Label jars, not people.


This photo had gone viral on Facebook a few months back and chances are that you have already seen it. When I saw it for the first time, my interpretation was that a girl’s attitude always matched with her skirt’s length or rather in general terms. – what she wore.

But  later, I found an article on the real story behind this photograph.

Rosea Lake, who studies graphic design and illustration at Capilano University in Vancouver had posted this picture to lay bare the judgemental disposition of the society around us. She had sarcastically pointed out that we judge people irrationally on some set notions of our mind.

Quoting Lake,

“[I wanted to] take the idea of impersonal, supposedly objective, measurement of things and put it on something that we do measure, but we don’t talk about. We measure women the same way we measure water in cylinders, but no one says it because it’s mean.” Lake goes on to say that the photo had made her reassess her on judgements of other women. As she puts it”I used to assume that all women who wore Hijabs were being oppressed … and look down on and judge any woman who didn’t express her sexuality in a way that I found appropriate.I’d like to think I’m more open now.”

In India, you never see a consistency throughout the landscape, people, tradition or culture. You see that in the way of dressing or progress as well. While some cities and towns have rather started to accept the Western way of dressing, a good majority of the people still find them indecent. I was born and brought up in a conservative society where even wearing a pair of jeans and t shirt was a taboo. The elderly generation still find it intimidating and ‘vulgar’ if they see you in a jeans and a tee – not to mention anything that is figure hugging or above the knees.

I had a friend who had something about girls wearing jeans. He associated western wear with immodesty and poor character. But as he came to our college, the view started to change.He saw the irrationality behind an idea that he was fed and was made to believe in. With his friends donning Western wear or what is called as modern dress (I dont know why) in India being absolutely normal and respectable, he began to burn his idea of attire linked morality.

This is true. We have a way of life that we all are accustomed to. We hate any deviations from it. Even when we proclaim ourselves to be broad minded, its just broad mindedness within the set limits of our own mind. The only narrow mindedness we are superior to, is those who think narrower than us. My accepted length of skirts are knee length.  I was once hanging out with my husband at the mall and I saw a woman in a very short flowy skirt. I made a face and criticized her when my husband pointed to the burkha clad women near me. He reminded me that the woman in hijab might think the same way about my knee length skirts and tight jeans. There – that made me rethink. I don’t even know that woman. How in the world can I judge her then? There are women with long skirts and no self respect and women with short skirts who know what modesty is.

Growing up in India, I was taught to associate liquor, cigarettes, short skirts, having friends of opposite sex and tight dresses with indecency and immodesty,  and those who keep up to date with fashion and use make up with snobbery and arrogance. But as I grew up and was enriched by experience, I learnt that character cannot be equated to What I see. However the debates on modesty of women always reminds me of Pope’s rape of lock.

Some Nymphs there are, too conscious of their Face,
For Life predestin’d to the Gnomes Embrace.These swell their Prospects and exalt their Pride,

When Offers are disdain’d, and Love deny’d.
Then gay Ideas crowd the vacant Brain;
While Peers and Dukes, and all their sweeping Train,
And Garters, Stars, and Coronets appear,
And in soft Sounds, Your Grace salutes their Ear.
‘Tis these that early taint the Female Soul,
Instruct the Eyes of young Coquettes to roll,
Teach Infants Cheeks a bidden Blush to know,
And little Hearts to flutter at a Beau.

In these lines Pope mocks the women who flirts with men and let their hearts flutter from man to another while they wear the veil of modesty. There is nothing called love involved in it, its ‘coquetry’ as pope puts it, and the women are looking towards a better marriage prospect without their chastity being questioned. Men, as well, are shown as vain creatures who try to win over the woman’s heart and fight and die for that. Pope blames the society that has shaped the women and men this way which strikes a chord with me as well.

Modesty is not something that you can measure by the length of the skirt. But I do not support walking around in scoop neck t shirts that show off  and skirts that is barely a piece of scarf. But then again, that could be my narrow mindedness. It also brings me to the other extreme. All women who cover up aren’t exactly suppressed or unhappy.Way of dressing is a choice a person makes. Its not always that short equates to immodest or covered equates to suppressed. We need to see beyond that. Vulgarity is not something that can be written and expressed. A woman can wear a short skirt and look modest. Well, she can cover her up and be immodest as well. Its  the way a person projects herself with her body language and character as well.

Lake’s photograph does not just relate to the way of dressing.It is also about those labels that we apply to people.

Nerdy because someone wears glasses? Good in math just because he is Asian?? People think all Indians live in slums and travel by bullock carts and is not disgusted by shit because slum dog millionaire says so. Sorry, but your generalizations are wrong. Slums are there.But its not like the entire map is filled with them. bullock carts have practically vanished from city roads. Its not like you have several cows and calves waiting at the red signal.

Even when we don’t know a person, we jump to conclusions based on certain visible characters or on what we have heard. It might not always be true. Although its impossible to control our judgmental mind that is always quick to act, I hope we would start to tell ourselves that appearances can be deceiving every time we label someone. Just remember to keep the labels for the jars, not for people.

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