Dear Sabyasachi, an ‘Overdressed’ Woman is Not ‘Wounded’

I’ve personally been plagued by the dilemma of art versus the artist for a very long time. This, of course, stems from our habit of elevating celebrities to a god-like stature and putting them on pedestals where they can do no wrong.

In a world where we can access and dissect the tiniest minutiae of celebrities’ lives on social media, it becomes almost too easy to hark on when they rankle our sensibilities, all while we consume what they provide us with.

My personal two defaulters have been Woody Allen and Dolce & Gabbana – two individuals who, according to me, have behaved reprehensibly in the past, but are also creators of sheer genius and beauty.

The most recent addition to this list is Sabyasachi Mukherji.

While he isn’t someone I took an instant liking to, he does make gorgeous bridalwear. With his entire demeanour as a soft-spoken man without the gaudy essentials that make most Indian glamazons, he spoke to the art lover in me – someone who appreciates Indian craftsmanship and confidence which borders on hubris.

So, when he comes out of the trenches as someone who is seemingly misogynistic, one gets a little confused.

His recent post is an example of this.

Image credit: Sabyasachi’s Instagram post.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee has never really courted controversies in the mould of a Rohit Bal. He’s never been accused of anything that is overtly questionable either. But as always, the devil is in the detail – it rests within a good-natured post on how women with heavy make-up and bellowing sartorial decisions are in need of healing.

It gives us a sneak-peek into a Women’s Day post which features a normal-bodied woman as a display of empowerment (note that this empowerment only came on March 8, and not before or after).

It puzzles when he talks about a woman’s breasts being the highlight of a campaign, and it comes from his claim over a moral high ground as he makes exclamations of condescension and horror over women who cannot drape a saree.

This is a man who has literally established an entire legacy on making women look nothing less than magical in his weaves. He isn’t necessarily ostentatious or deliberate either: his campaigns feature bespoke enchantresses soaked in saccharine elegance. He was our answer to couture in a way that our country hadn’t ever experienced.

But then he bungled it and disappointed a horde of admirers because he couldn’t distinguish between what is appropriate and not.

But aren’t we all closet misogynists?

Aren’t we all amazed at the glory of plus-sized women who are showcasing their talents with abandon but still plunge into a tizzy of anxiety the moment someone calls them fat? Aren’t we all looking at models and wishing our bodies were similar?

In 2019, women who are successful and ambitious are still looking for physical validation. We still look at a glossy Sabyasachi post on Instagram and wish for a tangerine neon lehenga, all the while reminding ourselves that perhaps we won’t look good in it in after all. Perhaps our bodies aren’t suited for these magical silhouettes.

But have we ever checked our privilege to have these thoughts on a first-hand basis rather than having them handed to us via advertisements and influencers.

We are told to be confident in our bodies, but are still expected to have a certain body-type. Women are constantly put under the scanner of a pre-wedding diet, a pre-holiday diet, a post-vacation detox, ad nauseam. If we’ve really come a long way in terms of emancipation and liberty, why do we still need to be reminded that we’re powerful if we’re normal-bodied and out and about?

Why do we still need to be told that we’re lucky if we have the body of a pre-pubescent teenage boy?

And this is just our bodies. We haven’t even got to our faces.

To think that once upon a time, Fair & Lovely was our biggest enemy in terms of feeling secure in our natural beauty!

Nope.

Now we have people calling us “caked” if we have too much make-up on and people calling us “zombies” if we have none.

Which brings me to my main question – is Sabyasachi just manifesting what we all really feel? Is that why, in this particular case, the whole idea of art versus the artist gets twisted? Don’t we all gossip about fellow women over things relating to their personal dealings and/or their looks – things which have nothing whatsoever to do with their ability? Why must we judge women to the point that the judgement itself becomes the norm and someone with an opposing view becomes a rebel?

Women don’t need men telling them zilch about their looks. Even if they have given themselves the right to understand women. Even if they have made millions of crores of rupees selling the idea of a happily-ever-after to countless women.

Plus-size women or women of colour should not be used as CSR by designers. Women shouldn’t be told they need healing from their overdressed selves when an entire industry is built around them having to do so. Women shouldn’t have to alter their bodies to fit a patriarchal and parochial set of ideals. Women shouldn’t have men or fellow women destroy even a modicum of self-worth because misogyny provides us with tools to feel superior by deciding what is right or wrong for so many of us.

Let’s not have the Sabyasachis of the world tell us we are caked, or should be voluptuous, or that we can’t possibly know how to wear a saree – let’s instead openly advocate for systemic change so that we know how to differentiate between having a dream and having a dream that isn’t based on having preset ideas of conservatism.

Note: After facing considerable backlash on social media, Sabyasachi Mukherjee has issued an apology on Instagram. The full apology is below.

Image credit: Sabyasachi’s Instagram post

Shiralie Chaturvedi is a writer who loves Murakami and Seth; indie cinema and bands; cries listening to patriotic songs, and is happiest at home with her loved ones.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty