Today’s post, I admit, is a little bit of a rant. Although I try and remain relatively positive in my day-to-day life, my frustration level has reached its limit, and I am in severe need of others to validate my intense lack of understanding. You see, the other day, I was walking down the street in India, minding my own business, on my way to grab some groceries, and I realized that I was getting more than the average judgmental looks than I generally receive for my overall loud mouth demeanor. The people around me were eyeing me up and down, then proceeding to pause their gaze at the sliver of bare midriff between my crop top and high waisted linen trousers, before looking me directly in the eye and grimacing. While yes, annoying, I didn’t really give much thought to it until I realized that not only were many of the women grimacing at me were wearing sari blouses, but when a young woman my age walked past me in a cotton lenga no one batted an eye.
Now this woman, as beautiful as she was, was showing significantly more skin than I. Her chest, back, and midriff were clearly exposed, whereas less than an inch of my stomach was on display in my mock necked long sleeve crop top, and yet I was the one being judged. After thinking long and hard, the only conceivable reason I could possibly think of as to why was because I was wearing western attire, and she was wearing ethnic clothing.
Before I get into why this double standard is wrong on multiple levels, I would like to explain a little bit of the history behind the sari blouse.
A few years ago, I was doing some extensive research into indo-western clothing, and I came across an interesting piece of information. Although now believed to be a very traditional piece of South Asian attire, the sari blouse is a result of western influence. The sari was traditionally worn as only a draped layer of cloth; if one was from the upper-class, they might have worn a breast band named a “Pratidhi,” but this was extremely rare. Thus the majority of Indians were walking around in saris bare-breasted. It is widely believed it wasn’t until the British Raj of 1858 when Indian men and women noticed a stark difference in attire between the British and themselves and consequently started to believe themselves to be inferior, that the sari blouse, as well as petticoat, came to be. You see, when the British took over, Indian women felt their native dress to be a sign of illiteracy. As the foreign women had a lot of time on their hands, they began to teach Indians about knitting, crocheting, and the art of western dress. This is said to be when the sari blouse was first created as it was a way for Indian women to present themselves as demure, fair, and dainty like the British as the blouse and petticoat covered and shaped their bodies in a more western fashion.
My point of this history lesson is that even if one were to judge a woman wearing a crop top and yet not one wearing the sari blouse for reasons such as one is an ethnic piece of clothing steeped in Indian heritage and tradition and the other is, I don’t know, merely a western take over of provocation, doesn’t actually make sense. The sari blouse and the crop are essentially the same things. Both are pieces of fabric cut into shirts originally designed for women, that are cut off somewhere above the belly button. Neither is inherently sexual nor conservative. When worn, both show approximately the same amount of skin, and most importantly, neither is inherently Indian and, therefore, cannot be judged differently for that reason.
Now that we’ve established that there is virtually no difference between a crop top and a sari blouse both contextually and physically, can we please stop judging women for wearing crop tops in India but not judging them sari blouses and second, can we stop judging people at all for clothing choices? Clothing is a form of expression and is designed for the wearer, not spectators. A crop top is not only practical in the heat of many areas of India but is also fashionable, versatile, and fun. We live in a day and age where body positivity is at the center of attention, and a crop top, as well as a sari blouse, are often a great way to feel confident in one's skin. So in the battle between a sari blouse and a crop top, I say we have a tie as none should be judged or held to different standards.