From banning the Bra to Wonderbra – the (victoria’s) secrets out.

March 19, 2010


Feminism, the bad good word of the 60’s, is symbolized in the burning of bras, mythic or otherwise. Bra burning was considered a protest against the Miss America pageants, just as burning the draft card was a protest against the war in Viet Nam.  But all that has changed, reflecting that, is the bra, an enduring symbol of upliftment of the down trodden. From burning of the bra to the wonderbra the Victoria secret’s out. Mammalians of the world unite, stay abreast of the times.

As a photographer who in recent times has had the good fortune of photographing women, the bra becomes an important consideration. Many times after humming and hawing you muster up enough courage to venture into the territory of the undergarment, and sort of let slip, ‘casually’ that a well fitting bra could be as essential as mascara. For a male photographer you would think that having to make this ‘salacious’ comment would be unnecessary. Truth be told the woman and the bra could not be more mismatched. Boudoir London, an up-market lingerie store in Mumbai run by two Punjabi NRI sisters has identified this niche or gaping hole and has success plugging it with bras of every flavour ranging from the matronly to the downright kinky, pink fur, union jack, stars and stripes signifying patriotism albeit to a wrong country, leather and studs and even edible lingerie. Needless to say feminists knee jerk their belans and poll paats protesting the male gaze and use other, “my culture/your culture” jargon, yawn, sigh, ho hum.

And then on Hill Road are Chinese knock offs offering all that and heaven too with voluptuous Rakhee Sawant cut outs, the sales girls, astonishingly, invariably are men generally marwari or Muslim. The misfit continues. The middle class is buying.

And in Bhuleshwar alongside puja material are roadside bra vendors with swishing scarlet and thongie lingerie that fill up like windsocks, traditional women in saris make the purchase with a most interesting ploy, they feel a handkerchief or some very ‘appropriate’ white, or skin coloured bra on the table and ask for the lacey sexy number that’s gyrating in the wind, not letting on by pointing.

There were times where the panty line seen through a pair of tight well fitting trousers was considered so déclassé. It became mandatory that the bra strap or the thing itself should never peek. Lycra was borne and became a household name. Gwen Steffani turned the inside out, the construction of the bra has to be visible through the tee or whatever top you are wearing, it has become like a uniform. The padded bra has become like the stock market, over inflated, needing correction. Thin anorexic chicks walk around with these balloons popping out, the guys have their eyes on stalks and comments like ‘falsies’ were heard in bandra many years before silicone and Pamela Anderson.

Madonna’s metallic cones and Thiery Mugler’s tribute to the tit are all in the hall of fame.

These days in what might be considered daring, the nipple is beginning to dimple the spheres, air-conditioning also gets turned up resultantly while at Fashion week in the event of garment malfunction, nipple tape was prescribed.

The eternal transcendental question of why would a woman wear a black bra under a thin white mul mul kurtha, was it to be considered so sexy? My wife’s sweet, simplistic response was that the white ones were probably in the wash.

And then there is the supreme issue of braless ness, a blatant disregard for convention, slipping into another convention of anti-conventional be bop a loola people and your granny. But just so that the effort and the statement did not go unnoticed, the gait gets galumphing so that miss bouncy is recognized from a kilometer away.

Have you ever marveled at B & P (bra and panty) shops in the most conservative of areas flaunting, satiny, silky, sheer, downright outrageous bras and ever wondered of who would actually buy and wear those things, well they would not have them and change window displays so often if they did not sell, the imagination is doing cartwheels. Concealed under those ubiquitous ‘nighties’ lies an Umrao Jaan.

Ever traveled on a BEST and marveled at a seated middle aged women in thin georgette saris with scooped necklines, the pullow would also slip more occasionally than gravity would otherwise ordain. Nothing more day making than seeing a pair of full breasts. For a country on the one hand that has had bare breasted tribals a mere 50 km from Mumbai 30 years ago and has celebrated sacred sculpture exemplifying fertile, fecund, abundant, topless goddess torsos, and where breasts are popped out in public with impunity to feed infants long past the age, the duality of not showing cleavage continues.

The paan chewing vegetable vendor and kohli woman will delve deep into cleavage land to produce change from a secure wallet stuck in fort knockers.

Women who wear revealing clothes sometimes do it with selectiveness; a shawl or a denim jacket for ‘modesty’ in the street, then at the work place or at the selected destination the peel begins. Most women complain that the male gaze hovers directly on to her breasts, it is a kind of mismatch again, and wanting/not-wanting is the game that is being played. There is a certain kind of look that women don’t like and another that they encourage. It’s the same with touch, every women swears that they know the difference. The act of concealment and revelation is the adult version of hide and seek.

Early on when I was just beginning to photograph women and mentioning bras was unmentionable and personal, it used to amaze me that the ‘models’ all of them regular women, some young and others getting on, would take out from their bags, gingerly, the slinkiest, cleavage revealing garment they could find much to my delight.  Women who have it flaunt it.

And beyond the bra is nudity itself. Women who think they are beautiful want to be photographed in the pink, it’s a coming out statement of sorts, it’s a private, personal way of saying, and I am free. The onus is on the photographer to take this trust and become free himself too of the stereotypes. Other women, who can’t or wont yet take the plunge will enjoy revealing cleavage, push up bras, transparent lacey widgets that do all but come off. Straps fall limp off the shoulder and the hooks even get undone seductively.

Then there is the woman who thinks that topless ness is ok but pubic nudity is not, the combinations are endless and fascinating.

These days women talk of the breast hug, a full frontal ness that engages chests leaving no space within. It’s a contact sport and the bruises are pleasure filled.

A young professional woman who seemed very straight laced, used to wearing black, masculine, un flattering suits, a Tam Bram called up once to ask if I would make her look sexy, a bit taken aback at the ‘sexy’ part, above line notwithstanding, I gladly volunteered to make portraits and dithered on the promise of ‘sexiness’. Then I get a call to say that she has finished work early and is ready to come to be photographed and I began stuttering to say it did not work like that and that we would have to decide a look and ‘co-ordinate’ garments, accoutrements etc. All she said was, “ I’m wearing a beautiful, pink, lacey bra”.  She came by and beneath all that external un-sexiness was a full creamy body, gorgeous clavicles and fabulous cleavage. She made the most stunning ode to the pink bra pictures that even her mother approved of.

We are definitely a boob nation, whereas Brazil is ass oriented. Bikini destination, Baywatch, Sports Illustrated and Pirelli join the b rated posters in Beer bars, all heralding a bigger brighter future.

A kind of crude bandra schoolboy phrase of the 60’s was small tree, big fruit; I shudder to think how that translates to the more explicit 21 century. Students of mine have done interesting projects shot with spy camera type of scenarios in lifts, of college girls on their way to meet their dates, adjusting their cups in the elevator mirror.

I remember once driving across Rajasthan with a maharashtrian friend who was singing a lavni song about the fox having gone into the sugar cane patch and referring to ‘Khule Aam’, replete with innuendo and double entendre every time we passed rajasthani women with décolletage. Then late at night we pulled into Jaipur and there in a small theatre opposite a dhaba where we were going to eat was Khule Aam showing with dancing lights around the hoarding, the coincidence was hilarious.

The united colour of Benneton ads have shown a black woman breast-feeding a white child and Tocani’s attempts at voyeurism were attacked.

Lascelle Simmon’s specializes in designing the corset his wife Pallavi said that a good corset is one where a woman can kiss her own breasts. Women have fainted with asphyxiation from over tightening their whalebone corsets.


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