She’s known for pushing boundaries as a panelist on Loose Women and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. But when Saira Khan told me her intention to strip off in a bold photo shoot for OK! magazine I was shocked. Then she told me the motivation behind her decision; I was full of admiration for the 49-year-old and immensely moved by her story, which you can read here…
Saira Khan is never short of an opinion and certainly isn’t afraid to push boundaries on ITV’s Loose Women. She’s spoken openly about her struggles to reconcile her strict Muslim upbringing with her western values and has previously faced death threats after posting bikini pictures online.
So when the former Apprentice star approached OK! about baring all in a ground-breaking photo shoot, we were full of admiration for her.
You see, for Saira, this isn’t about ‘showing off’ her curves or inviting compliments about her body. It’s about celebrating her achievements, raising a glass to her so-called flaws and more importantly, reassuring other Pakistani women that they have every right to enjoy feeling sexy.
‘All my life I’ve been told to cover up, that my body, if exposed, will bring me shame,’ Saira tells us, adding: ‘As a woman who turns 50 next May, I finally feel confident to say that my body no longer makes me feel guilty, it gives me pride and strength.’
In fact, Saira’s so confident about her body, after arriving at the shoot, she orders half a peri peri chicken and chips, which she swiftly demolishes! ‘A girl’s gotta eat,’ she laughs. ‘I didn’t even think about risking a bloated tummy!’
She describes the photos as ‘breaking the final Asian taboo’ and, before disrobing, confides: ‘I feel more ready for this than I ever have in my life.’
Saira grew up in the Midlands with Pakistani immigrant parents. She’s dedicating our exclusive shoot to the memory of Qandeel Baloch, who was murdered in an honour killing in 2016. Once dubbed the Kim Kardashian of Pakistan, the social media star, 26, was vilified in her community by sharing controversial posts, including videos of herself twerking and singing. In September, Qandeel’s brother Waseem was convicted of her murder. ‘As an Asian woman, you’re the honour, the guilt and the shame of your family,’ says Saira, adding: ‘Women are used to settle scores.’
She met her husband of 15 years, Steve Hyde, through work and they live in Oxford with their two children, Zac, 11, and eight-year-old Amara, who the couple adopted from Pakistan after struggling to conceive.
Steve is used to his wife’s outspoken manner which landed her in hot water when she revealed she’d told him to ‘go elsewhere’ for sex after losing her libido due to the perimenopause.
But sex is a topic that Saira thinks we should all be more open about, as she points out: ‘The sexual revolution hasn’t come to the Asian community yet.’ Here, Saira reveals the powerful motivation behind our exclusive shoot, how her experiences have had a lasting effect on her self-esteem and why she’s ready to face her haters…
Why did you want to do this shoot? Growing up in an Asian community, I felt a real sense of injustice. If you tried to look sexy you were made to feel like a prostitute. For me, being sexy is part of being feminine. I turn 50 next year and it’s going to be a celebration of me overcoming so many obstacles in my life. It’s taken me this long, after years of brainwashing, to finally feel good about my body. My body no longer makes me feel shameful or guilty.
How important is this shoot to you? Extremely. It’s my choice, I’m in control of it. I want to have the right to walk naked in the street without feeling like I’m fair game to men. I grew up thinking sex was something men did to you. I love sex, I enjoy sex. It’s brilliant for your self-esteem and an important part of a healthy relationship.
Was sex talked about by women in your community when you were younger? No, and it’s still a taboo subject. Women are embarrassed to talk about things like orgasms, or if they’re having sexual difficulties. I think there are lots of women in the Asian community who’ve lost sexual pleasure after giving birth and suffer in silence due to shame and guilt, like I’ve done. I don’t want those women to miss out on enjoying their bodies and getting help to orgasm.
What relationship did you have with clothes as a young Asian girl? I had to wear loose clothes that covered my body. It gave me the message that men can’t control their sexual urges. One day my dad caught me walking back from school with my long socks rolled down to my ankles. When I got home I was whipped with a wire coat hanger.
When did you start to ‘push back’? When I was 13 and I was molested in my own home by an uncle [now deceased]. It only happened once but it scarred me for life. I’d done all the things my parents said – I protected myself, I covered up – and yet my parents had told me these things don’t happen to good Pakistani girls. It’s bulls**t.
How did you feel while the photos were being taken? I was a bit nervous and every now and again my mum’s voice kept coming into my head, saying: ‘What do you think you’re doing lying on a bed like that?’ But as soon as I got into the shoot I felt so empowered. I’ve never felt so good about myself. It’s the best photo shoot I’ve ever done for self-confidence and empowerment.
How will your mum react to the photos? She won’t like me wearing sexy lingerie. She really cares about what other people think. I know she’ll be targeted. People will say: ‘Your daughter’s bringing shame on the family.’ I want to protect her but I also want my own daughter, Amara, to see that the world has changed. I don’t want her growing up with the same body hang-ups I’ve had. As a woman, it’s not about what you wear, it’s about being confident in your own skin.
Do you feel bad about upsetting your mum? I feel I’m a disappointment to my mum because I wasn’t an obedient, good Pakistani girl. I got married in a white meringue wedding gown, so next year I’m going to renew my vows in traditional dress. I really want to do that for her.
Are you worried about how other people will react to them? Yes, I’m worried about the backlash. But it’s two fingers up to the people who’ll say: ‘Shame on you!’ I’ve had those comments from Pakistani women and men. Having said that, my brothers have always been respectful of women, as was my dad.
Are you still receiving death threats? Not now that I name and shame people. I won’t live my life scared. I’ve been called a w***e and a white b***h. I’ve been told that my dad will be turning in his grave and: ‘If you carry on like this I’m going to cut your head off.’ The comments hurt but I just block them.
How do you think your Loose Women colleagues will react? I kept it a secret as I wanted to surprise them. We’ll be talking about it on the show. I’ll be speaking out on behalf of all those girls who don’t have a platform.
Are you comfortable seeing your naked body in the mirror? No. I prefer myself in clothes because I’m drawn to my flaws. But I’ll walk around the house naked and I strip off topless in my dressing room. I feel free to love my scars, my short legs and pot belly. Talking about body confidence on Loose Women is empowering.
How much did you struggle with your body image growing up? Loads. I never thought of myself as attractive. I’m still dealing with insecurities. I wish I had Jane’s legs, Nadia’s boobs, Andrea’s hair and Coleen’s sense of humour – she’s so sexy because she’s funny. But I’m finally body confident and I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been. My hair’s thinning with the menopause but I know what to do to make it look fuller. I’m quite toned too because I work out and lift weights. I’ve never wanted to look skinny like Victoria Beckham. I realised during the shoot that my body isn’t out of place in the era of bums, tums and curves.
Have you had any procedures? I’ve had Cool Sculpting which is when they freeze some fat from your stomach which you then shed as natural waste. It gives you about 25 per cent reduction in fat. I had it done before doing Dancing On Ice. I don’t think young women should go under the 10 knife for vanity reasons, but for older women who are doing it to boost their confidence, I don’t think there’s any harm in that.
Is there anything else you’d change? No. I’ve got a 32B chest but I have no desire to have a boob job. I think being molested is part of that reason. I don’t find my boobs sexy. Being able to embrace them in a photograph is me getting control over that part of my body after my horrendous experience.
What other lasting effects did that incident have on you? I became really angry. It made me feel no one’s going to mess with me. Men are petrified of me. They don’t tend to like strong, independent women.
Steve has asked you not to talk so publicly about your sex life – how will he feel about this shoot? He’s really happy that I’m doing this. He’s always supported me. Me and Steve will never get divorced. We’ve been through a hell of a lot. Mixed couples tend to be quite strong. I kept him a secret for four years when we first met and we faced resistance from our community. People talk about racism from white people on colour, but there’s a lot of racism from the Asian community towards the white population. It’s just not talked about. Steve’s family embraced me but my wider community didn’t embrace Steve. My mum adores Steve now and over time she’s accepted our marriage.
Are you still taking HRT [hormone replacement therapy]? Yes, it’s improved my sex life, my self-esteem and my skin. When I got hot sweats with the perimenopause, I developed massive red eczema patches between my legs. I looked like I had nappy rash. Janet Street-Porter told me to get on HRT and within weeks my skin condition completely cleared up.
Has Nadia inspired you with her naked pool selfies? Yes, the body confidence photo shoot we did triggered something in all of us. Nadia has a love/hate relationship with her body. I once walked in on her naked in the bath. She tried to cover herself but I told her: ‘You’ve got the most beautiful, curvy body.’ She’s embracing her body now. I really respect Stacey [Solomon] too. She’s a great role model.
Do you feel like a rebel? I’ve been a rebel all my life. I never fitted in anywhere but now I’ve created my own little family