented spots and blotches that White people so assidously try covering up. We South Asians are a beautiful race and thanks God for that.
Nadeem Ahmed
Jul 26, 2012 05:18am
Write something useful next time.
Jul 26, 2012 05:23am
I think this is a pretty good article. Sunbathing in minimal clothing is a major preoccupation in the West and alot of myths have sprung up to support it. The idea that covering up makes you hotter in the sun is the one of the biggest. - in fact covering up with loose, tight-knit material is best. Many societies (including Pakistan) have habits that are harmful yet widespread and even celebrated. I think this article did a great job of starting a debate on this myths. Well done - lets have more.
Jul 26, 2012 05:32am
Excellent point!
Jul 26, 2012 05:44am
Why do we have to be obsessed with the white skin people? Better write something which raises awareness, has a message and impacts our society instead of articles over Americans sunbathing.
Mudassir Hussain
Jul 26, 2012 05:54am
In New York, She (the writer) has covered what New Yorkers are doing. So, its bit harsh to be so negative in our comments.
Jul 26, 2012 06:11am
Wow! I am impressed! A Columbia J school (home of the Pulitzer prizes) grad writing such world-class opinions!
Jul 26, 2012 06:16am
Useless post. Says nothing of importance or anything new.
Jul 26, 2012 06:28am
Had you been a Pakistani it would have made sense.
Jul 26, 2012 06:41am
Very nice post. I enjoyed reading it.
Jul 26, 2012 06:29am
nice and light article depicting the non serious side of life from the perspective of the young. Keep it coming!
Jul 26, 2012 06:51am
I read the entire article thinking some funny line is just around the corner.
Jul 26, 2012 07:22am
An informative article. Informative in a sense that it helped to create awareness about the skin need of sunlight. The medical practitioners strongly recommend that sunlight is not only mandatory for the skin and bones, it also prevent many diseases. But the way the westerners take the sunbath, we in Pakistan cannot do that. Our social, cultural patterns and habits clash with the Westerners. But i do agree that each individual particularly the women should feel the sunlight for boosting immunity and preventions of bone diseases which are getting prevalent now a days.
Naseema Perveen
Jul 26, 2012 08:13am
good one but i did not attract my concentration too much!