Growing up, I had no freedom to dress the way I wanted. Mu clothing options were restricted, from the necklines to the hemlines, everything came with a limit. With time, as I set foot in high school and then college, I wanted to experiment with fashion. As I began to understand fashion trends, I would always ask my mother to buy me voguish clothing. Back then, tank tops were all the rage and girls would usually team them with cargo pants.
Honestly, my demands were always met but there was a periphery I couldn’t cross. For instance, in this case, I got a brand new pair of cargo pants but instead of a tank top, I got a regular tee. Sleeveless tops were a complete no-no in my family. My father would call the concept 'too modern'. I remember getting a cowl neck top from my pocket money while I was in college, and my grandmother suggested that I wear it with a camisole since the neckline was revealing and not something 'achhe ghar ki ladkiyan' would wear. Deep necks, short dresses were always termed 'too modern'.
It is only after turning a certain age and gaining maturity that I realised what contributed to this regressive thinking.
Good Girls Always Cover Up
We live in a country where we talk of women empowerment on one hand and hear cases of rape, abuse, crimes against women on the other hand. Though we have come across multiple cases through these years of men raping women irrespective of their clothing or age, society continues to call out the victim. Wear a body-hugging outfit or a plunging neckline and they would call it provocative clothing. Society is judgemental and there is no limit to their judgement. The conditioning is so deep rooted that parents with daughters from an early age teach their young girls to stay covered. (Survey: Women Fear Being Judged, Find It Difficult To Say No!)
It also comes down to the objectification of female bodies. Girls barely turn ten and they are taught how to pull their tops up. Even a bra strap showing creates such a hoo-ha, often looked atup as a sign that the woman is “asking for it”. Objectification and sexualisation of women is so common, it has been here for ages and nothing seems to be changing. Step out in a short skirt or a sleeveless top and you will only drive more attention towards yourself.
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Judgements Are A Bit Twisted
If you are a brown daughter just like me, you must have been through this - You must have witnessed people swiftly judging your character by your dressing sense. Wear a ripped denim, midi dress ,or an off-shoulder top for your family get-together and there you have it, right from your own people. "Aaj kuch zyada he nahi ho gaya?" (Don't you think it's too much?), "Kya baat hai, kuch zyada hie choti dress nahi lag rahi? (Don't you think the dress is too short), "Aaj kal ki ladkiya kaise kaise top pehnti hai, arey bhai ab toh modern zamana hai" (look at the kind of tops girls wearthese days, it is the modern era now) — the comments just don't stop coming in. Intriguingly, you get tagged a 'behenji' if you dress simple or choose to wear traditional outfits. There is no solace anywhere.
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The Discomforting Male Gaze
As I completed my education and started stepping out for work, I began experimenting with my wardrobe. There were times when I managed to convince my parents to wearfor certain style picks. I remember wearing a floral maxi to work on a sunny day. As usual, I took the metro to work. As soon as I boarded the metro, the piercing gaze of every nearby man made me regret my sartorial choice in a jiffy. Oddly enough, it was similar on days when I switched to a classic pair of jeans and tee or a kurta churidar. The ogling is unnerving on a different level and that’s why, even years later today, I continue to travel only in the women-only coach.
It is already difficult to be a woman in India , and these things only add up to the challenges. Clearly, there is no respite for women.