When I was at school the worst thing anyone could call you was “thick” or its variants “stupid” or worse, “slow.” Sometimes the insult came elaborately wrapped in a mean metaphor: “She’s so stupid she has to study for a blood test.”
At a particularly academic school with all of us striving for scholastic brilliance, such an insult was as hurtful as it was humiliating. However, in all the cat fights I ever witnessed, and believe me there were some nasty ones, I don’t remember anyone ever calling their opponent “ugly”.
More than sticks and stones
This word “ugly” has a power to wound that no other insult has – it infers more than mere unattractiveness – but inclusive of other synonyms such as hideous, unsightly, repulsive and dreadful. It conjures up fairy tale villainesses of the ugly stepsisters and implies a stained character as well as a horrible countenance. All in all not a pretty word and certainly not one that should be applied to the winner of a beauty pageant!
When the mean girl at school calls you ugly, at least you can see her coming, but this is not a fair fight. When you turn a person’s very ethnicity into something that is to be seen as hideous, we are walking into extremely unfriendly territory.Ahlya Fateh
But that is just the word that social media trolls have taken to abuse Sarah Fasha, winner of the Queen of the Universe title. Now ignore the fact that there is a competition to be Queen of the Universe which is completely without irony based in Beverly Hills and focus on the worrying fact that its winner has been called “ugly” and criticised for her U.S. military record as well as her “Egyptian nose.” This is in a town where most people gave up the rights to their original noses on their sixteenth birthdays!
Egyptian beauty queen dubbed ‘ugly’
Miss Fasha entered as Miss Egypt and won, thereby attracting the Egyptian world’s attention. Granted, a beauty pageant winner is perhaps not what the county was looking for as some sort of national saviour but that doesn’t explain the barrage of insults aimed at her by strangers. People who don’t know her or know anything about her can publicly denounce her for anything and everything and Miss Fasha can do nothing about it.
When the mean girl at school calls you ugly, at least you can see her coming, but this is not a fair fight. When you turn a person’s very ethnicity into something that is to be seen as hideous, we are walking into extremely unfriendly territory.
While Miss Fasha has stood up to her online bullies and been supported by those who have spoken out against the criticisms, there are still those who continue to label her a traitor and say that she is “not Egyptian enough” to be Miss Egypt. How Egyptian does she have to be, for goodness sake?
New ways to express intolerance
I call myself a British Pakistani but I have Iraqi, Danish, English, French Huguenot, Indian and even American antecedents. So how Asian does that really make me? I am sure that were I to ever enter a competition as Mrs. Pakistan there would be a host of Twitter trolls and Facebook bullies standing in their glass houses with bricks in their hands waiting to get the first shot.
Furthermore, have we always found it difficult to celebrate other’s successes or have we only recently become more open in our resentment and found a new way to vent that anger through social media?
I recently attended a meeting at my six year old daughter’s school about how to keep our kids safe online. As the newspapers report one heartbreaking story after another about cyber bullying and the devastating consequences it brings children. It is a parent’s number one fear.
After hearing one terrifying cautionary tale I asked, why give your child a smart phone or allow them to have a Facebook account if all it will be used for is to give strangers and bullies direct access to your child? The sad fact is that the gates are already wide open and our children are probably more adept at dealing with the faceless enemy than we are.
I have stayed off Facebook and Twitter not because I wouldn’t like to join the conversation but perhaps because I prefer to look a bully in the eye before I take them down.
Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.