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The multiple biases associated with the visibility of women’s lingerie in India are stark, while men can flaunt their undergarments openly.
Once upon a time in India, there lived the women’s undergarments fashionably called Lingerie. They were destined to live their life hiding behind clothes and forever playing second fiddle to other more visible items of clothing like salwar suits, tops and tunics.
If a woman had a limited budget, she would obviously choose to spend it on the more visible items, wouldn’t she? So, they felt trapped and could never breath fresh air. To make matters worse, when they were washed and dried, they were often hidden beneath other items of clothing so that the lustful eyes of passing men would not fall on them.
While the men’s undergarments would be freely dangling on the rope, the Lingerie would be surreptitiously hiding beneath a dupatta, peaking out pitifully and hoping to get some sunshine in its disadvantageous position.
This story is not just of the Lingerie but also of several woman in India who lose out on the sunshine of opportunities because of the society’s attitudes and biases.
I experienced a strange phenomenon while growing up. Whenever I washed my underwear and put it out to dry, my mother instructed me to hide it beneath another cloth. As I hit puberty, another item had to be given the same treatment-the ‘obscene’ bra.
Now, the poor underwear had some company and the two suffered in silence. I followed this ritual for some time till I was smart enough to question this and realised how ludicrous this practice actually was.
I also started noticing that in some of my more conservative relatives’ households, the girls had strict instructions to ensure that the ‘Dupatta’ never slipped and was always draped properly. Even if it slipped a little, they would get what I call the ‘angry eye treatment’ from their mothers and the dupatta would be swiftly adjusted and put back in place.
One day I noticed my cousin sleeping in the common area of the house and the poor girl, even in sleep, was adjusting her dupatta to ensure it was at the right place. How can anyone be confident about themselves if they keep obsessing over the positioning of their dupatta?
And what about how they view their own bodies and their own self, as a result of this? Although I like wearing Indian outfits, I find the dupatta to be a cumbersome item of clothing which restricts my movements and I am better off without it.
There is one incident closely related to the topic of discussion, which I remember quite vividly. I must have been 21 or 22 at that time. I gave a pair of jeans to the laundry and my rebellious underwear decided to tag along uninvited.
While counting the clothes, the laundry guy noticed it and pointed it out to my mother. My red faced mother, in true Bollywood acrobatic style, lunged forward to snatch it and saved her daughter’s honour from the lustful eyes of the laundry man. She got home and gave me a solid lecture for being careless, irresponsible and causing her much shame.
Frankly, I was baffled, as it seemed like just a minor slip up. I bet she would have treated this very casually if my brother had been involved in this situation. Anyway, this event affected me so much that even today, more than a decade later, I still check my clothes for stray undergarments while giving them for ironing or laundry!
In my parent’s defence, I would say that they were fairly liberal but these are deep seated beliefs that one can often never get rid of. So, I forgave my mother for her outburst long ago.
These situations can often inculcate shame in a woman about the female body. And I would like to elaborate on why I think this is so wrong. Our body and what we wear is an inextricable part of our identity. If our behaviours and actions related to them, do not flow naturally, we start questioning and saying things in our head which sound like, “Hey, I can’t even hang my bra openly. There must be something wrong with me.”
Sub-consciously, we may start feeling under-confident about ourselves. Now, women often experience similar situations from an early age which may undermine their confidence. Secondly, as human beings, we always compare ourselves to the people closest to us. In growing up years, it might be a sibling.
So again, we would be like, “He gets to hang his underwear out but I don’t. I am getting a different treatment.” When we compare, we would either place ourselves in an advantageous or a disadvantageous position. And here, we would be at a disadvantage. This might sound a little far fetched but it is not.
If you do a search on the internet on ‘confidence gap woman’, you can access different publications and studies which point out that women are seen to have less confidence as compared to men, across different geographies. While some argue that it’s the difference in the way their brain functions, different hormonal constitution or a reflection of a culture that creates less self assured woman.
Whatever the case might be, the point that I am trying to make is that there is so much that a woman is up against. What we do not need is further impediments in her path, however, subtle or insignificant they may seem.
I will leave you with one tip – While drying your clothes, if you ever feel the urge to hide your bra under another cloth, think of the hours men spend ogling at women’s breasts. Surely their innocent minds are aware of the existence of such devices, so why hide them? So what I would say is ‘Let the Lingerie breath, #HangItOut.’
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