By Nishtha Bhalla
We just survived fashion week, so I think it's about time we rehashed a conversation that comes up every year — Indian fashion and body-shaming. This year, the ramp was rampant with plus-sized models (thank you, cancel culture?), but that didn't come without backlash. Remember Kareena Kapoor Khan's size zero frame that set an unrealistic body standard for women way back in the '00s? The star has since gone through multiple changes including two pregnancies, and her body reflects it –– as any normal human’s would. But when she walked the ramp for Gaurav Gupta's sustainable, show-stopping line, the silver screen goddess was chastised, not admired. The reason? Since she wasn't a size zero, internet trolls had a field day and fat-shamed her. (They also age-shamed her, but that's a conversation for another day.)
In spite of having tried to champion inclusivity through somewhat performative gestures of involving plus-sized models, at the heart of it, it seems as though Indian fashion is all about good optics to please an increasingly critical clientele. Yes, sure, there may be a handful of plus-sized models scattered through the runway to impress the industry — but none of this inclusivity seems to take real Indian women into account. Case in point?
When Tarun Tahiliani's store was called out for denying influencer Dr Cuterus a bridal dress, his justification wasn't much better either; he said, on his Instagram, "The pandemic put us in a situation where our stores do not carry a size 16 (due to limited stock)." But why was a brand that claims to have had different body types wear its clothes, out of a size 16? Why wasn't the size in stock in the first place?
This brings us to another problem — the colloquially termed tax that designers use to charge more for plus-sized clothing, the fat tax. Once a closely-guarded secret, once it came out (thank you, Diet Sabya), there was a flurry of well-penned but ill-intentioned rationales from designers who had practiced it for decades, ranging from 'it costs more because we use more material!', to 'there's a lack of demand.' (Also, there was a glaring silence from the industry's best, but oh well.) And of course, then came the changes. A select few designers, potentially afraid of being called out I'm sure, were quick to talk about how they were implementing change, and doing away with the fat tax. And no matter what their intentions may be, I will say that at the end of the day, it's a good thing that they did away with it. But why was there a fat tax to begin with?
It's not like India's devoid of fat people, right? So there's clearly a demand for plus-sized clothing. And can 'using more material' really justify there being a premium on clothing? It's not like brands are going to undercharge slender people for not using enough fabric. Also, what actually is ‘enough’ fabric? Also, what constitutes 'enough fabric' in the first place? What's the 'prototype' for a human body that the fashion industry turns to, because the last time I checked, a human body came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You can't really drape clothes on a machine-made mannequin and call it a normal body — at the end of the day, the body you have is a normal human body, and that's all there is to it. What all of this tells me is that designers design their clothes for a specific, size zero-or-similar body type, and the rest of us 'normal' body types have to play catch up to fit the ideal of what we're supposed to look like.
I don’t look anywhere close to the models who walk the ramps at fashion week –– but if I’m constantly forced to believe that that’s the body type I need to be, I think one of two things would happen. One, I would drive myself up the wall trying to attain the unrealistic body standards being shoved down my throat while being miserable in my own skin, or two, I would completely become disillusioned. After years of battling with the former, I think I’ve finally accepted the latter; that yes, at the heart of it, Indian fashion has a body-shaming problem.
Of course, fashion is a reflection of the current cultural zeitgeist, and Indian society itself has a body-shaming problem too — if you're too skinny, you're wrong, and if you're too heavy, you're wrong too. The clothes you wear make up a huge part of your personality, and if you're plus-sized, your options may be limited or over-expensive, simply because of your body type, because designers aren't investing enough to learn how to cater to plus-sized bodies, because Indian fashion just isn't size inclusive. And while I will say that more modern brands are cropping up to cater to an almost all-encompassing audience, it's the bigger brands with veteran designers that need to step up their game. With them giving the okay to make their couture all-inclusive, they won't just be serving a more expansive audience; they'll be getting rid of the body-shaming bias that so deeply affects the fashion industry.
We've all seen the models on the runways; if we're constantly told that that's what we're supposed to look like, how are any of us supposed to feel good, comfortable in our own bodies? For an industry that perpetuates the idea of there being one ideal body type, it would be great (but maybe a little far fetched) to be more size-inclusive, not just to not get cancelled, but to also let us, regular people, know that it's okay to have regular bodies. Sans body-shaming.
Reply to me and let me know what you think!