Day 110: I was born this way

Two days ago, I stepped into LifeStyle after nearly a decade. And I needed to scarf down an entire donut when I stepped out, to rid myself of the horrible taste the entire visit had left in my mouth.

First, I didn’t find a single regular, well-fitting tee-shirt that 1) wasn’t trying hard to be clever with a stupid caption printed across the front 2) didn’t cost an arm and a leg for something as regular as a basic tee. Why is it so hard to find basic tees that fit well, are made in good quality cotton and that don’t have stupid slogans/captions/prints/embellishments splattered all over them? An no, there ought to be regular brands that make these without having to rush off to the sports/athleisure brands of the world.

Minor displeasures aside, the visit was a frightening reminder of just how boxy fashion trends are, no matter what the year or season. The level to which the fashion industry perpetuates truly regressive stereotypes and women and their bodies, even in this day and age, is shocking.

Sample this:

Is it just me or do each of those “fits” look nearly identical?

It didn’t help that I was there with my MIL and SIL, who are far more avid shoppers than I ever will be, and do more to keep abreast with fashion trends than I ever will. I used to think of them as my pathway to knowing what’s in and what’s not, even though I have never really dressed in keeping with a trend. But something has clearly snapped inside of me, in these weeks of re-looking at and re-examining the way I look at my body.

While my in-laws samples this and that, trying on and rejecting a pile of clothes because, too boyish, too dowdy, too transparent (“I’ll need a skin coloured bra”), shapeless, too short, too long, my husband won’t like this, I spent my time trying to will my eyeballs back from the place they were wedged in at the back of my skull, because of the constant eye-rolling.

And then I had an epiphany. That perhaps my subtle, but unconscious slip into pressuring myself to change my body in the last one year is a result of hanging around with this family. All said and done they’re deeply entrenched in patriarchal notions of what’s beautiful and attractive. There’s literally just one body type that they find acceptable or desirable, which means they’re always feeling flawed, insecure, ugly and inadequate about something or another.

I think some of it has subliminally rubbed-off on to me.

The beauty and fashion industry is always peddling a new thing every few months, and in the process instilling the idea that we are always somewhat flawed. The promise of the newest trend, product, attire to fix that flaw is strong. And more than enough women will believe what they are told and what they see in stores, in advertisements, in popular culture, movies, TV shows and drawing room conversation, without a second thought.

My discomfort with arbitrary body trends was always high, but it is fast bubbling over into a tremendous discomfort, unease and rage towards the fashion industry, and how much of it is about adhering to a certain type. So much of it perpetuates fixed, rigid ideas of gender. Tom-boy, androgynous, girly, boyfriend-this, girlfriend-that, so on and so forth.

Most bodies remain largely unchanged through the lifetime of a person. Sure, I may lose or gain a lot of weight, but my bone structure and body type underneath it all will remain the same — for good. I have a typically Indian wide-hipped body, for example. Even at my leanest, my hips were always the widest part of my body. So it would be really stupid to attempt to fit into straight-cut jeans or pants that don’t have enough room to accommodate my ample backside.

I cannot possibly aspire to make every new trend work for me, because it will mean requiring a new body every few months. I can either embrace my body as is, wear whatever I want that makes me feel comfortable and look nice, or I can believe a fashion trend and give up the idea of ever wearing an entire set of clothes that I’m told aren’t for “my body type”.

That’s one thing. Another aspect is how everything about the way we dress, and how we choose to look, is done keeping men and their desires in mind. The extent to which how we view ourselves is linked to how we think other people think of our looks/appearance is appalling when we stop to examine it. (This realisation was one of the first wake up calls in my own life. I was disgusted with why I was so interested in fitting into certain kinds of clothes because certain kinds of people would be seeing me, more than I was interested in being comfortable and myself.)

And so here’s the thing; not everything I do to my body, my face, my skin, not every piece of clothing I put on or take off, is done to be beautiful. Sometimes I just like a piece of clothing, or a fabric, or a style or cut. Sometimes it’s too hot for one thing, and perfect weather for another. Sometimes it’s practical to wear shorts, sometimes it just makes sense to be layered. Some days I feel like making the effort to look nice, some days I don’t really care. I really value the freedom I have to dress and carry myself the way I see fit, regardless of who is going to view me. My choice to wear shorts even with unwaxed legs, to not give a shit about my bra straps showing from beneath a sleeveless tank-top comes from the same place.

The flipside of this privilege is also that I don’t always think I’m pretty. And that’s okay. Some days of the month, my acne flares up and it doesn’t make me happy or feel gorgeous to see it. I have stretch marks that I live with, but don’t love or hate. My teeth aren’t perfectly aligned despite the ridiculously tedious orthodontic treatment I’ve been through. My jaw and smile is a bit lopsided some times, in some angles. I don’t necessarily find any of this to be pretty all of the time. Some days I live with it some days I think it makes no difference. Most days it’s just the part of the human being I am. I don’t have to always look and feel pretty in order to be worthy of going about a day in full view of people around me.

I feel the same way about clothes. Sure, it is important to want to look nice and presentable, wear all the clothes I wish to, yada yada. But it’s just clothes. I don’t need to be beautiful and presentable all of the time, in the way the world needs me to be, for me to feel worthy. Not every little detail about my appearance, whether physiological or sartorial, needs to adhere to an acceptable kind of prettiness suited to the male eye.

Far too much of how we dress is about making various factions of society feel safe and comfortable, and not enough of it is about how we feel and the choices we want to make. I’ve seen this happen — random uncles appreciating me in a saree, not because I just look nice but because “it’s nice to see you looking womanly”, well-meaning relatives telling me my short hair is taking away from “feminine face-cut”, enough members of my husband’s family who won’t think twice before telling me I’m “too thin” when they’re simultaneously commenting on all and sundry being “too fat”.

It’s on days like this that I wonder what it will take to really get more women to feel better about ourselves and our bodies. And how we can extend that to our clothes — sometimes the ability to wear whatever we want with confidence, sometimes to realise that there isn’t any one kind of “fashionable”, and most of all to be okay and as accepting of our bodies as with our means to clothe ourselves. Because, let’s be honest “fashion” doesn’t come cheap or easy to everyone alike.

We’ve got to take the focus off of appearances in general.

People are going to have opinions one way or another. Body trends will continue to be unhealthy and brutal to our mental health and general well-being. Fashion is going to always peddle a new normal to make us feel inadequate. But historically, and evolutionarily, human beings have been about diversity. We come in a massive range of shapes and sizes. Add to that our personal preferences, the sheer subjective nature of aesthetics, our genetic make up and predisposition, cultural backgrounds and what have you, and there’s literally a million ways in which we’ll want to dress or look.

How on earth can all of that be slotted into a handful of looks, trends, types for us to adhere to?

The mind boggles. Gimme that donut.

Two years ago: Day 110: Go far, they said

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8 thoughts on “Day 110: I was born this way

  1. Pingback: Day 134: April

  2. There’s several tangled threads here. The clothing industry, via adverts and articles , has interest in creating ‘needs’, to which end it exploits insecurities. Other industries do this, sell margarine by scaring you about cholesterol, sell room sprays by scaring you about pongs others might smell, etc. Likewise the dominant class has an interest in keeping the subordinate class where they are. Lots of pressure on women in the corporate industries about appearance, not so much on men, for example. Yet we should be free to use fashion, clothing, jewellery as self expression, and variety of clothing as a resource to get a wardrobe which we feel reasonably happy with.

  3. May I fall on your shoulder and weep? I HATE HATE HATE clothes shopping, especially with my husband, because he chooses clothes that he thinks will look good on me, and they probably will (I have a fantastic figure for a 45 year old, modesty be damned), but I like my clothes to (a) be simple (b) be unobtrusive and (c) not make a statement of any sort. I went to FAbIndia with him last month, and he got me a bunch of gorgeous and expensive clothes, which I would have never bought for myself – but he thinks (like a lot of other people – my dad, my in-laws) I dress like shit (I do, but I don’t give a damn, why must he/they?), and what not.

    I love him until death do us part and all that, but aaaaargh.

    Sorry for the rant. You touched a raw nerve there.

    1. What is “dress like shit” anyway? It’s all subjective. There’s no time to waste trying to please other people’s aesthetics. Might as well dress the way you see fit!

  4. Hi. I loved this post. I have many of the same feelings, both the positive and the negative, and especially over this last week or so (due to either PMS, the emotional, spiritual and sensory intensity and sweetness of Hampi, dressing for the heat in Hampi, or a combination of all these things.) I am travelling with a very small wardrobe: I have big baggy black linen trousers x1, white shirtx1, white blouse x1, a cream scarf for head/shoulders which on the hottest days I put on top of a lilac hat! I am perfectly comfortable (as long as I don’t look in the mirror!). In the evening/when less hot I have black vestsx2 and black knee length skirtx1. I re do my hair (which is always in a bun here, wish I was brave enough to cut it all off, you look amazing with short hair, not sure that I would!) and that is as pretty as I get! My backpack wardrobe is practical, light, everything goes together, and I studiously avoid fashion and magazines (as I have done for ages) and try to be as kind to myself as possible! You are so right re the effect of outside influences/the company we keep. It IS possible to create a bubble where the only person you refer to or compare yourself to is yourself, right now. (This also applies to coping with ageing and not being young anymore!) Thanks for a very interesting post. All the best, Rachel.

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