It is highly unlikely for any single woman to exist in our society without being badgered with questions about their highly anticipated marriages. Of course, this applies to a privileged few who have a semblance of choice in such matters and who occupy a socio-economic status due to which they are being ‘asked’ and not ‘told’.
However, what ties us all – the ones entering the institution of marriage because they were told to as well as the ones walking into it by choice – is our willingness and desire to be commodified for our big day. We all want to look perfect. Yet ‘perfect’ in today’s India has become synonymous with fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s impeccably crafted lehengas and saris, which we lesser mortals often see showcased on stunning models at picturesque locations.
Everybody wants a piece of that ‘Sabyasachi aesthetic’ for their wedding. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Sabyasachi Mukherjee pretty much brought renaissance into the bulky and boring reds and maroons of bridal fashion by showcasing heritage weaves, patterns and embroideries, and infusing them with contemporary cuts and styling.
Gone are the days of the shy and coy bride covered in metres of fabric, held by her sisters and friends as they guide her to the mandap. She has now been replaced by the Sabyasachi bride who wears oversized sunglasses with her maang tikka, effortlessly dons a low-cut choli that accentuates her cleavage instead of hiding behind a dupatta. She is comfortable ditching good old solid silks for printed chiffons for her ‘big’ day.
So, who wouldn’t want to be a Sabyasachi bride?
Before I lay out the reasons for my apprehension over being a Sabyasachi bride, I would like to make a few clarifications that start and end with the meagre state of my wealth. So, if some of you want to stop reading and dismiss this piece as a case of sour grapes, then I certainly don’t blame you. You can go back to scrolling through Sabyasachi’s Instagram account.
My apprehensions about bridal fashion pioneered by Sabyasachi Mukherjee and a few of his peers stems from the fact that despite bringing modern sensibility to, and deconstructing bridal fashion, the idea of the bride still remains rooted in archaic patriarchal notion – a woman must look her best on her wedding day. Most wedding rituals across various cultures in the Indian sub-continent are centred around enhancing the beauty of the bride before her wedding day.
So, while on one hand Mukherjee’s contribution to bridal fashion has expanded the scope and options for a modern bride, it has inadvertently helped create another set of unachievable beauty standards for women.
And, along with beauty and poise, we now have to bring in a bit of spunk and play – as visualised by Sabyasachi in his stunningly shot and composed campaigns, one collection after the other.
A few years ago, during one of my visits to my Nani’s place, she examined my face for a few minutes before telling me that I must not delay getting married as I would soon have fine lines and wrinkles on my face. “Do you want to look old and haggard on your wedding day?”
I didn’t retort with a feminist speech about marriage and weddings. Instead, her words made me feel uncomfortable as I saw myself in my mind’s eye as a dreary old bride. But when I truly tried to imagine myself as a bride, I could only think of being adorned in a Sabyasachi lehenga.
I was finally confronting a deeply ingrained bridal fantasy which I was still not ready to let go of – even after years of identifying as a radical feminist. As it turns out, my radical thoughts were not immune to the charms of a Sabyasachi lehenga!
From my first ever memory of a wedding to a recent one I attended, there is one thing that has been common through them all – public and unapologetic scrutiny of the bride.
‘That colour doesn’t suit her.
It’s making her look dark.’
‘The jewellery looks tacky.’
‘She looks breathtakingly gorgeous. The groom fades in comparison.’
‘Is that real Manisha Malhotra?’
We have all been guilty of having these conversations that commodify the idea of a bride – comparing her to a set of ideals that are not questioned anymore because they now come exquisitely packaged in Sabyasachi labelled bags. But patriarchy embellished is still patriarchy and even though it hurts, it still needs to be questioned, challenged and smashed.
Indian weddings to this day are centred around the idea of ‘ladki-wale’ going the extra length to host the ladke-wale and cater to all their demands. I am sure each one of us has witnessed members of the groom’s family throwing all kinds of tantrums at a wedding, which are all met patiently by the bride and her family who are often spending their lifetime worth of savings on the weddings of their daughters.
A beautiful bride is part of the perfect hospitality that is expected from a woman and her family on her wedding day. There is a saying in Haryana, where I trace my roots, which loosely translates to, “If only god wants to punish us with the birth of a girl, let her at least be fair and beautiful so that we can get her married easily.”
This is not to say that we must not desire to look beautiful on our wedding day, but it needs to be examined where the desire to spend endless hours (and an exorbitant amount of money) at a salon trying to refine every part of our body as if it were a machinery stem from? Or whose definition of ‘beautiful’ are we chasing?
Would we be as invested in the process of trying to be the most beautiful bride ever if we inhabited a more equal and equitable society where we didn’t have to seek being ‘beautiful’ to be able to perform the most trivial functions in our lives? Like solemnising our companionship with our partners?
To be able to have an equal marriage, it is important that it starts with an equal wedding where we women recognise that we don’t owe being beautiful to anyone – not even on our wedding day – that we are worthy of marriage (if we choose to) in a Sabyasachi lehenga or a pair of pyjamas.
Bhawna Jaimini is an architect, writer and activist in making. She works closely with the residents of some of the most marginalised neighbourhoods to improve their built environment.
Featured image credit: Instagram/@sabyasachiofficial