Minipost 11b – Bangladeshi Fashion – part III

Please don’t think my previous posts on Bangladeshi women’s fashion were meant in any way to be derogatory or critical. Far from it.

There is no doubting there are grave dangers for women working with fires that can easily catch the type of long material generally worn in Bangladesh.  But this has as much to do with cooking fires which are ankle heightas anything and not a suggestion that there is anything wrong with the shalwar kameeze or sari itself.

Actually, I really like the styles and approve of them because they are beautiful whilst at the same time not being immodest. I mentioned before that the Victorian gentleman possibly got more of a thrill seeing his fiancée’s ankle than we in the West get now seeing women wearing comparatively very little.

Whilst I am not about to go down the suicidal route of criticising Western women’s fashion, there is no doubt that, since the 60s, young women have been wearing less and less and, intended or not, this has an effect on how men perceive them. When our daughters are picking out bras from the supermarkets aged 6 or 7, my feeling is that the West has gone too far in being open about sexuality. Such behaviour surely cannot be good.

But this is not a problem in Bangladesh. At special occasions you see young girls dressed in saris and shalwars looking utterly beautiful whilst, always, being appropriately dressed. As a father, I like this and approve.

This does not mean, however, that there is no issue at all. The West is ever increasingly encroaching on the culture here. Looking at the billboards in Dhaka, fashion advertisements in the shops or the daily newspapers and you would think that Bangladeshi women were mostly white. Just as many white women in the West desperately want dark skin and buy fake tans of-the-shelf, so women here often desire lighter coloured skin. This lack of appreciation of our own natural skin colours fills me with despair.

I used to bring in the daily newspaper to school. If the fashion magazine was with it the boys would get quite excited and embarrassed at the same time. It was as if I was bringing porn into the classroom! I was even told that it was not a good idea to show these magazines as they “were not approved of by many”. These were ordinary fashion magazines that would not raise an eyebrow in the West!

From a typical magazine – no ‘orna’ , a scarf around the neck

But with women baring shoulders, upper arms or just not having an orna on, this was considered very rude. But a few short years later, I find myself pretty much agreeing. I can’t help but think that we would all benefit from going back to thinking that seeing less is actually more. But then the days of me seeing women as desirous objects are pretty much behind me (except one). Instead, my first reaction with any woman these days is ‘would I let my daughter wear that?’!

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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5 Responses to Minipost 11b – Bangladeshi Fashion – part III

  1. Pingback: Minipost 17 – The ways people get here baffle me… | kenthinksaloud

  2. kidswhogig says:

    I have loved this series on fashion – thank you so much and if you have some makers of the cloth that you know – I think that would be very interesting!

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    • I do actually. One of my best friends makes garments, bags and various other fabric goods. She is very talented and I often try to take some of her things to sell on her behalf when I return to the UK. Incredibly, she lives in a straw roof hut that blows away every time we have a storm with her husband and young son and does a remarkable job of keeping her family going. Last year she made me a shirt and it is amongst my most precious possessions! Maybe I should do a post on her and people like her at some point?…

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  3. Ruth Subash says:

    In India many people I know, male and female, use a cream called ‘Fair and Lovely’ to lighten their skin. Does it actually work? I have a friend who has a son and when he was born he had lovely fair skin so she washed him with mineral water so he would stay fair. When I got married in Chennai part of the bridal beauty package included skin bleaching – I declined and said I am already plae enough!

    I do not understand this and would love for my children to be dark but my Indian relatives do not agree with me. I have been told to keep Suresh out of the son so he stays really fair!

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    • Everybody wants something others have got, right? I think that is the only explanation when it boils down to it. Oddly, right out in the remote villages here people won’t drink milk because they believe it will turn them white! The desire for lighter skin tends to come (I think) when more interaction with the rich West comes into play.

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