There is always a price to pay. And that was cheap. Bought for 300 rupees from a small boutique. It’s a loose, block-printed cotton kurta that fits well, feels comfortable, looks good. It falls on my shoulders perfectly, matches well with my favourite black, skinny leggings. Yet there is something alarming about it— something beyond its bleached beige colour, mellowed-down texture, criss-cross of creases. It was something I never knew until I was requested, asked, and persuaded not to wear it again.

While its deep neck managed to hurtle down my cleavage, it didn’t bother me. In the trial room, all I saw in the mirror was the unyielding curve of my (small) breasts. How surprisingly thrilling! The kurta effortlessly managed to preserve a mystery of my body. My confidante, I thought, and decided to buy it.

A week later, my friends and I planned to meet up regarding a project for our World History class. I deliberately wore that kurta to show off. Not unlike me, in any way. But they kept telling me to “pull it up,” “put it on properly,” “not bend down,” “buy clothes that don’t show everything.” They reckoned that my skinny frame, devoid of muscle, skin and bone, was not enough to ‘hold’ the kurta at the ‘right places.’ Maybe my body lets everything slip.

My friends probably didn’t mean to hurt me. But I do wonder if this speaks of how we are conditioned to think of our bodies. It seems that everyone partakes of a spectrum of shame. In our collective failure to celebrate the sexuality, artistry, difficulties and mysteries of our bodies, we start institutionalizing them. We begin to assign labels, define decency and acceptability, and conjoin attributes to them. We even begin to define identity.  ‘A healthy body’ gets reduced to a bra size, a waist size, a goal weight, a number…followed by more numbers. For men, too, body shaming takes different forms. A man is only considered to be one if he fits into a rigid, and patriarchal definition of masculinity. Nudity is misconstrued as pornography. A ‘plus-size’ is misconstrued as incompetency. The stereotypes are endless.

A good Indian girl,” some would say, “never wears a bikini.” “A good Indian girl never goes out in shorts.” “A good Indian girl must not show off her baby bump to men.” “A good Indian girl is fair, thin, tall.” “A good Indian girl does not believe in being pansexual.” “So, when a girl loves to wear a kurta that shows her cleavage, she’s not a good Indian girl anymore.”

I refuse to be known solely for my body. I refuse to not let go. I refuse to adhere to your principles. I refuse to stop believing I am beautiful. I refuse to be categorised. I refuse to suppress my voice in the face of shame. I refuse to abandon my confidante. I refuse to ‘not bend down.’

I am NOT your good-Indian-girl.

– Written by Devanshi Khetarpal (redefy journalism team member)