To show and tell
After Anushka Sharma's deep-neck Sabyasachi choli stirred conversation, we are wondering what the hell is our problem with the cleavage
The cleavage is defined as the hollow between a woman's breasts when supported, especially as exposed by a low-cut garment.
Aside from upright walking and a large brain, permanently enlarged breasts after puberty distinguish Homo sapiens from other primates. To support children and as an energy fat reserve are among the many suggested reasons for the evolution of the human breast. And evolutionary biologists argue that sexual selection comes into play because permanent breasts helped females attract mates. They've been part of the female body forever, her burden to bare and endure. And if she wants to undo a few buttons or as they say, "do cleavage", it's her prerogative.
Anushka Sharma in a Sabyasachi outfit for the Bachchan Diwali party
Social media once said nipples are not okay, and lost famously to the #freethenipple movement. It's now recalibrating and getting into cleavage policing. Actor Anushka Sharma chose a deep-neck choli and lehenga when she walked into the Bachchan Diwali party with cricketer husband Virat Kohli. The reactions to her choice are the latest example of what Sabyasachi Mukherjee calls sexual hypocrisy. "Nobody bats an eyelid when a woman in a bikini shows cleavage, but cleavage on a saree and the inner morality comes in followed by body shaming. There's a misconception that culture and sexuality fit into one box, and maybe the problem lies here. We need to normalise our sexual and cultural biases," feels Mukherjee, adding that fashion and sexuality belong in the same bed. "They are expressions of the same thought."
Cleavage shaming has all the trappings of patriarchal conditioning. "How about dressing up to feel good about yourself, and not to attract man or woman? I love wearing deep-neck blouses. Often, my friends joke, 'Palak and her cleavage are two different identities'. I give two hoots about those who feel women should cover up," says Palak Shah.
The CEO of Ekaya Banaras is doing wonderful things with the indigenous weave not only with design interventions and the use of techniques like kadwa, fekua, cutwork and gyasar, but also in the way she is getting Indian textiles styled. The Crossing–The Natives of Nowhere is the new collection she launched last week on Instagram. It looks at the ancient Persian and Indian civilisations and the countless aesthetic influences that have crossed over, and likens it to the nomadic lives we lead today. Nikhil D styles the lotus motif indigo silk choli without a neck piece, the model's uninhibited sexuality lending power to the portrait. "We didn't set out with an agenda to bare skin. We simply followed the mood of expressing a strong opinion, and pushing possibilities within the Indian textiles narrative. I think more bridal designers should normalise the cleavage instead of fearing trolls," suggests Shah.
Whitney Zelig put her décolletage to good use—to raise awareness about early screening of breast cancer. The American filmmaker walked the streets of New York with a hidden camera attached to her low-cut shirt to document the shameless stares she got from both women and men. "Ladies, let's not forget to check your own breasts too," reads the line at the end of the YouTube video (1.3 million views) along with a dedication to her mother, a cancer survivor.
Back in India, Priyanka Bose continues the conversation about empowering through clothes. The Lion actor posted an image of herself in a low-cut singlet, the stretch marks on her breasts visible. "I like myself, man," she says over the phone from her Madh Island home. "Instead of pandering to the bobs and vagene [slang for boobs and vagina] intellect—unko bhaav mat do—I'd rather use my platform to educate women about embracing their bodies." The post resonated with one user at least, who shared: "I have stretch marks on my breasts too and seeing a celebrity being unapologetic about it makes me confident".
Priyanka Bose. Pic/ Keegan Crasto and Palak Shah
"It's almost 2020, and we are still being body policed, told that oversized clothes suit only thin and lanky frames!" says stylist Vinita Makhija. Proudly plus-sized, Makhija says, "I'm comfortable with my cleavage. I think it's a good opportunity to show off my jewellery!"
Cause & effect
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Thankamani, Priyamvada and Sobha are dressed in serene but cheerful saree shades, sporting controlled smiles. They are three of a five-member women-only weaver cluster from Handloom Weaving Co-operative Society 648 in Chendamangalam (locally known as Cherai). One of the worst hit in the Kerala floods of 2018, the community of 600 weavers lost an estimated 273 looms. The women are modelling Chendamangalam handloom sarees they have personally woven, telling a story of human resilience.
Society 648's collection of 16 cotton and silk sarees (R3,000 and R5,000; shoprouka.com), got showcased last weekend at an exhibition at the Kerala Museum in Pathadipalam. "After all the cribbing, there's finally a positive outcome," says designer Sreejith Jeevan of Rouka, who conducted a six-month sensitisation programme for the weavers as part of his Chennai-based Care 4 Chendamangalam (C4C) initiative with designer Shalini James, Indu Menon of Kara Weaves and retailer Tracy Thomas.
Jeevan understands the importance of upgrading skills to suit current market demands, but getting the women on-board with the idea was not easy. They were used to making the thick-weave mundu for years, and had to be convinced to take on the more intricate challenge of weaving sarees. "All good things come out of being patient," he laughs. "Once they got over the paranoia, they came up with fun ideas to incorporate bold geometric motifs. We hope the positive response is followed by pre-orders which will push them to keep reinventing the weaves."
'Sabhyasachi' reacts to low-cut choli taunts
"Contrary to popular belief, I am a feminist. On social media, everyone has an opinion, and it's mostly to vent. What's worse is that most morality-laced comments are left by women. When a woman turns against a woman, that's a sad outcome of patriarchy. Sometimes, self-confidence is perceived as rebellion. Perhaps those who lack confidence experience an emotional tussle when they see a large-size woman happy about her sexuality and
Oh, the sweet joy and pain of the toe cleavage
Toe cleavage refers to the partial exposure of the crease between the toe and instep in a low-cut shoe style; pumps or heels. The genius behind the red sole, Christian Louboutin likens it to second décolleté. In fact, the style is one of his signature design elements. "In flip-flops you see everything but that's not at all sexy," he was quoted saying in The Independent.
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