“Afghanistan needs to look within to build an economic future after foreign aid runs out. It needs to judiciously harness its natural resources, modernize its economy beyond traditional goods, and alleviate the bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption that has hobbled its private sector.” – Saving Private Enterprise in Afghanistan, Masuda Sultan
Mimi Thi Nguyen highlights the “white man’s burden” responsibility taken by Western individuals as they attempt to influence the beauty industry and beauty standards of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. As nonprofits and NGOs attempt to teach Afghani women how to become estheticians, these Western organizations indicate that Afghani beauty standards are “uncivilized,” and that the West is responsible to aid them in becoming “civilized.” However, Nguyen fails to provide a valid solution that would help empower these women. Why can’t these lessons in beauty practices help serve to embolden these oppressed women?
The article above by Masuda Sultan discusses the necessity for Afghanistan to look within to foster economic success. Through use of its natural resources and a change in its bureaucracy, Afghanistan can strengthen its economy. Sultan starts off with how last December, Vogue Arabia included images of “lithe models posed in colorful, high-end gowns and accessories made by craftsmen from Afghanistan.” Sultan also mentions that international donors mostly fund Afghanistan’s budget. She does not indicate how much of that funding goes towards teaching women about beauty and fashion. However, given that such nonprofits and NGOs exist, a portion of those funds must be used for causes related to beauty and women’s empowerment such as Beauty without Borders.
Afghani fashion has made its way to the level of Vogue couture. Perhaps the international donors, nonprofits, and NGOs in Afghanistan were instrumental in helping Afghani fashion get to this level. While it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the West to fix all problems within Afghanistan (especially problems related to beauty), the aid provided to help empower women is a helpful start for a crumbling country. While Nguyen effectively acknowledges the problems of neoliberal-styled nonprofit work that perpetuates Euro-centric beauty standards, it’s important to note that this is a war-torn country that has been left with nothing. These women don’t have access to learn about beauty or have the correct supplies to practice beauty. Thus, is it wrong to give help and empower these women in through this method?
This method shouldn’t be the permanent solution—however, it is a start. As Sultan points out, foreign aid serves to help Afghanistan function today, but ultimately Afghanistan has to look within itself to economically thrive. The same applies to beauty: foreign help can serve to teach women about beauty, but ultimately they have to look within their own culture to determine their beauty standards. The West can help them get there.