March Together//

Being Fashion Forward Isn’t About Keeping up with the Kardashians

It is fighting the constant need to conceal who you really are. Damaged and confused, 14-year-olds have replaced the woman in the mirror with the women on their Instagram feed, says one of India’s leading fashion designers. And it’s down to us to bring back a semblance of sanity to the fierce, often cruel, game of acceptability.

Since the beginning of time, our parents have always treated us girls as their little gudiyas (dolls), little princesses who are always supposed to be poised and perfect. But did they teach us to express, embrace and be prepared for all the gadbad (chaos) hidden under the veil of perfection and demands of the society? Let’s talk about the antithesis of gudiya: Girls thinking out loud wondering if they will ever be heard, waiting to bend the rules, not waiting to be rescued but wanting to fly; yet, chained to the weight of society’s norms and ideals.

I’d be lying if I say that I never prayed to God to make me look like someone else, someone prettier, someone perfect and someone who feels beautiful in and out.

Not difficult to see why. For time immemorial, the fashion and beauty industries have set some unrealistic standards and expectations as to how a woman should dress, look and act. Riding the wave of severe Photoshop and polished perfection, we are forgetting how women look and feel beneath the layers of makeup and tailored clothes. Even in the 21st century, women are stuck amidst the extremes. Damned if you care and damned if you don’t. If you like to dress up and put on some makeup you get trolled and if you just walk around like you rolled out of your bed you look you’re someone who doesn’t care and has ‘let go’. One shouldn’t forget that how you chose your definition of beauty is a very personal choice, while we’re expected to be a flawless figurine that is bound by the confines of conventional beauty standards. We are just messed-up dolls waiting to feel beautiful in our own skin, adorned with designer bags, celebrity endorsed highlighter and laced with borderline anxiety.

While everybody preaches about changing the norms of the industry and its rules, thinking about making a change is different from actually making a change. It’s the thought that matters, they say, but one tends to forget the factors involved in creating the change. It takes an ample amount of courage, attention to detail, money, and expertise to bring about an evolution in society and the voice of change gets lost in the noise of social media and public opinions. Although social media has been a platform for change for a lot of issues and one that I use extensively to make my voice heard, when it comes to beauty and fashion it radiates hate and constant negativity that brings down anyone who wishes to step out of society’s hegemony. By this, I mean even if you are trying to break the mould and bring about the change.

The pressure has always been real but today the pressure is fatal. And I hate to admit, but it comes from fashion. I remember being at a screening for a film hearing two voluptuous women talking about how they want to get on the new Keto diet, because fat girls can’t wear pretty clothes. I remember thinking how hard it must be for them.

The pressure dates back to the 16th century when women used to wear corsets to change the appearance of their bodies; then the love for curves came and died, big was no longer beautiful and the world was skinny again. There’s a new fashion trend every week and while the body decides to go with the flow, the mind loses its calm trying to keep up with it. The only barrier women have between who they are and who they wish to be is the colour of their skin, the clothes that they can fit into, the texture of their hair and their body type.

This unrealistic expectation is not just inflicted by men but many women too.

Call me crazy but a woman can be a woman’s worst enemy. While we live in a world shining under the mask of fairness creams, suddenly everyone is obsessed with the tanned and sun-kissed. Somewhere between accepting darker, slightly heavier and completely unconventional features, we end up shaming the skinny and petite. In order to meet the desired change, the scales have to be balanced.   

Having an appetite for imagery even 14-year-old girls have forgotten the bittersweet joy of embracing their awkwardness, clumsiness and imperfections that come with being a teenager, just because they are busy keeping up with a Kardashian. Damaged and confused, they have replaced the woman in the mirror with the women on their Instagram feed.  

Fashion is a vehicle for change and awareness. We need to free ourselves from the shackles of perfection and celebrate where we came from. The constant need and desire to mask your tiredness and look a certain way has changed the way we should look and believe about ourselves. This is where the big boys and girls of fashion need to stand up and educate the society. And I don’t mean by ‘influencer activations’ or ‘paid promotions’ for fashion and cosmetic giants… because you can’t change a person’s opinion or mind-set but you can lead them towards the change. Even with the wave rising, I deal with it every day and not just with people trolling me or commenting on me and everything I do but also friends and acquaintances who share their experiences. Heck, a friend once told me she wants to spend less time cooking because the heat of the tavaa (cooking pan) can make you darker, she had heard. It makes me wonder about the world and opinions they are shaping for their children.

Fashion fails to make its impact when it populates a runway show with only big models, or only black models or only white models. Fashion fails when it picks sides.

While inclusivity is an easy term to put on a sheet of paper, it’s a fierce wave that people are riding to wash over the cultural and societal damage that has been going on for years now. Today, the reins are in our hands, change begins with accepting who we really are. Embracing your vulnerability and taking your flaws in both hands and giving them care but setting them free…because after all beauty is so skin-deep, that it can come out brimming in your eyes and set your whole life aflame.

 Credit: Gadbad Gudiya series by Shrishti Kapoor

Want to share your story of how you thrive? Write to us at editorial.india@thriveglobal.com

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