By Sonali Kokra
The jury’s in. We can now say this with reasonable certainty: The road to hell is paved by overeager social media managers, with their attempts to be disruptive and avant grade. Ask Sabyasachi. Right about now, I imagine the celebrity designer and most (moneyed) Indian brides’ wet dream is rubbing Bengay into his tired temples and shredding his agency’s contract in annoyance. On Saturday, the official Sabyasachi account posted a rather bizarre piece of text on Instagram. Quoting the infamous Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the good folks at Sabyasachi decided that if a woman is “over-dressed” she must naturally be “wounded” and “bleeding internally, silently”, while nursing dramatic things like a “dark, blinding pain” in her “innermost being”. Coming from any other man with a saviour complex (as if there is another variety), the foolish sentiment would promptly be forgotten, but not when the person endorsing them literally owes his very career and abundance of riches to selling women on the idea of bridal pomp and splendour. I am yet to see a Sabyasachi bride who is anything but dazzlingly over-attired. Which is perfectly fine and their prerogative. But you don’t shit where you shill, sir.
As a woman who has often been accused of being overdressed, and one who also happens to harbour an enduring love for the classics, I don’t know what’s more absurd — the abysmal misinterpretation of Miss Havisham’s character (Charles Dickens must be turning in his grave in Westminster Abbey); or the verbal theatrics used to characterise women who are unapologetically OTT. I’m not the only one nettled by this double assault. Within hours, a concise, unconditional apology had been posted on the account, acknowledging the displeasure of women and the poor articulation. So perhaps those of us who decided we’d sell our kidney to Tarun Tahiliani instead of Sabyasachi in exchange for that perfect wedding lehenga can pause for a second.
Dear Team Sabya, yes, heartbreak is a terrible thing, and it is the turning point in Miss Havisham’s tale, like it is for so many people who experience it, but there’s so much more to a person’s story than one isolated incident. I could go on and on about how Great Expectations and Miss Havisham’s journey is not, in fact, about heartbreak, but other terrible and beautiful emotions, but that’s not the point, is it? The point is, neither she, nor any other woman (or man, or trans person) who experiences it needs fixing, unless they specifically ask for it. Miss Havisham has fixed herself — and then some! — in the manner she saw fit, so please leave her and others like her alone. This cultural romance with repairing “broken” people is getting to be tiresome and trope-y now. Find another way to be relevant. And please, for the love of your egg-sized emeralds, do not run around advising people to inflict their company on hurting souls. You know what’s worse than having your heart split open? Unwelcome company rubbing manufactured empathy in your wounds. Love has been bastardised enough, used to sell everything from insurance to engagement rings. At least leave grief alone, will you?
Literary mutilation aside, the underlying message was actually pretty progressive. For a brand that sells shiny, expensive jewels to put forth the idea that no amount of sparkle can replace the warmth of human connection is sweetly self-aware. I can imagine the frustrations of the creative team that conceptualised it over the largely missed point. But words matter. Dear Team Sabya, let me tell you a story about a little girl. From the time she could understand the word, she was terrified of the word “fat”. It followed her around like the plague. She grew up to become many things — kind, sarcastic, curious, well-read — but she was always, first and foremost, f-a-t. People like her were supposed to fade into the background. And do everything humanly possible to steer the beholder’s gaze away from “tricky” areas. It was like her body was a giant math problem, that needed to be solved one styling hack at a time. That little girl was me.
I can’t speak for the entire universe of overdressed creatures (no one can, and I really don’t know what made you assume the mantle), but I’m fairly certain I represent a large portion of our population when I say this: We dress to the nines not because of a deep-seated insecurity or to hide from the world, but the opposite. Being a fuchsia in a world that wants us to be beige is an act of assertion, of freedom, and of self-celebration. Not deflection, like you’d have us believe. Being “overdressed” as a fat person was my way of bringing myself to life after death by a thousand paper cuts, or barbed comments. A friend, willowy as they come, signals her arrival with a symphony of jangles and clinks, courtesy the dozens of metallic bracelets, bells and beads that are roped around her wrists on any given day. We both wield kajal pencils and eyeliner wands with a confidence and determination that would impress MF Hussain, were he alive. I assure you, neither of us is trying to paper our wounds with makeup, or hide childhood gashes on our psyches with jewellery. We dress as we damn well please, regardless of who thinks it is too much, or too loud, or too something, because we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we’re artists, and our bodies are our masterpieces. Can you accept that and move on, Team Sabya? We’re not helpless, misunderstood misses, thank you very much.
At this point, Sabyasachi has claimed an obsession for boobs, as a means of reinventing himself, having tired of “gaunt faces” and “stick-thin models”. A few months before that, he wanted women to be ashamed if they didn’t know how to wrap themselves in one. And now, this. All three times, it was supposed to be a message of inclusion, that inadvertently ended up excluding and offending. Perhaps it’s time for Sabya to do (what he does best), and not say (something he seems to be woefully inadequate at, currently). Want to be inclusive? Make clothes that embrace us all — the big, the diminutive, the booby, the wiry, the beige, the bright, and everything in between. That’s all we’ve ever really wanted.