Taboos Are Funny Things-II

My wife loves wearing sleeveless dresses. In fact, it would be accurate to say that she has a fetish for them. If she ever gets salwar kameez with a long sleeve, she won’t wear it till it has been altered so that the sleeve is short enough for her comfort. I once gifted her a nice full-sleeved shirt and to my horror she wanted to mutilate it to sleevelessness. it took all my powers at emotional blackmail to dissuade her.

There is one exception, however. Once while discussing how she wanted a saree’s blouse to be stitched, I suggested a sleeveless blouse. She looked at me with disgust and said: “That is what whores wear!”.

My guess is that this is what happened. A generation back, the saree was the only dress for most people. In North India, fashionable women took to wearing sleeveless blouses. In South India, they did not, and wearing a sleeveless blouse was considered daring and mildly disreputable. Over a generation, young women over most of India have made the transition from sarees to other forms of dress. So, a woman in South India who wants to look fashionable will wear a sleeveless kameez. This means that if you have grown up in a town in Karnataka, it is entirely possible that you have never seen a woman wearing a sleeveless blouse with a saree. The only exception would be whores. Of course, all this will change with the introduction of the Tata Nano.

18 thoughts on “Taboos Are Funny Things-II

  1. 1. i’m not sure. i think even in the south (especially Bangalore) it was fairly common for “high society” women to regularly wear sleeveless blouses with sarees. but still that was considered too revealing.

    2. I think the sleeveless salwar became popular much much later (sometime in the 90s only, with dil to pagal hai contributing to the tipping point) than the sleeveless blouse with saree (which has been fairly popular for some 50 years now). point being that when the former became popular, there were a lot more people willing to “expose” so it caught on much more easily.

    3. Ok let me propose this theory. I think it has to do with the total surface area of exposed skin. and most women tend to put a limit on that. sleeve length being equal, the surface area of skin displayed by a saree is significantly more than that revealed by a salwar. and reducing the sleeve length to zero will mean that the threshold gets crossed in case the woman is wearing a saree, and not if she’s wearing other stuff like salwar or jeans. in fact, area exposed by saree is more than that exposed by a knee-length skirt since the former exposes areas that are likely to be bigger than that exposed by the latter. hence …

  2. I have seen many South Indian women wear sleeveless blouses when I grew up in the 80s. These were generally the so-called high society women who were considered to be persons with loose morals. I wonder if there is/was a direct association with whores.

  3. Without getting into a discussion on the morals of high society women, I want to point out that:
    1) The issue is perception, not reality
    2) The question is what is the probability that you grow up with such perceptions. I went to a middle-class school in Bombay and I had teachers, both young and old who wore sleeveless sarees. A sleeveless blouse was never considered to be revealing, though we did our share of leching at teachers.
    3) I completely disagree with Karthik. I believe that what is considered revealing and what is not, what is considered vulgar and what is not, has nothing to do with how much surface area is exposed.

  4. 1. I think sk has a point with his surface area theory. Most popular bollywood actresses have several photos with skimpy top and not-so-skimpy bottom as well as with skimpy bottom and not-so-skimpy top but the combination isn’t anywhere near that common.
    The idea is probably also to fire imagination by forcing male brains to “put stuff together”. All power to skimpy 🙂

    2. There is also a lot of truth in the perception-rather-than-reality theory. In 19th century Kerala Namboothiris had done enough social engineering to ensure that Namboothiri women wouldn’t go out topless but women from many so-called-lower-castes *had to* be topless when they went out. The whores did cover their breasts, on the other hand, to invite imagination. If a young girl from one such so-called-lower-caste were to cover her breasts her mother would chide her for being a whore.

  5. Ravikiran, I was talking about perceptions only. What kind of morals such women possessed is beyond me.

  6. The second point doesn’t preclude that fact that in some cultural circumstances perception could be “proportional” to the surface area.

  7. This brings me to the question: why do women in Peninsular India, especially along the coasts even consider sleeveless shirts? The region is hot and humid and people tend to sweat a lot. Unless I am running, I don’t wear sleeveless. I can’t figure why women are any different. It still sticks and stinks.

    Which makes me wonder — if the so called high society women of the 80s could afford air-conditioning just like middle class women of today can. And thus.

    Maybe morals here is code for jealousy and hatred for the rich.

  8. Ravi,

    I’m a fashion designer and a woman. In general women who are Fair complexioned with soft and plump upper arms wear sleeveless blouses. Many north Indian wmen and Konkanastha Brahmin women of Maharashtra have Skin that is fair as milk and soft as silk, hence wear blouses that are sleeveless

    Women in south India are dark skinned or black and in India Fair skin alone is considered beautiful, hence south indian women need to cover themselves more and also make use of more jewelry and shining kancheepuram saris.

    Hope my reply has satisfied you


  9. Hi Friends ,I am a medico and I think I know a little better about this.was due to the BCG vaccination and Small Pox vaccination that was started and that was done till 1978. This would lead to scar on the arms that was not worth revealing .When this was stopped in 1978 and these female grew up to a age for wearing dresses they adopted for sleeveless and thus the epidemic .
    As for the blouses Ithink that depends upon the opinion placed by the females as above and need to be discussed .

  10. May be vaccination scars are a concern but I have seen many actresses in movies who do not have any scars on their arms. How did they manage it?

  11. ans of jyoti’s question: many female have smallpox vaccination scar on
    their thigh instead of arm. i am not agree with uday’s comment that vaccination scars looks epidemic, but they look attractive and really adds
    beauty to arm

  12. Further can you give me name of such celebrities where small pox vaccination scar is an add on beauty . I too am bit embarassed to show my scar.

  13. I think sarees with sleeveless blouses are very commonplace. I grew up in Bombay and many of our teachers wore sleeveless blouses. In fact my wife is currently a school teacher and wears sleeveless blouses very often. She does get some glances from the bigger boys but she is very strict and it is not a problem.

    I feel that women who were sleeveless blouses are in general more confident and have a better body image.

  14. Also, i can add a popular query.

    Why do girls wear sarees rather than salwar suits after their marriage? They stop wearing salwar suits completely after marriage. It is followed as a custom, i suppose.

    Coming to sleeveless, yes people stare more at such women wearing either sleeveless salwar or blouse. Women who wear such costumes in smaller towns and villages are considered whores or some uptown loose character.

    The Indian society in rural areas is very complex and strict about their customs. Such women in rural areas get discriminated from community as loose character.

  15. Dear Friends
    What is the cause behind a women wearing a sleevless blouse is no matter of concern fo me.All I know about it is a Sleevless blouse wearing females make all of us boys shiver with passion and we eagerly wait for her to raise her arms and there we get a glimpse of those glorious valleys with some pheromonic shrubs or at least some stubbles .It will be chewed by us in our toilets when no other sort of eroticism makes us jerk off.I am of opinion that al;l women should be compelled to wear sleevless blouses and Salwaars with a condition that they will not shave those shrubs which makes us electrified and aid us in Pushing thing well.Umhhaaaa I like that view when all my Indian females will have armpit hair,let it be Teachers who will write on blackboards ,Lecturers who will point the stick to display on Board.I bet not a boy will bunk those classes when a Lady will come wearing sleevless attire.Toilets will be totally full after every period

  16. I wear sleeveless blouses mainly because they are very comfortable in hot Indian summer. I prefer thin strip and wide-back cotton blouses since they are extra-comfortable. I never feel shy to raise my arms and show my armpits. I keep my armpits natural that is hairy as they are. I never shave armpits because I am not ashamed to show the hairs. While travelling in a crowded bus or train, often I require to hold a rod above my head which exposes my armpits. I find men hornily looking at my hairy armpits but I don’t care. However, I don’t spare any male trying to touch or smell my armpits. My husband does not like me wearing sleeveless blouses but I care a fig for it. Every woman has right to wear sleeveless blouse for comfort or for show whatever the case is and men should not be interfering in it.

  17. The last two view points viz. by Lentit dt.18-1-11 and Rupa Sarkar dt.5-5-12 lend a genuine approach to the Truth of Nature’s creation of ‘basic’ human form as child bearing mother of feminine gender. Women are the reps. of mother Earth which holds all kinds of vegetation in various forms and densities as pastures,gardens and forests. Also tall trees and grassy out growths which yield various raw and ripe fruits as well as staple foods etc. are known as Vanaspathis. Likewise creepers are known as ‘Latas’ and short bushy growths which yield many flowers and mostly grow as medicinal plants are all part of nature’s creation to sustain all life forms on Earth including human beings.
    Coming to the present, in spite of all human achievements and progress scientifically, technologically as well as marvelous engineering productivity, have we really come nearer to accept nature’s creation truthfully? Accepting our scriptures as elucidating basic norms of universal creation the first chapters of Aithareya Upanishad describes the human form as representative of Earthly creation with the various vegetation ‘transformed ‘ as ‘hairy’ outgrowths on the terrain of largest human organ, namely, the skin and its under layers.
    We Hindu Indians worship Lord Vishnu and the prime Divine Incarnate of our Milky way Galaxy as Jagadishwar and worship as wearing ‘hairy form’ (Keshav Roop or simply Keshav) as suitable to life forms in the nitrogenous environment on earth. This projective conscious design concept of Vishnu is actualized by the divine Mother Lalita ( revered as Padmanabha Sahodari in Llita sahasranaam Stotra) and assumed the form of Vanadevata as representing vegetation and evolved into ‘basic feminine human form as Vanitha.
    To say the truth, women procreate and deliver both male and female gendered babies and hence sustain human species. No wonder the Hindu dharma truly accepts woman as Mother in various family roles and implores to offer reverence as ‘ Vande Mataram’. Given the present day media reportage of abuse and rape of women where do we Indians stand whose scriptural wisdom and human culture was greatly extolled by the Western Pundit Max Mueller in the edited book “I point to India” of his I.C.S lectures?
    Does our human science really benefit us without the double entry book keeping audit of all recorded human progress when it comes to the realistic acceptance of physical human form? Viewing the present abused condition of womanhood and given the increased toxic pollution of earthly environment due depleted vegetation of earthly terrain, women may all the more do well to wear adult natural body hair in its various formats and textures as ‘basic human form’ and avoid hairy denuded silky smooth skin as extolled by hate controlled commercial hygiene and beauty enhanced luxurious growths and balding head plates.
    Fat soluble toxic matter, mostly metallic poisons acquired and accumulated in the body can be safely expelled through anagen,catagen and tellogen periods of hairy cellular outgrowth as well as keeping investigative forensic record and avoid cystic and benign as well also malignant inner viscera complications. Viewed by industrial culture, women represent human cellular generating plants of both gender. Their basic hairy form should represent the minimum manufacturing plant requirement as resulted from primary natural creation. Can gentlemen accept this natural order in gratitude and reverence to their mothers?

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