For some reason, the media greets wardrobe malfunctions with schoolboyish glee. One has to wonder why? What is the big deal about seeing bits of a woman’s bits and bobs bobbing about? The replay of these wardrobe malfunction images is also full of an unsettling avidity.
Most recently indie singer Amanda Palmer, perhaps most known for raising $1.2 million on Kickstarter to crowd fund her art and music project, was mentioned in The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, because her “breast escaped her bra.” Their focus on her wardrobe malfunction to the exclusion of all else about her, understandably, annoyed Ms Palmer. In fact, it annoyed her so much, that she wrote a song called Dear Daily Mail, and performed it at an event in London.
In the song she called the tabloid several names, more angry than inventive. But the notable part of the song was the point where the singer declared that, “far be it from me to censor you, oh no/but at this very moment my entire body is somehow escaping my kimono”, singing which she tore off her kimono and stood before the audience at her keyboards absolutely nude. When the audience gasped she shushed them laughing, “It’s only a naked woman.”
The video is, of course, on the Internet for all to see and it’s a rousing one all right. You gasp with shock that she actually did it. Then you are torn between cheering and admiration for her give-a-damn attitude, and of wondering whether you’d ever have the guts to be so, well, gutsy.
The stripping of women by others takes place in a number of places, ways and degrees. Sometimes it is an act of violence — to strip a woman and parade her naked; sometimes it is an act of commerce — to strip a woman and parade her naked in public via the media. The coverage of a wardrobe malfunction is to do that again and again really — to present the image of the half-naked woman, over and over in the media, as a means of shaming her.
The shame of the violence lies not exactly in the nakedness as in the involuntariness of the state. A woman is stripped, either literally or symbolically — by force and thus made powerless and her powerlessness paraded.
So when a woman strips voluntarily she actually turns this gaze back upon those who try to shame her with theirs. She mocks the entire philosophy, which makes her body a place where others can do something violently by word or deed.
She shifts the discussion from her nakedness — to the way people look at the nakedness and points a finger at the real shame.
Amanda Palmer, while most entertaining, is not the first woman to have done this. The 12th century Bhakti poet Mahadevi Akka is said to have cast off all clothing as was common for male ascetics then and caused much shock in her times.
In 2004, hundreds of Manipuri women protested outside the Assam Rifles headquarters to protest the rape and death of a young woman by the army — one of many such rapes, carried out under the impunity provided by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Forty of them paraded naked holding placards that read, “Indian Army take our flesh.”
What a woman’s body means, how it should be used or displayed is constantly being dictated by a host of other people — so there’s little that’s as powerful as the sight of a woman who declares control over her own body. She laughs in the face of the bullies on behalf of us all.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.