The Indian art of clothing a less comely figure

India is not lacking in stout ladies. Once a certain degree of affluence, (or boredom perhaps – Indian sweets are not expensive), has been reached, you see podgy cheeks filling out round faces, flabby arms protruding from loose sleeves, and sagging stomachs that fold into their fat.

Now this is not a new phenomenon. Certainly rotund people are, it would seem, on the increase, especially among the young, and indeed when I visited a municipal pool with an Indian friend the other day, he commented, “Even five years ago there weren’t so many fat kids.” But when I first came to India twenty or so years ago, and stayed briefly with a number of well-to-do families, I noticed that after middle age, while the men seemed to develop something of a paunch or at least a midriff that was not the waistline of their youth, the ladies had a tendency to become somewhat portly, to say the least, all over.

But while in many countries, (I hesitate to say “The West”, a term we seem to use as though there were such a homogenous whole, and which we conveniently contrast with Asia, Africa, or basically anywhere else), overweight ladies often seem to choose ill-adapted outfits, that not only fail to conceal their exaggerated curves, but often make these more noticeable. Clothes that expose too much flesh, or are too tight, are an obvious example.

But in India, somehow the whole issue is marvelously resolved thanks to Indian dress. For what better way to conceal corpulence, than to drape the body in colourful fabric almost from head to toe? What one sees is a dignified lady who is merely no longer slender. With a long scarf hanging flowingly from her shoulders, her silhouette is softened and its outline uncertain. A silver or gold ornament in often still jet black hair, produces a matron with means. Add some earrings, and a bit of glitter in the sari, and you have a lady of regal bearing. I am always astonished at how the beautiful clothes here seem to honour the human form, whatever its age or shape, in particular for the ladies. For while many a man may neglect his appearance, I have yet to see any of the fairer half of humanity sloppily clad.

The above works both ways though – sometimes it’s the clothes that embellish the body, at others, it’s a combination of things, (bearing, manner, absence of self-consciousness), that enable women to wear the cheapest items and give them worth. I am thinking in particular of footwear. Shocking pink flip-flops only suitable for poolside lazing? Think again. Slip them on the feet of a girl who walks with that natural, unconscious Indian grace, and you have slippers fit for Cinderella. Open-ended shoes with a slight heel, that might seem like toys for six-year olds playing at being Barbie? Hanging from the toes of a woman riding side-saddle on the back of a scooter, and they look like evening dress for a fair maiden.

Yes, truly, India may well be the best place for ladies who have put on a few pounds. And also the place where even a princess can be shod in plastic.

2 thoughts to “The Indian art of clothing a less comely figure”

  1. What you say about dress is very true. And as regards walking, you remind me of what my father said about his return from the Far East on a troop ship in 1947, after serving as an officer with the British Army in India in World War II. As the vessel approached her berth, and the crowd of loved ones waiting on the quayside gradually came into clear view, a ripple of consternation ran through the soldiers clustered along the ship’s rail  on the lower deck, and Grandpa heard men saying things like, “What’s the matter with the women?” “None of them can walk properly!” After three or four years watching Indian women walking, English ladies all dolled up and teetering on their high heels for the occasion made a stark contrast.

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