In today’s day and age, women are striving hard and transforming themselves to become true achievers in almost every industry and sphere of life. It is indeed sad that much public discussion and debate about women, even today revolves around clothing and exposure of skin. A recent example to demonstrate the above theory would be the front page of the Daily Mail, that was to cover the talks on Brexit, by the British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. The photograph on the front page was titled “Never mind Brexit. Who won legs-it?” the emphasis very surely went to the physique of those two political leaders and not their words or actions. The newspaper faced instant criticism from the public for distastefully portraying the news and labelled it as sexist and offensive. This theory can be extended to all aspects of a woman’s appearance, including her cleavage.
The way I see it, there are two kinds of cleavage visibility in public; that of actual women and that of women seen on posters, bill boards and other such displays. The media uses imagery as a tool to convey ideas and compliance to established norms and beliefs, which are very often socially constructed. Cleavage has been inherently associated with female characteristics such as sexually appealing, bold, modern, daring as opposed to a conservative, “good girl” image. Such depiction paves the way for a misconstrued notion of cleavage visibility in public.
Responses to visible cleavage are as diverse as it can get. It can range from discomfort, embarrassment, a need to judge/ condemn to arousal, feeling provoked or “invited”. It can appear to many, as an act of desperation or a need for attention. The list of myths and conclusions surrounding why a women knowingly or unknowingly displays cleavage is very long.
Let us address an elemental question. What is cleavage, but a part of the human body? You may argue that it serves no rational purpose and can easily be covered up. There is no need to ‘flash’ it or ‘flaunt’ it. Well, my friend, what if someone asks you to cover up your Adam’s apple or a more heterosexual part, say an earlobe? As silly as this sounds, if cleavage is seen with the same mind-set as that of an earlobe, it really shouldn’t be a problem. It is a part of a woman’s body, the way it was created. If she is comfortable with not covering up, then should it matter?
We all remember how Deepika Padukone responded to Times Of India for objectifying her for the very same thing. There are countless such instances where women have been body shamed and some have retorted back. If a woman feels comfortable with her own body, that is a sign of confidence and self-assurance. She would want to look, dress and express herself in alignment to her identity. Her choice of attire or way of dressing doesn’t define her morals and ethics. But, as a society, we have inculcated this idea deep into our belief systems and today this has declared itself to be a part of our culture. When asked about paintings and depiction of Indian Goddesses from ancient mythology, from the likes of Khajuraho, we chose to look another way. There is no hue and cry made about what our ancestors believed was right, then why start now?
In some tribal parts of Africa, women roam around without upper clothing. The beach states of countries like the U.S have women wear little clothing, owing to the climate. Chances of these women being ogled at or objectified for the way they dress are little. Why? Because it is socially accepted. Why is it socially accepted? Because of the right outlook towards visible skin of women in the aforementioned places. The tribal womenfolk do not feel objectified or sexualized, simply because there are no propagators of thought that says otherwise. In totality, it all boils down to mentality. The definition of secularism in India is conveniently distorted to serve vested interests and hence it’s not deemed fit for a woman to show cleavage. So it’s perhaps regarded alright if you’re an Indian abroad showing cleavage because the culture there allows it. The present times have a very long way to go, before it becomes acceptable for an Indian woman to not cover up her cleavage, displayed with or without her knowledge.
-Genjourist Sethulakshmy Menon