Whose Choice?

Devjani Bodepudi responds to Vogue India's ‘My Choice’ ad with an open letter questioning its half-baked message of pseudo-feminism.

Dear Vogue India,

I’m not an expert but I think what you are endorsing—you know, the whole having sex with whomever, wherever and whenever you choose thing—is, although laudable, slightly naïve. The choice to be naked and all that, over being bound in cotton and silk. No, it’s very naïve!

Choice is such a strange word. Do we have choice? Free will? Determinists like Bertrand Russel would say, “not really.” Every choice we make or will make is determined by factors past, present and future. The choice to wear flats, for example, this season is not really a free choice; it is determined by the many articles, beautiful models with artfully turned ankles, selling us flat shoes and the undeniable knowledge that heels are definitely ‘out’!

OK, sorry, that example was not very good. Let’s take another one: the choice to come home at 4 am. I am pretty free to choose to do that, but what restricts my choice is the knowledge that my children will miss me, I really don’t have the stamina for that kind of thing and I have to wake up for work in the mornings. So I will choose not to stay out until 4 am. I will, instead, choose to come home early, spend some time helping my daughter do her homework. (She also has the choice to ignore her homework but I remove that choice, not because I am a control freak, but because she’ll get into trouble from the teachers if she exercises said choice, and I want to protect her.) Perhaps I’ll read a little, eat and then go to bed. My choices are determined by my past experiences, my present situation and possible future consequences. Also, I’ve heard that the streets at 4 am may be isolated and dangerous.

And hold on, simply saying that I should have the choice to do what the hell I feel like does not make it right. It doesn’t change anything. Think about what you’re endorsing, Vogue India. What exactly are you asking us to do? Not as women—let’s move away from that for the moment—but as citizens of a developing country?

Vogue India, you have been the beacon of beauty ideals for decades! A monochrome video with largely stunning women, and the token old biddy with photogenic wrinkles does not change that. In fact, it upholds it. It’s a wonder of a video. Flowing robes, flying hair, powerful eye contact, pointing fingers, all are tricks, gimmicks to sell an idea. Do what you like, as long as you look beautiful doing it. Size 0–15? Really? Did you actually use any Size 15 women in your video? If you did, I missed them? Sorry, I digress.

Back to the point: Vogue India, what are you trying to sell us this time? Is black the new black, darling? The fact is this video is aimed at a very small section of society. It’s probably the same section that already has all the above mentioned important choices of whether or not to wear a bindi because it empowers them. These are not big choices. Some of them are, of course, important choices, like loving a woman or three, but is that really a choice or is that something that we must do because our DNA coding tells us to do it? But one person at a time, of whichever gender, because that would be wrong. (Hold on, I have a right to cheat! Don’t want to cast any moral judgments here!)

Again, I ask, what are you trying to sell us? Perhaps I’m being cynical, but the idea that we are all unique as women and that we have the right to dance around, sleep around, be fat or skinny, is simply tokenism.

Women in this country are not in need of these choices, Vogue India, they are in need of a society where there is no class system, where their husbands and brothers, daughters and sisters have as much opportunity to a quality education as the next man who lives in that luxury high-rise that overlooks their slum.

These women will not be buying into your message of free will. They don’t have the time. They really don’t give a flying monkey whether they are snowflakes or the snowfall. (Very poetic, by the way.) They do care about hoarding plastic bottles so they can collect water at the pump for cooking and bathing.

Was this video made in any regional languages? I couldn’t find any examples of it. I’m truly lost to the point of it.

Watching it again and again, I couldn’t even find a message for me, let alone for the people around me.

Vogue India, I just don’t get it! I do apologise for seeming obtuse.

This month’s issue of your magazine is selling jewelled eyes, Satya Paul (A high end sari brand), how to sculpt your lips in four steps and putting on your makeup using an iPad. I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the box, but are you not selling a lifestyle and a look here? Why would I want to sculpt my lips or “get the jewelled eye look” if you were not trying to tell me that this is what I should want? You, Vogue India and your army of designers and brand ambassadors, are determining what is beautiful in this land of snowflakes and trees.

Oh, I’ve figured it out now!

In this video you are selling a form of existentialism, something that you at Vogue India are experts at. Every man, in this case woman, for themselves! Do what the heck you like, it’s your choice. But make sure you buy a Satya Paul sari, with sculpted lips and don’t, whatever you do, forget those jewelled eyes! You’re selling capitalism, Vogue India, because without it, you wouldn’t be able to survive. You want to create a world full of hollow, beautiful, self-absorbed wannabe models, who will keep on subscribing to the beauty ideals you feed them.

What we need is scope and education, across the board to make better choices. My choice of sari brand is not as important as the choice of whether or not I can send my daughter to this school or that. In a country where it has been estimated that 29.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line as defined by the Rangarajan committee, in July 2014, I don’t think Vogue India is focussing on the most important choices here.

Should we as a nation start by focussing a little less on ourselves and little more on those around us? I’m not saying that we should become cotton-clad altruistic do-gooders (Is cotton fashionable this season?) but perhaps we should stop nodding like idiots every time a video in black and white, shot with stunning actresses with beguiling smiles, tells us this is what we should be thinking.

Why are we going gaga over a half-baked message, nicely wrapped in angry, shouting women, spouting a brand of pseudo-feminism, we don’t actually need?

Oh get over yourselves, Vogue India! Yes, indeed you are powerful, beautiful and wise, but perhaps we could do with a little less of your brand of power, beauty and wisdom, for the time being.

Perhaps we should dig a little deeper than waxing lyrical about being the universe, infinite in every direction, when the world around us is a shambles, without much direction to speak of at all.

“Speak English!' said the Eaglet. 'I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and I don't believe you do either!” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.. Devjani believes in simplicity and just telling it how it is.

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