Finding the right words
Everyone is free to wear what they want. But there may be times when you want to tell a friend or acquaintance that they are dressed inappropriately out of concern for their safety
A video of a middle-aged woman named Soma Chakraborty slut-shaming a girl for wearing a short dress in Gurugram recently went viral on social media leaving everyone enraged and fuming. Chakraborty seems completely unapologetic about the way she asked the men around them to rape the girl because her clothes were revealing and ‘inviting’.
Though the viral video resulted in a barrage of hate messages, shaming and death threats to Chakraborty who finally apologised for her regressive comments on Facebook, her behaviour and attitude reflects everything that’s wrong with our society, and how misogynistic both Indian men and women can be. Knowingly or unknowingly, we often tend to judge others by the way they dress — the length of her skirt or depth of her neckline becomes a yardstick to measure a woman’s morality. Though we are free to have an opinion, expressing it might not always be the best option. And even if we do decide to tell a colleague that her plunging neckline isn’t appropriate for the workplace, or a friend that her hot pants revealing too much of her buttocks might invite trouble at the bar, we must do it in a proper way. This can be a tricky affair because if you fail to communicate what you feel in the right way, things can get a little ugly for you.
Dr Ratna Kedia, a city-based clinical psychologist, says that fashion is a non-verbal way of communication. While wearing a short outfit, one isn’t ‘asking for it,’ but if she is going for a business meeting or a job interview, it may look too casual. “Your outfit and the your fashion choices are an extension of your personality. Hence, when someone tells you that what you are wearing is not nice, you tend to get offended. Similarly, even if you feel that someone is not dressed appropriately, you can’t directly tell them because it might ruffle their feathers, unless the person is very close to you or takes criticism positively. You need to be extremely cautious when you tell someone something about their clothes,” she says, adding, “For example, if your colleague is wearing something that is too casual for a boardroom meeting where your manager or CEO is going to speak, don’t directly start with ‘Hey! Your dress is not right!’ or ‘What are you wearing?’. Cleverly tell her how your boss takes professionalism too seriously which is also reflected through one’s clothes. Be logical with her and explain to her how people at the top level management consider appearance as important as performance, and although you don’t think she is any less capable, the corporate structure might make others subconsciously think that way. Perhaps, that might help,” says Kedia.
While we are not promoting the idea of how one should be telling women how to dress, sometimes when you cares for one’s safety and the way they are perceived at workplace, you want to convey a few important things to them so that their sincerity and professionalism are not questioned by others.
Dr Divya Agrawall, Mumbai-based psychologist, feels that it is not always possible to convey what you exactly think and people may sometimes doubt your intentions too. “Even if it’s a mother asking her teenage daughter to not step out in a tiny skirt because she is travelling by the bus, the daughter will act rebellious and do exactly the opposite. In the same way, you can’t tell your friends, relatives or colleagues by merely having a one-time conversation. It takes time, efforts and a lot of understanding. You need to convince them that you genuinely care for them and are concerned that they should not be harmed in any way because of how they dress. It requires understanding their thought process for selecting an outfit which you think is unfitting for a particular occasion or place,” suggests Agrawal. She stresses that one’s intention should be clear and at no point should we sound judgemental about others’ sartorial choices.
“Everyone is free to wear what they like, hence don’t make them feel that you dislike what they choose to wear,. Make sure they feel confident and secure and that they know that you are their well wisher,” says Kedia echoing Agrawall.
But how does one really do it? Kedia answers that one’s expressions and the tonality of speech matter a lot. “If you see someone in an outfit which according to you isn’t suitable, don’t reflect it through your expressions or body language. It may make things difficult if you later go up to them to explain things. You need to be gentle and empathetic. Ensure that you don’t sound preachy, because human minds usually don’t tell to give attention or importance to things that tend to be didactic. You can make it an interesting conversation by adding your own personal experiences and anecdotes of people you’ve known,” she adds.