Relationship between Fashion & Feminism


The struggle to convince society that many of the things women do have economic meaning, has been a long one and even when they have been acknowledged as having some economic value, the social value is still missing. The status accorded to some types of work isn’t always linked to money but on what that work actually is, says Manjima Bhaattacharjya. Treating and viewing the women who perform that work in a not-so-respectful manner. The world of fashion in India shows us the work of models, and the difficulties it entails, to the fundamental question of whether fashion objectifies women or acknowledges their agency.

 You could see clearly how time has changed the industry for example the story of Meera in the 1970s, participating in the pageantry was looked upon as taboo, she felt working in the industry pioneering because during that time it was believed that girls from good homes never really went all out like that and did those things. When she won Miss India she was awarded things that would make her a good wife, a good homemaker like a sewing machine, a fridge. If I am talking about changes, women these days are awarded job opportunities, they are given contracts, things which will allow them to earn and put them par with men. People had absolutely no good things to say about models. And an occupation like modelling, keyword being occupation as this work sometimes isn’t viewed as work at all which involves presenting oneself publicly in a desirable or sexy way, becomes even more devalued and stigmatized. All interactions are filtered through a moral and judgemental lens Sometimes, the sexual subjectivity they face over the years has turned into a tendency to make independent sexual choices in their personal lives. The stigma however cannot be removed surgically due to this it had led these women to have a very ambiguous relationship with their work. 

 Fashion and feminism have been always looked at as enemies, we see that things now are very different from 1996 when the Indian feminists had organized a protest nationally against the miss world contest that was held in Bangalore. Although I think there is still space for more dialogue amongst feminists on their relationship with their bodies, and body image. It’s an unfinished conversation. With the new generation, the lipstick was no longer a concern, it was a sign of resistance and defiance of being told to look modest and being slut-shamed for working as models. This generation of models and feminists is greatly infested in rejecting the sexual politics of shame and taking back their rights. The questions that feminism asks of fashion – about the problematic body images it perpetrates, the pressure to look a certain way, being complicit in mindless consumerism – still stand. But I feel we are living in a time when the bigger picture is more important – right-wing conservatism, increasing control over what women say or do or wear, the attack on democratic institutions, a politics of violence and hate. And in this sense, they are allies in challenging these. It is crucial to view.  Even after everything is said and done, a void remains. This void is the absence of respectability which is played out with words and gestures like for example, the slut-shaming that shuts women up and locks up their key to being free. Women in the fashion industry or women just in general are tired, they don’t want to subscribe to the old patriarchal notion of shame or respect, what we see here is, there is a longing and a deep well of desire to be respected, they want to enjoy a sense of dignity and self-worth that is not challenged by any stranger.


 Written by: Shifra Bhorapkar




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