This is the most interesting phase of our life; in my opinion – the crisis is not a period of lockdown but of liberation and metamorphosis. The sense of liberation comes with a sense of knowing oneself, reflections on living in the moment, and most importantly of connecting within and truly discovering our inner strength and beauty.
I have never felt better about my own self and my body than what I am experiencing now. The lockdown has taught me that resilience should emerge first within one’s body and mind. The “feel good factor” is at its pinnacle – How am I doing it? Well first, it may sound bizarre, but I am keeping the fashion and style quotient up and alive. As a sociologist and a people’s person the term social distancing is absurd, so for me it really is and will always be, physical distancing. Since the not so stringent lockdown was announced here in Washington DC, where we still get to go to parks, walk in open spaces while maintaining physical distance I continue to dress up from Monday to Friday in my formal wardrobe and choose casual outfits for the weekends. This is the new “normal” that I have chosen for myself. Every morning, I choose comfortable and stylish pair of innerwear pick out clothes for the day and style them with the right shoes! One of my housemates who had just moved in with us saw me all dolled up in the morning, and remarked “Hey, are you planning to go out somewhere”? I laughed and replied, “no, I dress up for work”, He loved it! This is what I have been doing every single day of the lockdown. There are no cheats, for any virtual calls; I do not just show up wearing a shirt for the camera but get fully dressed for every meeting and chat throughout the day. Lockdown has led to work from home along with household chores. This often makes one feel unmotivated to take care of one self and to keep up their style quotients. At times women are unmotivated due to the environments they live in. At times staying alone, being married for years or oddity of body shapes post childbirth make women give up on self care and grooming. But here’s the thing that I realised no matter how our surroundings are we must not lower our energies or project negative emotions about our bodies. I mean lockdown may not be the most conducive time to feel great! To say the least it’s a difficult time for everyone everywhere still, taking good care of our bodies and mind, investing time to dress up and look good should be our priority. The times are unprecedented but we can set our own precedents by choosing the best practices for ourselves. Thanks to one of my housemate who continues to work out in one of the most stylish black bras, uses her wall mirror to replicate the gym effect and still maintains health with style has helped me gain a lot of perspective about the fact that if we decide to do better, we can do better.
As a child, I have never been thin or slim, body shaming is something that was never in my family but growing up in South Delhi and going to a south Delhi co – education school in India was indeed tough. It begins at school, where for the first time you encounter boys teasing you about your body or cracking jokes about the changes your body is undergoing and even mock at you. It is an interesting phase, when you are an adolescent and your body is undergoing numerous hormonal changes. My image of a ‘tomboy’ was difficult to cope up with at school. I was told that my body is very manly, that I walk like a man. A part of the reason was that I used to play soccer (football as we call it in India) with the boys. This stereotype was something that I continued to internalise and live with never helped with my body image. Yet, confidence was something in- built in me, thanks to my upbringing where I was always told to respect who you are, I could deal with it easily. However, I do recall some of my own peers especially girls, from different backgrounds who were unable to cope up with this kind of peer bullying in school. While adolescent boys are at the forefront, most of us have witnessed that bunch of high school girls almost always join them in promoting a certain type of body image, a norm in the school life. The stereotypes and body shaming start early and continue to unfold even in universities and at workplaces.
My teenage years were marked with a sense of anxiety, and being inquisitive. It ranged from selecting the first few pairs of teenage inner-wear to salon visits for grooming. We had never been exposed to and had any types of sessions or classes during adolescent times. When I look back, I think it would actually have been great to have a core subject on Fashion – inner-wear back in my school times. For us, it was magazines like the Teens, Femina and websites with latest trends which were key guides to follow – which led to the fixation of those “thin cool models”. As such we all begin to think that this model-like-body image is an ideal image. We all aspire to be them in some way or the other. From the types to colour of body we all go through the already set norms for instance, some of my friends with dark complexions were devastated with the kind of hard comments, patronising attitude that they still continue to get. The Indian arrange marriage processes on selection of a girl and bride, is a great instance of our fixation and obsession with a given body image, complexion and stereotypes.
Given these stereotypes, the already set normal we never bothered about the Inner-wear fashion as something to be talked about, let alone it being thought of as part of an essential education; sagging breasts is a common phenomenon for many women. If a bra strap is showing, the way we indicate in a hush- hush style to hide it or be careful about it, is so hilarious. I also had a colleague who made it a point to adjust my revealing bra strap by herself! Yes, that is not a violation of my privacy or entering my body zone, it was the other way around, I was the culprit whereby my bra strap accidentally revealed itself. It is seen as a sign of carelessness, inviting men so no matter how sexy they are, lace ridden, colourful- this inner-wear is forbidden to be revealed or even be talked about.
Now compare this scenario with a very wide trend among men, to reveal their underwear band stripe or to wear low hanging jeans such that the bands of their underwear are revealed. So now put my colleague in this scenario, would he or she be going around pulling up pants of these men where the underwear is getting revealed? My point here is not to bring in a sense of competition but to state that norms of inner-wear should be equal too. Showing of bra straps in some contexts is indeed a matter of pride; the bra became a symbol of liberation of radical feminist movements in many countries. Hence emphasis should be on not talking in a hush hush manner but be extremely open about it. Just like the IndiaIntimate Fashion Week’s campaign break the taboo, how many of us know the right way of wearing a bra? Right size, especially the cup size? Do you know inner-wear has a big connect with a woman’s overall health and well-being, especially post pregnancy, if the right kind of inner-wear are not worn it can lead to a permanent damage to the overall body? While the 34 A b C etc., can be darn confusing and unnecessary my suggestion is just go to a good retailer and learn about what fits you best. Trust me, all these years I embarked on a journey like all girls from the teenager’s bra, to sports bra all the time believing that I had got it all correct, until when I went to a designer for a sister’s wedding, I came to actually know the right type and correct manner of wearing a bra where you also need to tuck in the sides. Honestly, I did not know it had that much value. Same bras cannot work for Indian and western dresses, when we are exercising the inner-wear needs to be different from our normal ones as you would be sweating etc. Also, while there is big contestation on the 80% of women wearing wrong bra size, we still cannot neglect the fact that an ill-fitting bra indeed leads to bra sores, breast sagging, blocking lymph nodes which are often indirectly the culprit leading to cancer. In my family there were times when my dad used to simply purchase good inner-wear for me Reebok is something, I liked given its comfort at times of exercises, Enamor and others were meant for special occasions. I always loved my inner-wear and for me it has always been the most essential part of clothing and felt like I was setting the foundation of my clothing. My mom has always been particular that we wear correct inner-wear as during her times she shares that that lack of awareness, knowledge and taboo resulted in de-shaping and early sagging of breasts. More so she is a breast cancer survivor and so I feel intimately about the issue at hand and understand the merit of discussing it.
The do’s and don’ts of inner wear which though extremely critical bring us to more important discussion on body positivity. I feel that it is high time that we talk of body positivity and call out body shaming. The body shaming that we experience in various places is extremely distasteful and, in our cultures, a man can be in any body shape but the pressures on women to look good as a wife, colleague, girlfriend and workspace leader is enormous. So a man may not hit out to the gym but his wife has to do so on many occasions ( not generalising but a blatant fact) Our biggest problem is that we associate body image acceptance as a norm through the perspectives of men in public, homes and in work sphere – we continue to exist as Second Sex.
To look good,first implies to feel good about yourself, from within, not to gain any kind of acceptance from the societal norms. This so called Covid Crisis period has really prompted me to value myself in my own eyes, eat right, think right and work right! Not for anyone else but for myself. Let me share an incident, at one of my workspaces a competition with grades, marks and points to lose weight was initiated. We have really got it wrong at the first go, our concentration should be to promote well being rather than this fixation of loosing weight. For some suffering from key ailments, etc., it is difficult and they are healthy yet are not ideal in the eyes of those who are still fixated with a certain body image or so. Our body mass index etc is a good score to check on ourselves but to openly promote campaigns on loosing weights over promoting well being itself showcases our fixation to a particular body type.
I have been on a heavier side as stated, I admit I also had a bad lifestyle choice but shaming someone, and stigmatizing rather than encouraging them to adopt a healthier lifestyle can permanently damage the mental health of the person. Whether your complexion is dark, light, body type is large, thin, in these times our focus should be to promote healthier lifestyle and awareness on the same. Secretive fashion is one of the most attractive forms of fashion I feel, as I am truly empowered in my decision to wear anything underneath and it remains with me only! Also, it is the one wardrobe that even connects you with your partner, if your partner does not know your correct size and brand then time to say good bye to him! My ex partner was in retail industry and well, I have fond memories of him buying the most attractive inner-wear for me. I should thank him that I never felt judged or shamed by him, as a matter of fact he encouraged me to focus on the inner-wear. Maybe it was so because he was from the sector but it was a good bonding factor too.
To all the women and girls, we just had an international lingerie day (April 24th), let us really embrace ourselves – size, shape and co lour. To all the men – especially the ones who I know and those who acted as jerks – just grow up!! And hopefully today you buy an interesting lingerie piece for your wife, girlfriend or even partner – don’t ask them the size, it is a symbol of truly knowing our mate. So, try it out!
Radhika Ralhan – is a Sociologist and a Global Impact Fellow selected by the Atlas Corps Fellowship program for professional social leaders across the world. She is a sustainability, practitioner and has expertise in sustainable consumption, circular economy, CSR in multi stakeholder set ups. She is based in Washington DC, a left hander, South Delhi Fashionista, her style is to be Bold and Unconventional.