Friday, 10 October 2014

On The Slaves of "Fashion"

No word irritates me more than the word ‘fashion’. This disease like the aids virus destroys the capacity of individuals to think for themselves, it destroys their immunity to absurd behaviour patterns and has the capacity to turn perfectly normal human beings into jokers and brainless copycats.

The craze to be bracketed as “fashionable” influences innumerable small and big decisions of our life – from choosing the furniture of our house to selecting our marriage partner or even the books we read or the tones and accent we use to talk to others.

Western societies take enormous pride in the fact that they place the highest importance on individualism. As per this ideology every person has the freedom to make free choices in every domain of their lives. This emphasis on “freedom of choice” is assumed to make them a superior species – a more highly evolved specimen of the human race on earth. The westernized elite even in India have mesmerized themselves into believing that once they imbibe “individualism” in a large enough dose, they too become part of this superior species.

But very few people recognize that the fashion industry which has made inroads into every domain of life is systematically cutting at the roots of “freedom of choice”, “freedom of thought”, “freedom of self expression”.

Take the example of clothes: Despite the façade of free choice, in most western and now even westernized sections of Asian and African countries, what people wear is not anymore a matter of personal choice. It is largely pre-decided by the fashion industry.

 It is a master stroke of the fashion industry that women and men, old and young, as well as little children, whether from rich or poor families – all sport denim with a sense of pride as if it is a statement of having ‘arrived’ in life. At one time, it was the uniform of the poor dock workers in America. But the fashion industry has made it a style statement of the elite. Its absurdity can be gauged by the fact that torn, frayed and patched jeans are more expensive than a new outfit! To my unfashionable eyes, there can be no worse garment than a pair of jeans. They are not easy to wash or dry if you don't have a washer/dryer set  and people wear the same pair of  dirty, sweaty and smelly garment with impunity for days on end.

If it were destitute who were wearing a jeans top that looks like a wretched rag or worn out banyan along with torn jeans, one could overlook it as a circumstantial compulsion. But when the sons and daughters of wealthy parents or filthy rich film stars go to designer stores and buy the kind of raggedy outfits that one would feel ashamed of giving even to a beggar on the street, one can only call it the perverse magic of the fashion industry.

Even though it is fashion moguls sitting in London, Paris and New York decide what is to be labeled the “in thing” that particular season, people gleefully imagine they are making “free choices” when buying clothes. In fact fashions change faster and more erratically than Mother Nature’s largely predictable seasons. If they declare purple to be the fashionable colour for that season, then one will find virtually every single store displaying purple dresses that season. The appeal of  fashionable purple doesn’t last beyond a few months. It is a sure thing that in the coming season, another colour as arbitrarily picked as the first one is declared the happening colour. And yet all those women who wore purple outfits influenced by the status attached to it in shop display windows would like to imagine that they went for that particular dress out of free choice.

Likewise, very few women are left with gumption to decide on the basis of personal preference or convenience about how tight or how loose her garment will be. This is decided by a set of fashion designers whose faces she has never seen and whose name she may not have heard. It is only a rare woman who will use her own mind to decide for herself how long or short her skirt or kurta will be, whether she will wear a maxi or a mini. These decisions have been appropriated by the doyens of fashion. Similarly, for ages, it was considered an embarrassment if a woman’s undergarment peeped through her clothes or if her brassiere strap peeked through her blouse. But today, it is considered trendy to show off your bra even more aggressively as the outer garment.

On the one hand, mavens of fashion based in distant London and New York decide how much flesh a woman should expose, how much of her  she is going to reveal, whether she wears halter neck or full sleeves; on the other hand even ordinary tailors are no less quick in persuading their clients to copy the fashion trends from Bollywood movies and TV shows  to adjust the length of kurtas and cuts of blouses. But those who hypnotically copy the sharara of Aishwarya Rai or a mini skirt worn by Kareena Kapoor don’t think there is any need to look at their shape or the form of their own bodies in the mirror to judge honestly whether what looks good on Aishwarya or Kareena will also look good on them. It is only when a person assesses his or her own physique and picks out her clothes accordingly, gives primacy to comfort and body fit, that the person can be said to have made an individual choice. But fashion enslaved people lose such judiciousness.

If it was just a matter of wearing inappropriate clothes, one could ignore it as foolish behaviour. But when women wear six inch long pencil heels which are proven to be harmful and can cause permanent damage to one’s feet, then you know that the disease called fashion has the ability to impair rational thinking.

The matter is not limited to external trappings. Today, men and women are spending   lakhs of rupees to change the colour of their hair, reshape and inflate their breasts to firm up their bottoms or reduce their waistlines. In the process, they inflict untold misery on their bodies- sometimes causing permanent damage. Ever since fashion monarchs declared size zero as the desirable form for the female body, millions of women have gone on crash diets at the cost of ruining their health and undergoing self harming operations like liposuctions to refashion their bodies into unrealistic forms and shapes.

But even more  harmful are those who dare not step out of their laxman rekha of intellectual fashions. On every social issue they not only have pre set answers based on what is considered politically fashionable at that time but also appropriate physical gestures to go with each response. Because these intellectual fashions are manufactured in the universities of North America and Europe and backed by the financial clout of western donor agencies, therefore, even in India these fashions are remote controlled from the West. All these NGOs and academics that strut around mouthing fashionable jargon consider it a great intellectual achievement to shape their views and research findings according to the political requirement of their donors.

This is an important reason why most of our NGOs indulge in export quality activism based on imported ideas. Similarly most of the elite academics produce only export worthy treatises which have very little worth at home. For instance, most of our “eminent” social scientists don’t care to write books which can be read and used by students in Meerut or Bhagalpur universities. They feel they have arrived only when Harvard and Oxford recognize their books – never mind if few in India can make sense of them.

Likewise our internationally networked social activists don’t care one bit if their own neighbours or relatives heed  their prescriptions. They are happy if they get applauded in conferences organized in Los Angeles, Berlin or Melbourne. The day the elite sections of our society stop chasing fashions unleashed in the West and instead learn to take decisions on the basis of the ground reality in this country and the aspirations of the people of India, we will acquire the capability of solving many of our big and small problems. 





16 comments :

  1. Well said! And leading very persuasively to the concluding paragraphs!

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  2. what a brilliant read! Ms Kishwar, you have touched many of the crucial aspects of modern slavery so well and have cut to the heart of the situation. we thought that with everyone getting a facebook account and a twitter handle, there will be more independent voices. But what it has turned into are bigger clusters and bigger groups. our need for acceptability and marketability is so grave and also that its tied so closely with our saleability, that we are busy chasing artificial goalposts that are cleverly kept moving. where then is the time to stop, make a u turn and start the chase inward?

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  3. Thanks dear Anonymous for your feedback. Glad you found the article worthwhile

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  4. Mr Kak, Good to know you are seeing my blog. Your appreciation matters a lot

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  5. Come, come, how can you give credit to the West for individualism! The unique karma of every person envisaged by Hindus is the origin of the concept. From the Hindu perspective, the slaves to fashion are but deceived by maya. It is their karma.

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  6. आपकी बातें निराली हैं । अंग्रेजी पढी -लिखी होकर दिल्ली ,मिरान्डा के बावजूद आपका दिमाग बचा हुआ है ,यह अविश्वसनीय है । आपका फैन -विजय शर्मा कोलकता

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  7. Hi Madam ,

    Very good article. Thanks for showing such dare to write against western illusion.
    Similar incident had happened in my life too. When one of my friend [female] she told he is looking for well earning, well settled with good communication skills in english with US speaking accent !! She believes that people should dressed very well and earn well that's enough for life. Also she has plan to move to US and have kind their and educate them in american schools and then come back to India so that her kid speak in US accent. - this is just a example for how unrealistic westernization is capturing our young generation.

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  8. Agree with you 100%. If you look at Fashion TV, 99% of what they wear is unwearable in normal life. Funny and the so called fashionable people are so uncomfortable in their dresses, constantly adjusting and checking whether some parts of their are visible. Disgusting.

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  9. Most of the work is done aiming fame and prizes, that makes needy deprived of good books, works or acts. Very well put by you.

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  10. Brilliant! You are a class apart! And this is what "journalism" is all about; not the nonsense and the drivel that mainstream publications keep delivering at the drop of a hat about cleavages and busts just to get revenue generated from clicks. Kudos to you for keeping alive the spirit of journalism.

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  11. I didn't give credit to the West for supporting individualism. In fact, my point is that their notion of individualism is very shallow. In fact, the West pushes people towards herd mentality by seducing them to aim at being "fashionable'--whether in appearance or in matters intellectual

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  12. Sincere thanks to all of you who posted appreciated comments

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  13. Nicely written article Madhu ma'am! You have brought up some really good points! :-)

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  14. Our youth (actively miguided by our westernized media) think that if they wear vulgar clothes like in the west then they have automatically contributed to make India an advanced country. Or they start stale arguments about our people not obeying laws or keeping our surroundings clean. But these are not indicators of advancement. An advanced country is different from an advanced civilization. An advanced civilization is one that’s superior in moral values, decency and natural human behaviors matured over thousand of years. Our traditional people are spiritually and morally clean. But western countries are just externally clean, but internally they are spiritual and moral wastelands. They just think that if they pay taxes correctly and keep their surroundings clean then everything else like vulgarity, filthy behaviors, dirty family relations, etc., can be pardoned.

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  15. An interesting essay on herd mentality. It is however unfair to fashion forecasters who travel and research extensively to arrive at fashion forecasts every season. Colours are not 'arbitrarily picked'. Fashion forecasts are influenced by several micro and macro factors. Also, being 'fashionable' is not synonymous with being a fashion addict or a fashion victim. A fashionable woman does not follow celebrity or runway fashion blindly but interprets and applies trends to suit her own style, need, values and circumstances. Why blame fashion alone? What about fast food or luxury cars? Do Indian roads need Maseratis? It is not about fashion, but about making the right choice. Global interaction is an inexorable process. Let us not close our minds to global influences, but select those that complement our lifestyle and strengthen our aesthetic and values.

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  16. "I agree with most of the below, except do keep in mind that as opposed to India where we do have a huge freedom of fashion choices-- the western world follows a uniform fashion handwriting -- regardless of caste creed religion climate or culture-- largely dictated by a euro centric fashion dictate totally fuelled by the multinationals who own most of the designer labels. There is little individuality and choice where the consumer has only a set no of options which dictate their individualism.
    Ritu Kumar

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Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar
इक उम्र असर होने तक… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …اک عمر اثر ہونے تک

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