Even if you want to ignore it, there’s no way to really block out the images of slim, thin, size zero, tall, fair women with long perfect hair looking confident and sexy. They’re everywhere. The (un)stated message? Women should be looking like that to feel confident.
But Bengaluru-based fashion designer Aloka D’Souza decided to do something to separate this advertised connection between the way the body looks and how people feel about themselves.
And so, Aloka collaborated with Nandith Jaisimha, a photographer and filmmaker from Bengaluru to create a short documentary film ‘Needle’s Eye: Fashion Beyond Shape’. The un(stated) message? That fashion should be about garments that clothe your body, and make you feel good about it.
The film features nine women with varied body types, sizes, shapes and complexion, from different walks of life as well Anugrah Phillips, a fashion stylist and cross-dresser.
In the film, the women talk about their insecurities about their physical appearance, the ‘ideal’ body they thought they had to aspire to and finally, the realization that they didn’t have to because fitness and individuality mattered way more.
Released about a month ago on YouTube, some women in ‘Needle’s eye’ say that customizing clothing is much better. But affordability remains an issue, so retail chains still remain the go to option for many people. While some brands are taking cognizance of varying body types and curves, there needs to be more sensitivity about this, Aloka insists.
While the film only features women and Anugrah, 29-year-old Nandith says mean men too have body image issues. “But men face lesser pressure to be stylish. On the other hand, I’ve been shopping with my female friends and every time I see them struggle to fit into clothes they find at shops, it strikes me how arbitrary the sizes there are,” he says.
It this pressure to look stylish by fitting into biology-defying sizes that gave the project its name. “We wanted to look at women’s body image issues through fashion. Clothes are sewn when a thread goes through a needle’s eye. Hence, the name,” explains Nandith.
Both Nandith and Aloka believe that the fashion has to do with highlighting what women like about themselves, customizing clothes to their body types and not the other way around.
This was 26-year-old Aloka’s approach to fashion when she started a customizable clothing studio in 2013. She’s never believed in keeping catalogues. “If you see my measurement book, you’ll know how every single person who comes to me has different measurements, even if they fit into a certain body type. How can one size fit all then?” asks Aloka.
Many women who come to Aloka for customized clothing are insecure about their bodies, and want to hide their “imperfections”. This is partly due to the kind of language fashion magazines use. They ask women to “hide their bulges by wearing black or flowy clothes” and make fashion “forecasts” that cater to only a small minority of elite people, Aloka says.
“The language needs to change and be more encouraging. Advise women to highlight what they like about themselves, but don’t perpetuate impractical aspirational body types,” says Aloka.
But in the past, Aloka too inevitably chose tall and lean women for the annual promotional photoshoots for her clothing studio. “It is very easy to design for that body type. That’s how this came to be known as the ‘perfect body’ which the fashion industry loves,” explains Aloka.
But over time, Aloka realized that these photoshoots didn’t give her anything to relate to and wanted to break out of the stereotype and feature women of all shapes and sizes this year. Co-incidentally, Nandith walked into her studio in February to look for outfits for his own photoshoot project. That’s when the school batchmates discussed the idea, and ended up making Needle’s Eye.
The result of these efforts is for all to see.