I saw an art experiment video a few weeks ago [I think on Bored Panda. Yes!], where two women body-paint a model, and take her through the local mall. The woman isn’t completely naked, as she has a thong on, a couple of nipple pasties, a hat, pair of boots, and a scarf. The painted outfit comprised a long-sleeved, patterned black t-shirt and a pair of distressed jeans. It was all very realistic, even though it appeared to be extremely “tight” clothing.
The reactions were mostly amazement, but a few people didn’t even realise that she was unclothed. Those who did – at least some of the men – started surreptitiously filming her too.
At the time, I read the article, watched the video, and shook my head in amazement at people’s ability to come up with radical ideas for art, and then have the gumption to carry it out. But it wasn’t till I was describing the video to someone else that the “cover up” angle struck me.
The clothes painted on the model are actually fairly conservative, skin exposure-wise. They are “figure-hugging” obviously, but overall it isn’t a skimpy outfit. Thus, in the true sense of the word, she is all covered up. That is, her SKIN is covered up. So does that make the colour of skin objectionable in some way? Or since no one reacted poorly (or at least on the video) to the skin-tight “clothes”, wouldn’t the SHAPE of the body be more inappropriate, so to speak?
All right, so I have no answers to those questions, because I have this vague sense of appropriate and inappropriate that is culturally dinned into my head. If I examine it too carefully, the premise falls apart. At least, it is devoid of logic in my mind that the human body (generally the female one) should be covered up to suit the propriety of other people. The word ‘respect’ is bandied about frequently in conjunction with religious places, where “proper” attire is expected. In that case, this girl’s “outfit” is conservative, yet she is wearing next to nothing – a fact one would only realise on very careful observation, to be honest.
In a less extreme scenario, this has happened with me. I tend to spend much of my life outside home clad in jeans and a t-shirt. Granted, the t-shirts vary in style, cut, colour, transparency, and other factors, but they serve to mostly cover my torso.
During my trip to an ashram in Kerala, the same one where my father passed away, I was prevailed upon to drape a shawl on my person in public. [I wouldn’t say I was forced, because I opted to yield in an effort to avoid confrontation. But I wouldn’t have done it unless I was exhorted to do it. It was unwillingly done, is what I am trying to say.]
In those environs, my dress code – for the lack of a better description – was inappropriate. Most of the women wore sarees with sleeved blouses, both long and short. It was unusual to see a woman wearing a salwar kameez, the other ubiquitous Indian outfit, so me in my jeans [and my mother in her capris] caused quite the sensation.
One of the resident ladies there, Dr. B, who assisted with the setup of a primary health care centre as she was a doctor, was an unpleasant, abrasive woman with strong opinions, which she repeatedly forced down people’s throats. There are several stories about her antics, but I choose not to corrupt my blog with reiterating that negativity apart from this small sample.
Dr. B came up to us one afternoon, to tell us about a prayer meeting that was scheduled later in the day. She looked me over, and exclaimed, rather impertinently: “Don’t you wear salwar kameezes at all?!” implying that this was some major character flaw with her tone and incredulity. Not that I needed to justify it to her, but I do actually don an ethnic outfit occasionally; the important factor in these sartorial decisions being my own desire to wear them at all.
In the time that has since passed, I have thought of innumerable ways I’d rather have responded to that insolent remark. Of course, the moment is lost and shall forevermore remain so, but it does sometimes give me a certain amount of vicious pleasure to think of taking that odious woman down a couple of notches. How uncharitable of me. I’m working on it. 😦
All these thoughts jostled in my mind and became almost connected to each other. And then I had an epiphany which resounded in my mind with almost bell-like clarity: the profanity of someone’s attire doesn’t lie with the person, but in the eyes and mind of the beholder.
[I know other people say this too, but to have the connections snap together in one fluid motion is quite the experience.]
Therefore, if I have a problem with someone’s outfit, the problem lies solely with me. Vice versa too. I am actually rather comfortable with that thought.