Image courtesy parade.com
Recently, the British royal couple, William and Kate, visited India. While they were in the press for all the normal things, wildlife parks, orphanages and the Taj Mahal, one of the items that received the most press was a Marilyn type moment, when Kate’s white dress flew upwards, revealing a lack of panties and her bare bottom at Gandhi’s memorial.
The whole country, perhaps the whole world, was commenting, tut-tutting on Kate’s lack of courtesy. There was a sensationalising of this incident, the media of course laughing all the way to the bank.
There are two issues here. One is the issue of why a certain body part revealed may attract such attention. I mean, why are certain body parts supposed to be titillating? Why don’t we feel this way about the curve of a neck? Or the delicateness of someone’s ankle? What is this fixation with breasts and bottoms? And who has perpetuated this? And do we, as consumers, by reading, sharing, commenting on such news make this sexualisation of women worse? The second issue is whether the fact that she is rich, upper class, royalty, etc., means we care about whether she had a wardrobe malfunction or not. On the streets of India, there are countless beggars, poor women labourers, some with comely figures, who show off a lot of their bodies; a skimpy blouse, a waist revealing saree, a toned body with years of manual labour, wrists with tinkling bracelets. No one bothers to write about them. No one gives them a second glance. Because we are used to these images. And if their saree slips off, revealing a breast, or cleavage, no one would bat an eyelid.
Another issue that should be considered while we are on the point of Will Kat is the question of good looks and physique. A lot of discussion revolves around Kate’s sartorial elegance, whether high street, Indian designer, or British formal. The fact that she is slim, well groomed, and is easy on the eye, of course helps. But recently, another famous woman writer and celebrity in India, Shobhaa De commented: “Let’s count our blessings, ji. Kate has skipped wearing a saree. Her waist is perfect for crinoline ball gowns from “Gone with the Wind”. But a saree needs curves. A saree demands a derriere. Kate has none. Thank God, some misguided fashion guru has spared her and us so far.” When will this body shaming end? And who has the right to decide what kind of body is good or bad? Why do we attach value judgments to body size and shape? And isn’t it blatantly sexist of her to comment on the shape of Kate’s body? And in any case, isn’t it wonderful that Kate appears young, fit, and healthy, can play cricket, has wonderfully white teeth, and seems happy? Aren’t those better things to comment upon?
So, while Will and Kate now leave India to embark on a short tour of Bhutan and the Kingdom of Happiness, I reflect on their quest for peace and happiness as they trek up mountains to Buddhist monasteries… and hope that the press can find less sexist things to write about, perhaps their love for the humble momo, a steamed dumpling, a visit to a monastery, perhaps an important dignitary they met… I live in hope. And have faith that things have to get better.
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist who speaks out about mental health, incarceration and abuse.