A false depiction of Pakistan

Published: April 13, 2016
What happens when an ex-American model visits Pakistan to attend a fashion week, but ends up at the Red Mosque?

What happens when an ex-American model visits Pakistan to attend a fashion week, but ends up at the Red Mosque? PHOTO: SCREENGRAB

What happens when an ex-American model visits Pakistan to attend a fashion week, but ends up at the Red Mosque?
PHOTO: SCREENGRAB The writer has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Washington in Seattle and is a 
sub-editor at The Express Tribune

What happens when a former American model comes to Pakistan to attend a fashion week, but instead ends up at the Red Mosque?

Hailey Gates left the runway to take up television journalism on Vice magazine’s new and much-hyped network Viceland. Her show called States of Undress, follows her as she travels to conflict spots around the world under the guise of attending fashion weeks.

In her first episode, Gates ventures to Karachi and not surprisingly, doesn’t spend much time around the runway. For someone who doesn’t seem to agree with religious extremism, the model-turned-journalist is an extremist in her own way.


Her journalistic extremism comes to the fore when she explores the fashion industry of Pakistan, which depicts the country’s liberal-minded elite and then goes on to meet the country’s “most wanted man,” Abdul Aziz Ghazi. She doesn’t interview the middle class, or the working class, nor does she present the point of view of those individuals who consider themselves to be moderate Muslims, which make up a significant portion of our population.


Although she manages to highlight real issues faced by the country such as the plight of acid burn victims, and the energy shortage experienced by an ever-growing population, she appears to find no middle ground in her portrayal of the Pakistani society. She arrives in Pakistan brimming with biases, which inevitably influence her reporting throughout the episode. For instance, the episode opens with Gates entering a reputable hotel in Karachi after a thorough overview of the security precautions of the hotel. If the four security gates packed with bomb detectors, metal detectors, and sand bags (that withstand bomb explosions) weren’t enough, a security adviser suggests she book a room on the fourth floor of the hotel “just in case there was some circumstance in which we needed to jump out of our windows.”


Her most absurd assumption about Pakistan, perhaps, was that women don’t wear heels. “I didn’t bring high heels because I didn’t think people wore high heels here,” she says.

We dress conservatively compared to the West, and that’s a safe assumption to make, but you’re also attending a fashion show in a secure hotel, amidst designers whose clothes tend to reveal more than just our hands, so it’s a little ridiculous to assume that a full length, half-sleeved dress would be inappropriate on the grounds that “obviously the arms aren’t covered so that’s not good.”


What she paints is a gruesome picture of the country — a picture which she had set out to achieve from day one. The neutrality of journalism is lost in States of Undress. While it makes for interesting television in the West, she has successfully reaffirmed the stereotypes of Pakistan generated by the West, through such comments.

While the issues she reveals are newsworthy and important to highlight, other journalists have visited the same country and have left with a much more balanced view, which counteracts the negative depiction we endure in Western media.

Photojournalist Brandon Stanton for example, travelled all over Pakistan for his Humans of New York Facebook page. He visited the rural areas in the north of Pakistan as well as Lahore and Karachi. What he managed to do was help the country by highlighting bonded labour and poverty, which were then combated with support from people all around the world. His biggest feat, however, was when he won the hearts of millions of Pakistanis with the parting message he posted on Facebook. His heartwarming message didn’t cover up any of the country’s ugliness, but it also acknowledged its unique beauty.


Gates, on the other hand, did no such thing. As the episode progresses, we see the depiction of Pakistan deteriorate with each scene, but with any movie you watch, you wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. Gates does not end her tour with an informed opinion, and so takes home all the Western stereotypes she had arrived with.


Reiterating her earlier assumption that her arms not being covered during the fashion show is “not good,” Gates concludes her episode with the statement “In a culture where what you wear can have devastating consequences, style can be an act of bravery.”

Do I get a medal for wearing a T-shirt to work today?

View the episode here:


Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Parvez
    Apr 13, 2016 - 3:51PM

    Calling it a ‘ false ‘ depiction of Pakistan is not all together correct…… possibly if she had shown the fashion shows, the musical concerts held, the art galleries, the eating and the drinking scene and such that goes on it would have balanced the picture but then obviously she was on a ‘ crusade ‘ of her own. Recommend

  • Sana
    Apr 13, 2016 - 3:59PM

    What I believe is she didn’t portray thing wrong apart from calling Islamabad as the center of Islam. These things are so common in society .A girl has to answer her father , brother and her Husband about what she is wearing. (middle class families )and the 2 % elite of the country can not depict the way of life of rest of the 98% Population. plus the religious lameness depicted here is accurate. positive aspect of Pakistan was missing in ways. But she surely showed the truth.Recommend

  • Blunt
    Apr 13, 2016 - 4:23PM

    Everyone wants to bring the thing that sells, to make the maximum profits, irrespective of the merit and she’s no exception. Hence, let her make more money using the yellow journalism. Recommend

  • Saqib Minhaj
    Apr 13, 2016 - 5:39PM

    You are being naive because she did give the true depiction. The things you are describing are not the majority but a very small portion of the society which cannot represent Pakistan. The overwhelming majority of the society is what we can associate Pakistan with and sorry to say, it is how it is and it may not be what we would like it to be. Furthermore the so called modern, fashion enthusiast or liberal minded do not even want to promote their ideology or spread their moral values to the rest of the country, so then how could they represent this country?Recommend

  • Paul
    Apr 13, 2016 - 5:51PM

    I see ample bias by the author too.

    Why assume that any foreigners, journalists or otherwise, are driven by an altruistic desire to help the country they are visiting? Why assume that foreigners, journalists or otherwise, have to always present a balanced narrative? Why not simply understand that she came to Pakistan in the first place as she considers it a conflict spot and things like jumping off a hotel are not something people have to do in most countries around the world.Recommend

  • Seeker
    Apr 13, 2016 - 6:53PM

    I wonder if she was on a mission to cover a secular minority’s daily routine or cover a majority of Pakistani women who have not crossed into “enlightened” state yet. Recommend

  • Adnan Siddiqui
    Apr 13, 2016 - 7:00PM

    What were the “false depictions”?
    Why is it that when the mirror is shown to our face, we start blaming the one holding it? Pakistan cannot dictate what a journalist can and cannot write about. That is a sign of a fascist state. This is not a matter of national security either.Recommend

  • Neshmiya
    Apr 13, 2016 - 7:40PM

    I have to disagree, I think it presents a true picture of Pakistan, that Pakistan is a contradiction. I feel like your commentary is based entirely on the first few minutes of the documentry, and I went in watching the documentry with your review in mind, but it was nothing like you presented. It brings up some harsh realities that we usually tend to ignore because it makes us uncomfortable, and I think that is where this documentry succeeds. Recommend

  • Hamza k
    Apr 13, 2016 - 11:54PM

    There’s been attacks in Paris and Brussels. Any attacks inside Pakistan are reflections of decades of bad policy by a host of countries including the US and India in our specific region. Tell India to stop exporting inside Pakistan via RAW and stop raping Kashmiri women and killing its men and perhaps JUD and LET will go away tooRecommend

  • What?
    Apr 14, 2016 - 12:33AM

    Country is polarized between confused (elites, especially fashion), and lost mullas. How about educating ourselves on our problems and then how to fix the ills and NOT wait for someone else to just show up and do that for us.Recommend

  • Allah Rukha
    Apr 14, 2016 - 2:42AM

    Well, unfortunately cruelty and brutality does exist in Pakistan.

    Only Pakistanis can fix that. Recommend

  • Milind
    Apr 14, 2016 - 10:05AM

    @Hamza K – That bad policy of US affected many countries (including non-Muslim ones) in the world. Bad policies of India probably affected their other neighbours too.. But none of the citizens of these (non-Muslim) countries, took this as a ruse to create mayhem and murder as you guys are doing..
    And what about the bad policies of your own establishment (hosted OBL etc).Recommend

  • Apr 14, 2016 - 4:29PM

    It is an interesting story which covers both extremes of the communities in Pakistan. Mix of liberals activities and the extremist activities going on the country Recommend

  • Imran
    Apr 14, 2016 - 4:57PM

    Judging by the comments, it seems like people really are losing faith in this country. They accept the bad and want to ignore the good. I guess with this defeatist mindset Pakistan is never gonna recover from the abyss it is in.Recommend

  • Luminite
    Apr 14, 2016 - 5:12PM

    The main issue with Pakistan is that even after 69 years of independence we are still confuse that wheather Pakistan is an Islamic State or a Liberal State.As a result,now we have developed two school of thoughts in Pakistan: one is religious and the other one is liberal.But I can assure you that Pakistan is on the way to progress.Media traditionally shows the ugly side of Pakistan.For instance,Pakistani media always shows open air schools in villages,they don`t show that what`s going on in LUMS,NUST,IBA,BNU,Aitchison College and other prestigious institutions.Recommend

  • hoshiar singh gill
    Apr 14, 2016 - 6:31PM

    Feeling threatened all the time is not a good thing ! Recommend

  • buga
    Apr 14, 2016 - 8:13PM

    Seems to me this video does a decent job of presenting both sides of Pakistan. Author wants to ignore that almost half of Pakistan isn’t under the control of Islamabad and that the progressive Pakistani “fashion people” wouldn’t survive long in the tribal controlled areas. Recommend

  • Xman
    Apr 15, 2016 - 11:58AM

    I don’t blame Hailey, because she strikes a familiar chord. A majority of average people in Pakistan live in a time capsule, while the whole world has changed around them. As a Pakistani you see a marked difference each year when you visit for vacations. A few things that strike you the most are : alarming number of more people than before everywhere you go, more traffic on the roads, greater intolerance everywhere from shopkeepers to news channels to your old friends who were perfectly normal a few years ago, heightened religiosity from morning shows to evening family get togethers, narrow viewpoint on any subject, and increasing desperation in the youth. Basically the moment you arrive, you have to shield yourself in a bubble, be frugal with words, and count your days out. It has to be taken a constructive crtiscism before it’s too late..Recommend

  • hoshiar singh gill
    Apr 15, 2016 - 2:52PM

    Feeling threatened all the time is not a healthy way to live.You go in to a Rose garden but only notice the thorns soon flowers will also start resembling thorns. The documentary has both negatives and positives.There isn’t a single nation in the World that hasn’t both. God bless ! Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Apr 15, 2016 - 3:56PM

    As a journalist, it would have been fair to compare her experience interacting with people in Pakistan to similar subjects back home in USA – rather than herself. For example, she should have compared muslim girls in burka to religious Muslims, christians or jewish women who cover themselves up in USA. She told the attacker she would never throw acid at her partner .it would have been a fair comparision if she had compared the acid attacker, which was a case of domestic voilence, to cases of domestic vviolence(i.e. abusive relationships) back in USA. The only place where she mostly seemed to have felt indifferent was at the fashion show, because she compared it to fashion shows back home. Recommend

  • Ibrahim Munir
    Apr 15, 2016 - 7:17PM

    well written piece, fully endorse and agree with authors opinions such people needs to be exposed and the best platform to do so is the online and print media platform kuddos to the author for job well doneRecommend

  • HZR
    Apr 15, 2016 - 9:39PM

    She does not have to give out her views.Pakistanis Themistocles in their many ways are showing how regressive they can be and glace at British papers proves this.Honour killing.sharing out white girls..etc etc..Pakistanis have to first correct this impression of others.It is natural that journalists feed on these stereotypes.Recommend

  • amar
    Jun 6, 2016 - 2:21AM

    @Hamza k:
    seriously you need to stop dragging India into every problem that Pakistan faces today.
    Today if your economy isnt in the best of shape or if Pakistan is considered one of the most unsafe nations in the world, rightly so, you need to again stop involving India as the main culprit for everything
    Grow up…We have loads of our own problems to deal with…and no time to start any new….so please dot give yourself so much importance…………….and work on improving your own nation instead of whining, blaming and complaining……………..I see a politician in the makingRecommend

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