By Sharanya Gopinathan
We noticed an amazing Facebook post by stylist Nitasha Gaurav, where she mentioned how ridiculous it is that sari ads consistently feature women looking stationary and decorative when literally no one has ever been so in one.
And so it is. Like Nitasha says, despite the huge variety of activities women undertake while wearing saris, from working to marching in parades to seducing lovers to smacking sense into their kids, why is it that sari advertisements consistently seem to feature women (very often headless) in perfect, disembodied stillness?
When we asked her about the Facebook post, Nitasha said that she was browsing the web when one of those Facebook-Google-are-reading-your-search-history type ads turned up on the side of the page. “They were for saris and I noticed the women were just posing, standing still and looking pretty. I realised suddenly that women in sari ads are always pretty and inert, or they’re in some religious set up. And nobody does that. Not now, not even historically. Jhansi Rani actually went and fought a war wearing a version of a sari!”
Which is true. Despite what sari ads will have you imagine, saris aren’t the garb of the deathly inert. Literally no one puts on a sari in order to be motionless for the day, or to raise a hand pointlessly to their side to display their pallu. For a lot of women, saris are every day working garb. It’s often called one of the most versatile garments in the world because it is: It’s what women undertake heavy manual work in, what they run in, eat in, drink in and sleep in. It’s disturbing, exclusionary and also annoying to paint the sari as an outfit to be worn by women preoccupied with being decorative.
In our conversation with her, Nitasha mentioned that framing the sari in this way through advertisements defeats our own purposes with respect to preserving the sari as part of our enduring culture. “On one hand people talk about the Japanese and their traditional costumes and how they’ve adapted them for daily wear, and say that in India we’re missing out on our culture, but look at the advertising we’re portraying! If you’d only step out of your house, or even open your eyes inside your house, you’d see everyone wearing saris and doing everything under the sun that there is to do!”
Framing the sari with a little more accuracy would not only be more faithful to the truth of the sari, but would also go a long way in allowing it to continue to be part of our changing daily lives.
Fashion designer Rohit Bal had jumped in on the conversation to ensure that a man always must be present everywhere, to say something incoherent about women being the fairer sex who are already portrayed as being very powerful. He also briefly forgot that the conversation was unfolding on Facebook, not Whatsapp, and informed us all that writing Whatsapp messages doesn’t change anything and we should all focus on bigger issues than sari advertisements.
Except advertisements are a big deal. They provide a blueprint for what people understand both normal and desirable to be, they’re a comment on what people are aspiring to be, and provide an insight into what the capitalist markets wants you to be. They’re a reflection of both the society you live in and the direction that society is heading towards. And the fact that it seems that women are most desirable when they’re still and decorative says something important about the way people think of women.
And besides, aren’t you sick to death of the omnipresent ‘flawed logic man’ who’s always lurking in the corner, ready to barge into your conversations to tell you that that what you’re talking about isn’t important because XYZ issue is more important? I mean, what about starving children in Africa?