Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Dec 27, 2009

Convent educated Miss America winner refuses to wear swim suit .. but would a Miss India .....?

Body Beautiful –VI

The Indian search for a “ convent educated bride “ +
The universal passion to expose the body in daily life
 And remembering Yolande Betbeze Fox who showed the right way

There is an occasion to remember the 'convent education' today. Our discussion on body beautiful can not proceed further unless we stop and salute Yolande!

Around sixty years ago, one very beautiful girl  in USA said no to body exposure and created history, because she believed that for a “convent educated” girl like her, it was not proper to do so.

In India, if a marriageable girl is Convent-educated, this fact is almost always emphasized in their matrimonial CV. (Actually, the  convent is a place where catholic nuns stay. What they mean to say is a school run by a convent.)

In India, our English usage has been sufficiently Indianized. What is generally perceived is that being “convent-educated” ( no problem if  the would-be  mother-in-law understands it differently ) is to be  fluent in English, meticulous in western etiquette, comfortable in 5-star culture,  party-going type,  emancipated and having a great sense of modern fashion trends  like dresses, shoes, Vietnamese cuisine and exotic and often incorrect pronunciations of commonly used Indian names (calling a Kapadia a Kapaadiah !), ridiculing other  "inferiorly" educated ordinary mortals, etc.

A normal, regular, would-be  mother-in law may not be able to take such a big bite, let alone chew it, when she goes for ‘bride-hunting” . Unless, of course,  she is herself a “convent-educated”  and an identical,   grown-up version of the girl herself ( resulting in a truly a ‘made-for-each-other’ scenario).

But no hurry; Yolande can  wait for a paragraph or two!

First let us recall the human perceptions of beautiful and ugly.

Our ancestors created statues and sculptures with ideal measurements and we started later on to re-sculpt, re-shape, re-model and re-fashion the visible body parts with artistic precision.

The driving force for all this madness is the human urge to look beautiful  and to match those  pre-set standards, notions and beliefs, to enhance their current state of beauty, to be noticed, to be admired, to  impress others, to create envy in the eyes of the beholders and to  satisfy own ego has finally  contributed the missing element. But, sadly ( or gladly for some), this was not possible  without exposing the body!

The sculptors created nude statues in ancient times and then, in real life, garments and dresses started to fulfill people's additional need to  selectively show up what is beneath the garments. ( A big “U” turn for the garments– from covering the body to exposing the body parts !)
This urge to impress, at the most primitive, crude levels  is visible  in the males  also,  who  walk around as self-appointed brand ambassadors  for labels like 'Polo", " Wrangler", Levi's" ," Rebook", "Nike" etc.( tailor labels, once upon a time, used to be hidden in the shirts and trousers, visible only to the laundryman or the washer-woman)

In women, this urge to impress and invite attention and admiration appear to have reached a more striking extreme. 

Images of semi-exposed female bodies are everywhere. 

 Women—and their body parts—help to sell everything from groundnut oil, to spices to soaps , macho briefs , insurance policies and even motorbikes and  cars.  

Their garments are selectively cut and stitched in a fashion that they can show off whatever they do not want to hide!  No surprise, because most of the ladies tailors are males, at least in our part of the world.

As one looks around, it is visible across the cross-section of the society, castes, across age groups, income groups and rural urban landscape. It is every where, in the women-folk from Talegaon, Malegaon to Shikarpur, Hoshiarpur, Raipur, Nagpur, Ramnagar, Jamnagar to New Jersey to New Mumbai to Jhumari Talaiya and even Timbuktu  and whether  the dress be western or Indian!  They are every where: caste, creed, age, region, income /literacy  level / marital status – no bar!

Take the case of universally praised Indian sari, which is so graceful and  drapes the entire body; yet enhances the grace like no other dress. But it is accompanied by a blouse and one can see how the back of blouse  is artistically ( read; mischievously) designed to expose the skin , regrettably  in a manner that it is invisible to the person who is wearing it!

In case of sari, the area of the exposed body flesh and skin is increasing. The blouse is being designed liberally – majority of ladies tailors are males – and females catch fancy for them. Their mission to appear attractive, to be noticed and to be looked at is often successful and many a heads do turn and many a curious eyes do stare at them with some degree of fixation! ( and yet a whistle or two, if evoked by the dress  is misunderstood and punished!)

In India, we take pride in calling ourselves a conservative society, in comparison to the west.

But over past several years, the stoll (or the dupatta or chunni),  the essential neck wear for Salwar Kameez - normally worn across the shoulders and around the neck - and a   symbol of modesty in the Indian society,  has been  tossed away for a spin by a good  majority of emancipated  females

The origin of the dupatta can be traced to the   Mohenjo-daro civilization of the Indus Basin, where the use of textiles was highly prevalent. A sculpture of the Priest King of Harrapa, whose left shoulder is covered with some kind of ‘ajrak” - a chaddar, suggests that the use of the dupatta dates back to the early Indus Valley Civilization.

Last in the least is something that was named - around 1823 to be precise - as "unmentionable, i.e. “what the grandma taught its daughters as things not to be mentioned or discussed in a polite society!”

It was supposed to be literally worn under the principal garments and hidden beneath layers of clothing. 

As layers were peeled away in the 20th century, and as this progression developed, it has been transformed into an acceptable form of public dressing, blatantly appearing before Indian eye balls either in print media or on cinema  and TV screens, often embarrassing a joint family viewing.

See the contrast:

Yolande Betbeze Fox, saluted in the first paragraph,   was an American beauty, and gave the world  the true meaning of convent education and refused to expose the body.

Yolande entered the Miss America Pageant for the scholarship opportunity it presented. Having been educated in a convent school, she was reluctant to pose in a swimsuit and refused to pose for publicity pictures while wearing a swimsuit after she won Miss America. Yolande declared, "I'm an opera singer, not a pin-up!"

That led the swim suit company, Catalina, to withdraw their sponsorship of the Miss America pageant and eventually brought about the creation of the rival Miss USA pageant.

The Miss America Organization has claimed that Yolande Fox's (then Betbeze's) actions were “pivotal in directing pageant progress towards recognizing intellect, values, and leadership abilities, rather than focusing on beauty alone. From then on the Miss America pageant concentrated more on scholarship than beauty” . Her actions gained foreign press attention, enhancing American interest, and did much for the future of Miss America.

Interestingly, the Miss America pageant is a long-standing competition which awards scholarships to young women. 

The pageant presents itself as a "scholarship pageant," and the primary prizes for the winner and her runners-up are given scholarships to the institution of her choice. 

The Miss America Scholarship program, along with its local and state affiliates is the largest provider of scholarship money to young women in the USA and also in the world, and last year  made available more than $45 million in cash and scholarship assistance. Since most of the contestants are college graduates already, or on the verge of graduating, most of their prize money is devoted to graduate school or professional school, or to pay off student loans for courses already taken.)

Year 1951 proved to be notoriously paradoxical about body exposure. 

While in America, the winner Yolande said No-No, in the same year, the very first Miss World was conducted and Kiki Haakonson of Sweden to be crowned in Swimsuit. And she became  the first and last Miss World to be crowned in the bikini costume of two piece swimsuit because  Ireland and Spain threatened to withdraw from the competition because of their opposition to women being judged in bikinis, the organizers banned the two-piece from the event !

This all was about  sixty years back. ....
The New Year is round the corner.
There will be so much to happen, so much to observe, 
so much to ponder about and  … 
always some thing to jot down on this blog, 
God willing.

Have a wonderful, bright, 
cheerful New Year!