Leggings. They come in many colours. They fit the tall, they fit the short. They stretch generously when you put on weight. They come back to hug your waist when you lose it. You don’t have to iron them. You can order them off the Internet knowing that they will fit.
You can pull them down when you use the toilet, without worrying if the nada will disappear from one end like it always does with other churidhar bottoms. They’re elastic. You can pair them with kurtas, you can pair them with T-shirts. You can wear them to a party, you can wear them to the gym.
After the nightie, the leggings are the next revolution when it comes to comfort in women’s clothing.
Perhaps that’s why, after the nightie, it’s the leggings that’s become an eyesore for all those who’re in the profession of monitoring women’s bodies and laying down codes for decency. As a society, we don’t like it when women become too comfortable.
Even before some of us could celebrate the fact that the chief executive officer of the famed Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, had finally decided to allow women devotees to wear churidhars and enter its premises, protests broke out.
A BJP state committee member said, “We do not object to salwar kameez per se. But we do feel that the leggings that the women of today wear in combination with churidhars/kurtis can cause distraction to those who come to offer prayers here. This could spoil the atmosphere in the temple.”
A district judge who is part of the executive committee almost immediately wrote saying the order should be revoked.
To be fair, the temple has a dress code for men too. Male devotees have to be bare-chested and wear a dhoti. They’re not allowed to wear pants and shirts. However, this dress code has to do with tradition rather than “decency” (not that this justifies the code – that’s another debate for another day). Which is why nobody is wondering why a bare-chested man cannot be “distracting” and “spoil” the atmosphere in the temple. Perhaps they assume that women don’t look at men’s bodies or have any sexual feelings?
A year ago, a Tamil magazine called Kungumam published a cover story on the leggings. They missed every single thing about leggings that women love. Instead, they made their story about how leggings were a vulgar display of flesh. They took pictures of women’s backs – two out of the three photographs were shots taken when their kurtas were flying up in the wind – and said they were “crossing the line”.
One could take pictures of flying lungis and arrive at the same conclusion but that somehow never happens. And what about those translucent mundus that leave little to imagination?
These stodgy rules connecting dress to respect and devotion aren’t exclusive to Kerala, Tamil Nadu or India. In Bangkok, for instance, where the streets fill up with sex workers openly soliciting customers as the evening progresses, and nobody bats an eyelid at any kind of dress anyone is wearing, there are absurd rules in place for visiting the Grand Palace. The rules are for men and women, but the list is obviously much longer for the latter category.
The business of policing women’s “decency” is near universal. And in South India, the humble leggings, unfortunately, has become the eye of the storm. Unlike jeans or skirts that are also considered evil but are mostly restricted to the upper classes, leggings are worn by women across social classes and age categories. Especially in urban areas where the saree has more or less become a ceremonial dress, leggings are a rage – they’re easy to wear and easy to maintain, a hit among employed women who no longer need to break their heads over what to wear to work.
Yes, leggings are a tight form of dress. They embrace the calf muscles. They define the thighs. They give women room to move, work, and breathe easy. If that offends you, you have two options: look away and mind your own business or take some inspiration from the leggings and stretch your mind.
Author: Sowmya Rajendran
Article was first published on The News Minute