There’s a high chance that your Instagram feed was recently filled up with women in saris. No, it wasn’t coincidence. It was the result of a viral video, online trolls and a campaign to champion sisterhood and body positivity. The #sariforallsizes is a social media effort by three ladies that encourages women to proudly wear saris, especially if they’ve been previously judged or bullied for doing so. The sari garment is a staple in South Asian women’s wardrobes and has a history that can be traced back to the roots of our civilisation on this Subcontinent. Yet, society continues to ridicule women who don’t fit the mould of a ‘perfect body’ if they choose to don this garb. Here, the women behind the campaign give us a brief look into why owning your sari with confidence is akin to a fashion revolution. Sabah Bano Malik (RJ and journalist) speaks about the start of the campaign, online trolls and her own relationship with her body; Baemisaal (artist and body positivity advocate) lays down a call to action, explaining fatphobia’s role in restricting women’s fashion choices; and Mina Malik-Hussain (writer and TV show host) comments on being part of the campaign.
May all of you who feel judged for wearing saris reclaim your confidence!
SABAH BANO MALIK ON SARIS AND TROLLS
How did the #sariforallsizes campaign begin?
After I faced some backlash on a video I did for a fashion brand where I wore a sari, with some commenters saying a bigger body like mine did not belong in one, Mina Malik-Hussain reached out and invited me and Baemisaal to come talk on her show about bodies and body shaming. Naturally, we wore saris. It was then Baemisaal who brought up the idea of starting this hashtag to encourage more people to join in as an act of solidarity against the shaming I had been dealing with. Very badass of her.
A sari is generally a very versatile garment; why do you think it receives this much hate when put on different body types?
I think anybody with any body who exhibits confidence, especially if that body is outside of the parameters of what is seen as acceptable or attractive, generates hate. If we see where hate comes most from, it’s social media. There people usually photos of themselves when they feel confident about themselves. But if you have fat rolls or dark skin or you’re flat-chested, and continue to exude confidence, it’s a siren call for bullies who want to tear you down. Bullies and trolls feel encouraged to do this because of mainstream media, widespread fatphobia, diet culture, and in particular Pakistani culture (could go so far as to say sub-continental), where bigger bodies are viewed almost as vulgar. Larger bodies mean larger hips, larger breasts, and therefore hypersexualised and villainised. People want you to put it all away.
Why do you choose to engage with online trolls, rather than look the other way?
I have been fat my entire life, so I have built a level of confidence around dealing with such commentary, but I know a lot of people, if not majority of people, who have not. I believe people who comment hatefully on the internet need to be called out and answer for what they said, they need to explain themselves and what I have found in my time engaging with them with pure curiosity and in some cases sympathy (though I won’t lie it can be a performance on my end) is they cannot handle it; they end up getting defensive or taking back what they said themselves. They don’t expect someone to stand up for themselves. I personally find these people sort of sad and pathetic. Truthfully, if what makes you feel powerful is to diminish a person’s light then you’re not someone whom I could ever respect let alone whose opinion should hold value. My hope is that women, even young kids or teens, reading my comments back or watching my instastory take downs may feel a little less alone. Or they understand the points I’m making hold value. At least I hope that happens.
Â What has been the impact of this campaign?
I have gotten the chance to speak to so many women about their experiences with hearing awful things about their body from the people meant to love and nurture them, from their partners, from the world, and commiserate, laugh together and also make steps towards forgiving ourselves for letting this stuff get to us and finding ways to cope for when it comes next. Also for almost two weeks Twitter and IG feed for me was filled with gorgeous, beaming, glorious women just enjoying feeling good about their bodies and about their choice to rock a sari and I loved that.
Â Do you think brands are veering towards genuine diversity or is it still surface?
I think some brands are definitely trying, but there is a very long way to go. We need to start thinking about how our fashion brands can build a relationship with customers by having their customers reflected in their imagery. That means more than one plus-sized model or one dark-skinned model here and there, but a constant evolution of their campaigns when it comes to inclusion and diversity in casting.
BAEMISAALâ€™S CALL TO ACTION
A while ago Sabah Bano Malik did a digital collaboration with a brand on styling a sari for them. In her viral video, she was praised by many, but also scrutinised for owning and flaunting her beautiful body and style. Later we went on to Mina’s show “The Coffee Table” to talk about Bigger Bodies, Fat Shaming and Fat discourse, while wearing saris together in solidarity for Sabah’s video, simultaneously supporting the fact that bigger bodies should not be excluded in any part of society, in this case: fashion.
The sari then, since Sabah wore it, represented something more to us, which was a barrier given to us and many other bigger women especially growing up. We were shamed constantly for wearing them or even wanting to wear them and we still are.
I’ve been shamed for wearing a sari since forever. I used to see my aunts and mom wear them (they’re all straight sized, considered “slender-medium”). I didn’t fit the category and so was always made to feel bad for my rolls, tummy, chest, arms, legs, hips, etc.
This is when we decided that no more. No matter what you look like, whether you’re short, tall, fat, slim, differently abled, dark or whatever other flaw you perceive in yourself, you deserve to feel powerful and strong.
So join us and support other women. Motivate them to feel good rather than tearing them down.
No more exclusion! Here’s to #sarisforallsizes
I am so proud to wear a sari. I look beautiful. My stomach looks beautiful. My arms look beautiful. I never see women like me flaunting themselves here but thanks to #SarisForAllSizes, I saw so many of my sisters far and wide embrace themselves. And my God I can’t wait to see the rest of you in your saris.
A sari to me is a woman’s defiance and a woman’s ownership of her body. One can be modest, or flaunt it. It’s up to them. And NO woman should be broken down or made to feel guilt or shame for what she looks like and how she chooses to use what she has. This is not a place of hate.
I will no longer worry about whether I look older than my age, or that my stomach hangs out or my chin or back don’t fit the mold you’ve created so horribly for me to fit in. I refuse.
To all my sisters and brothers who wear saris, this is for you and only you. I love you. You look phenomenal and so powerful.
Protect each other. Protect yourselves and please be kind (unless someone’s begging you to unleash your beast, in which case, let ’em have it!). Do not rain on other people’s parade if they’re not hurting you. Let people be.
MINA MALIK-HUSSAIN ON #SARISFORALLSIZES
â€œAs a woman who doesn’t have a perceptibly bigger body, I’m also not the size many brands cater to either, which is frustrating and baffling. I’ve been body-shamed, although in no way comparable with the sustained criticism and judgement my bigger-bodied friends have endured. I see my role in this wonderful hashtag (and one day, movement?) as one of an ally, and I hope to support and amplify the brilliant, courageous work my queens are doing in whichever way they want or need.â€