I wouldn't say that I considered myself pretty until the end of my teenage years. While I was in Kosovo, I certainly didn't feel like my looks were anything special. I was pretty sure I would never be attractive, and the kind of beauty that seemed to be universally accepted by those around me was not the kind I had any interest in acquiring. The kind of beauty that I saw celebrated on television and in print around me in Kosovo was beauty of the Adelina Ismajli kind. With all due respect to Ismajli, there's only a few kinds of girls worthy of media attention in Kosovo, with a few exceptions: the telebingo girl, the music video girl, the talk show girl and the star. If we were to accept RTK, RTV21 and KTV's vision of the world, we would be under the assumption that women in Kosovo are good at looking pretty and being pleasant, and not much else. Let's break down what each of these television archetypes do and look like:
The telebingo girl
Does nothing but stand in the background for the duration of a show, smiling. I call her the telebingo girl because my clearest picture of this girl comes from RTV21's now classic Telebingo Kosovare. She has nothing to say and nothing to do except for standing in front of the camera like a pillar or a curtain. She's dressed in what is clearly her “best dress,” and it's clear being in front of a camera is kind of a big deal for her — even though her job involves more standing than anything else. I think only security guards get paid to stand longer. If music plays, she might sway a little bit, but that's about it. She is essentially a studio set piece, except she can also metabolize oxygen.
The music video girl
Is a more complex kind of creature. If she can dance very energetically and suggestively, she is guaranteed to get a good amount of camera time, even though, again, her role in the video is only tangential at best. The funny thing about the music video girl is that sometimes (often times) she looks bored, as if it's clear that the video is on its third or fourth take and she's tired of dancing and looking sexy. The other funny thing about the music video girl is that sometimes even as she's grinding for the camera, something about her seems to suggest that she's embarrassed, or at least not entirely comfortable with what's taking place. I guess even the most confident of women will feel uncomfortable when they feel like they are being treated like a mindless body on hand for the entertainment of a room full of men. But they do get to be on television, right?
The talk show girl
Is the most loquacious of them all. Her role requires the most poise and has the least amount of room for error. She has to look pretty, talk to the camera and ask interviewees of the day some important questions. Usually she's very stiff and speaks very well (excellent diction), but it's hard to tell whether she actually knows anything about her interviewees before she interviews them, creating a situation in which whoever is being interviewed can monopolize the entire discussion. A lot of them have the personality of cardboard. This isn't to say that they aren't interesting and intelligent people in their own right, but it certainly doesn't translate through to the camera – probably because they're so self conscious in the first place, and so deadly afraid of saying or doing anything spontaneous lest they lose face.
The star, on the other hand, can do no wrong. No matter how ridiculous or just plain stupid her songs and her videos are, there are hordes of people who are willing to buy her CDs, go to her concerts and hang her posters up on their walls. She doesn't write her own songs and most of the time her biography says something inane about how she “started her singing career at the age of 3” — and to be sure, she also has nothing interesting to say — partially because she really doesn't and partially because it's important to have a squeaky clean private life to counterbalance the “looseness” of her public persona. Not to be too catty, but that public persona is very loose, loose enough to make me wonder whether they care about what they are communicating to young girls (if they care about that at all). Not that I think every girl will turn into a slutty starlet wannabe after watching their music videos, but it does instill the sense that a desirable or attractive woman is one who is always on display for men, at the service of men — at least if we follow the internal logic of most music videos.
Somehow womanhood in Kosova has come to mean looking pretty and saying nothing interesting, at least on television. Growing up, I certainly felt like the things that I had to say would always come second — and that if I didn't pass the test of appearance, I would never be taken seriously (except maybe as a brain in a jar). I can't help but think about some of the perfectly nice girls I knew growing up, who always felt bad to disagree, who never had any opinion to express in class and who had no further dreams or ambitions apart from starting a family one day. Someone somewhere had convinced them that their opinion was not important, or at least not as important as being “good girls.” There is a submissiveness that is ingrained in a lot of our girls that makes them afraid. The images that we perpetuate are a symptom of that — or at least that's my theory.
The article was originally written in English.
Photo credit: riverS
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