TRIGGER WARNING: Content contains graphic description.
Every morning when I wake up, I remove the blankets that cover me. I have always been taught that in the morning, we are dirty. My mum says that it is important to take a bath in the morning, not only because one stinks, but also because the body, especially your sexual organs, in my case, my vagina, secretes waste during the night and it is necessary to clean it up.
As a child, I always believed her but still chose to not take a bath for days at a stretch. This was because, first, I loved to spend my bathing time sleeping in the bathroom, using my clothes as a pillow, and second, because I had no intentions of letting the cold water drops jerk me out of my peaceful state of mind.
Now however, since I am an adult and aware of the importance of cleanliness, I move towards the bathroom to clean my body. I strip, still sleepy, barely aware of the number of layers I am wearing. I get into the shower, but not before I switch on some music, I twist the knob and allow myself to get wet. I rub my body to make sure every part of it is clean. I use soap, the fragrant kind, and allow myself the pleasure of singing and thinking and even dancing.
Have you ever noticed that in the bathroom you feel truly free liberated? I do. There is no one looking, judging or wondering what you are doing. I do what I feel. I talk to myself and say what I want. I day-dream and I also remember the past, I reflect and joke. I humour myself. When the water hits my head and rushes down my body, I feel at peace. In that moment, I am me.
But what does one do after taking a bath? One takes a towel and dries oneself, so as to not catch a cold. One looks in the mirror, so as to make sure that one is clean. Then, get dressed; look in the mirror for the last time and leaves. I do the same. Except I hate it.
When I leave the tub, I am naked in front of a mirror; I do not like what I see. I am not sure if my dislike is because I would wish that I was healthier or because media’s representation of a beautiful woman i.e. thin, curvy, manageable hair, etc is so drilled in me, that the fact that I do not look like the ideal beautiful woman makes me dislike myself. Also, I am not sure if my wish to be healthy is because of medical or visual reasons.
In the world of 36-24-36, I am 44-42-45. What I see in the mirror is sagging boobs, because they are too big, a stomach with bulging tires and stretch marks and broad and big hips with cellulite deposits so big that I can see them.
Time to hide. Bring out the clothes.
I first wear my underwear, high waist panties that would cover and pull in the bulge of my stomach as well as cover the tyres hanging from my back. I then wear my bra which shackles my breasts in one position. My breasts, too big, try to escape and I helplessly adjust them and put them in their place. Now, when I see myself, I see a fat stomach and big breasts being suppressed by fabrics. The view may seem normal to many but is a nudist’s nightmare. Carrying on I cover my legs with a pair of jeans, the loose kind so that the shape of my legs is not very visible and I wear a loose top or kurta that would hide my stomach and arms.
I then examine myself in the mirror and if I notice anything that should not be, for example my cleavage showing, my nipples standing, the bulge of my stomach visible, etc, I hide it. I take a stole and drape it in a way so that my body and its actual shape are completely hidden.
I hide myself. I mask my true self that I was so comfortable with in the shower, with layers and layers of clothes. Covering so that nobody can see the real me and so that I am hidden from the world.
I am sure you are wondering why I hide myself if I don’t want to. The answer is simple, I live with my parents, and they are not like me, I can not disrespect their opinions or the societal norms they follow. So I dress the way they expect me to.
Now I would want to ask you a question. Do you not feel oppressed by these layers of clothing? Your clothing defines you, but does that idea not suffocate you?
Once while watching the Sherlock series, I saw an episode where Sherlock Holmes, a master at reading people, was unable to understand anything about a female because she was naked and there was nothing on her body that would help him deduce anything conclusive about her. When I saw the episode the first time, I just saw it, I did not understand its essence. Years later while I was doing nothing the meaning dawned on me. Clothes are apparatus, like masks. It is not who we are but who we wish we could be.
Sadly, since all one wants is not to be their true self, they neither know who they are nor who they are projecting themselves to be. This ignorance leads to one being confused about their identity; it leads to existential crisis and a lot more. The worst, since people can not figure themselves out, they believe they have the licence to judge others. Not just that, they use every little detail to make an effort to unravel the other.
These judgements are so cruel that they invade a person’s most innermost privacy. For example, I am forced by society to dress in a way that, they claim is appropriate. So I have to wear undergarments.
Regardless of the fact that underwears are sanitary and help protect one’s vagina from germs, there is more to it. Not just more, but a multi-million dollar industry more.
Firstly, the kinds of underwear – If I wear a thong instead of panties, it is the same for me medically. But if a friend of mine was to see a thong in my cupboard, let’s say a lace thong with diamonds on it, then I am sure to get a cheeky grin which would be followed by a cheesy remark about how kinky or dirty I am to have such a piece of clothing. My panty, which I wear only for medical purposes is used to judge my sexuality, my preference, etc.
Secondly, not only does the kind but also the colour -A famous 90’s movie, ’10 Things I Hate About You’ has a dialogue and I quote: “You don’t buy black lingerie unless you want someone to see it!” It might not seem right to be a quoting a movie made for teenagers, but the truth is that we all saw this movie and this dialogue did shape our thought process. However, when I go to buy lingerie, I buy what I like, I pick my favourite colour, and if I like red or black more than orange, people will use it as a psychological tool to understand my nature and personality.
Thirdly, I am respectable only if I wear underwear – if I don’t wear underwear, how does it bother anyone? Both free balling, as well as free buffing are huge taboos. The act is considered socially unacceptable because, to many, the practice seems immodest. Societal views should be respected only as long as they do not strip an individual of his or her personal freedom. If tomorrow I choose to be done with the underwear industry and ‘go commando’, that too is my choice and does not imply anything but that I am sick and tired of elastic marking my skin.
Another example is the bra. The rational explanation why I should wear a bra, according to society, is that so the shape of my boobs does not get spoiled and the weight does not give me a back ache. Also seamless bras and padded bras help hide the nipples from being visible.
First: If nature runs its course in such a way that the shape changes, why are we trying to change nature?
Second: Who decided the correct shape of my boobs?
Third: If I am more comfortable not wearing a bra and if I don’t have back aches, why is the society judging me for not wearing a bra?
Fourth: Nature gave nipples to both man and woman; nipples are erogenous organs for both man and woman; why can a man move around top less in society when a woman can not? To the extent that I have to purchase bras which are heavier and hurt so that nobody, even by mistake sees the seam of my nipples.
Fifth: If I am buying a bra for the reasons above, I should buy one that would satisfy all the reasons which sadly does not cost less that 1500 rupees.
It is literally like being forced to buy a jail cell for your boobs. Expensive and super uncomfortable.
And this is not it, I am again judged on the colour and type of bra and am not respectable if I don’t wear one. If my boobs sway while I exercise I need a bra that would hold them. If I want to wear a shirt, the bra has to hold my boobs apart so there isn’t much cleavage. Also, the amount of cleavage visible is inversely proportional to my respectability or how open I would be with the idea to sleep with my boss or have a one night stand.
The concept of clothes when it started was to protect one from the heat and cold, wind and other natural forces. When did the idea of physical protection evolve into the idea of emotional and mental protection? Why have we started hiding ourselves? And from whom?
Many would disagree with me on this point.
Since birth, we have been clothed. Growing up, we have been taught to cover our body and the idea has been drilled in our head so deep that it is hard to reflect on the idea. One needs to give up all forms of conservatism to understand this but people won’t or they can’t. Because if they give up on the most obvious ideas that they follow, they won’t have any choice but to rethink all that they know and the idea of such a task is scary.
This article has also been published on the author’s personal blog.