Dear Asha Parekh, It's Time We Let Women Choose What They Want to Wear
Here's an open letter to Asha Parekh for her remarks on women's clothing.
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Dear Asha Parekh,
I've always admired you for your fearless attitude and the way you speak your heart without worrying about what people may think. Whether it's openly discussing your heartbreaks and personal life, or proudly celebrating singlehood in your 80s in a society where a woman's worth is often measured by the institution of marriage.
However, something you recently said really caught me off guard and made me wonder if it was coming from the same Jubilee icon that I've revered for years.
In your speech at a speaking session at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI), in Goa, you said that women try to copy the way heroines dress up in movies, and would still want to wear western outfits even if "they are fat or whatever." You added that it is hurtful for you to see the growing westernization of films and Indian women's preference for western clothing.
It took me a while to process that such fatphobic and body-shaming remarks were coming from a veteran like you. For someone who has been in the public eye and the entertainment industry for so long, it's very important to acknowledge that it's more about a woman's choice and what makes her feel comfortable; not westernization.
Like myself, there are many young women who look up to you. Sadly, your remarks have made us feel conscious about the shape of our bodies and what we should be wearing.
Such a statement implies that only women with conventionally attractive body types should be allowed to wear certain types of clothes, while several women are harsh on themselves in an effort to fit into this mould of the perfect woman that society has crafted. But who is really perfect? Or does one's appearance serve as the sole criterion for evaluating their character or personality?
When you entered the Indian film industry in 1959, there must've been fashion trends before you that you had to adapt to. In fact, it was between the 1940s and 1950s when women wore jeans for the first time on screen.
You also mentioned that you don't understand why women copy actresses. "If they are wearing a gown, we will also wear a gown, arrey kahan gayi humaari ghagra-choli, saariyan, aur salwar-kameez?,"
Cinema has always had a great influence on the lives of people like me. While I agree that some people may want to dress like their favourite actors, I don't think they should be called out.
It's not about choosing a western style of clothing over traditional Indian wear like saris and lehengas. It's about our choice, comfort, and the confidence that comes with it, which makes us attractive and feel good about ourselves.
Why should someone's physical characteristics prevent them from dressing in a certain way just because it might not fit everyone's definition of what constitutes an attractive woman?
The saddest aspect of this discussion is that women are still expected to dress a certain way. Why does society try to stifle women's progress with its regressive and irrational customs and traditions? Why are women's clothes still a concern today?
In some countries, women are forced to wear a hijab, whereas in others, their choice to wear one sparks controversy and suspicion. While some women are not considered "feminine enough" if they choose to wear baggy clothes, some are shamed for wearing short clothes. Time and again, women have been consistently instructed about what to do, how to dress, and how to live up to the myriad of other nonsensical expectations of society.
It's 2022, and I think it's time we let women choose what they want to wear.
A fellow woman
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