Monthly Archives: June 2017

The clothing conundrum: double standards in Malayalee culture

If you’re a Malayalee (or Indian, actually) girl reading this, you already know what I’m talking about.

If you’re not, this comic sums it up pretty well:

Brown-paper-bag-sari-hypocrites
Credit: brownpaperbagcomics https://www.instagram.com/p/BHHBJYygMp0/

Sounds like fun, eh?

The trouble with growing up in a society that is increasingly influenced by Western cultures and standards is that your parent culture will attempt a confusing mix of both trying to adapt to change while retaining its own traditions and values. This results in confused parents, confused children, and a generally confused society as a whole. Let me explain a little further:

In many Indian communities, things such as being a respectful (read: submissive) woman, behaving and dressing modestly, abstaining from premarital sex and non-platonic fraternisation in general, and doing as your parents and male relatives tell you, are all considered very respectable actions in a woman. These things align with the traditional Indian values of respect towards your family and culture, and to stray from them would be to dishonour your family and culture. (Of course, this does depend on where your family falls on the conservative-liberal scale, and what specific aspects of life they choose to be conservative or liberal about. Malayalees tend to fall on the conservative end, with some exceptions.)

Indian women have long been breaking away from these conventional expectations in order to do as they please. Unfortunately, this self-liberation is not appreciated for its progress, but is often condemned for its departure from Indian values.

To come back to the topic of clothing, what this means is that an Indian girl who wears Western clothing, or clothing that does not align with Indian standards of beauty and modesty, becomes a target for accusations of “forsaking our culture”, being “loose” or “improper”, and generally undesirable, both as a woman and as a member of society. Simultaneously, a girl will be looked down on by her peers for not assimilating to mainstream (read: Western) standards of beauty and fashion. Result: Severe identity crises exacerbated by puberty, volatile emotions and damaging formative experiences.

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Remember when Sanju became desirable the second she ditched her denim skirts for a churidar?

One of the biggest problems with this lovely contradiction is that you have the older generation telling girls not to dress a certain way, whereas the environment these girls are growing up in are telling them the opposite. Do you listen to your elders and mute yourself, or defy them for your freedom of expression?

A lot of it boils down to what we perceive of culture and tradition: our parents, having grown up in India, are accustomed to a certain environment, and so believe a certain lifestyle to be appropriate to their values. However, to expect their children (especially those of us who grew up in countries other than India) to adhere to the same lifestyle in an unsupportive environment becomes quite an unreasonable expectation. The question “Why should I?” can no longer be answered satisfactorily with “Because it’s our culture” – it may indeed be our parents’ culture, but not ours. As hybrids of the then and now, we are constantly building our own culture, and to confine us to action without function simply for the sake of doing things the way they have always been done, is what will keep us stagnant as a society. Furthermore, values and clothing choice do not have to be mutually inclusive: a girl can wear a strappy dress or an above-the-knee skirt while still retaining her dignity and her Indian ideals. A hemline does not a personality make. Or break.

TL;DR: Girls throw your crop tops away, wear a churi and get yo mans (but only after marriage)

Main-hoon-na 2
Mmm, those #IndianValues