Sunday 8 August 2010

Clothes, shame and civilisation

While reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the character of Remedios the Beauty, had always intrigued and fascinated me. Despite the fact that in the novel, she is considered as someone who is not mentally stable, her rejection of clothes and beauty had always remained in my mind. She is a very beautiful girl and many men in the novel are absolutely smitten by her. But she has no sense of all that. She is always in her own make-belief world.

Clothes and beauty, many times go hand-in-hand. This had been the truth for women alone but now even men are catching up with it. I vividly remember one scene where Remedios was bathing and a man breaks the tiles and jumps into the bathroom. Remedios is quite unshaken by him and softly inquires whether he had hurt himself. She is unaware of her nakedness and shame. I thought that was wonderful. To be in a state where nothing matters.

I think civilisation's greatest invention was clothes and now this is infused with brands and other things. The western civilisation has contributed so much to this facade of hiding beauty and showing bits and pieces of it to titillate the human senses. If all of us were like Remedios it would have made things simple, I reckon.

Clevage, legs -- all flesh and parts of the body are elevated to soaring levels by media and fashion moguls. Women in India, for a long time never wore any upper garment. It was not shameful. It was the culture. This changed after missionaries started coming and talking of sin. For many the ONLY sin is that which concerns the body. True. But I feel so much space is devoted to the body, again just flesh.

The concept of shame which started in Eden has developed zillion-fold today. I am no spokesperson for the nudists but I see that as a movement like many others. And I know that it will never succeed as long as the media and fashion houses are thriving. Isn't there something higher which could occupy our present-world other than clothes and shame.

I guess I am thinking too much and rambling. If you can build coherence, blessed are you :)

Image courtesy: Internet


  1. if we could get away with it without shame and envy, it may not be a bad thing...i think flesh is bartered too much in our society though and lust seems to rule many sells unfortunately...

  2. We are so afraid of our bodies, I feel. You are right, shame and society dictates that we must cover ourselves up. But all morals and all our laws are relative, cultures are different across the world - as you point out, women in India used to think it unnecessary to cover their upper body. But when a separate culture invades, and forces its rules on the conquered peoples, that is when things change.

  3. HEY! I know a girl like Remedios! Also know a man like that--grin!

    Whatever boats your float--grin!


  4. We have a saying; "The clothes make the man" and I guess there is some truth to it.;) Our clothes in some way define who we are, for better or worse.;) And it is truly fun to contemplate to what extend each culture decides what is obscene to wear (and to leave uncovered) and what is not.;)
    Great post as always dear Susan,

  5. Brian:

    I know, I know. If only we could . . .


    More than being afraid of our bodies, we are bound by the ramifications of society and culture. But I do admire the tenacity of nudists and their movement :) They counter what is the norm.

  6. Stevie:

    Great!!! Remedios, ah!


    You are now providing another dimension to my point. It gets interesting like this. Culture is so man-made. Remedios . . .

  7. I cant think of how we would have carried ourselves without clothes! Its said that clothes speak up the pesonality... but without clothes... difficult to think for me!

    Producers would be the happiest lot!

    But Character depiction would have become tough... imagine watching a movie where clothes are not narrating characters! :))

    Nice thought! Nice post :)

  8. Hehehehe a wonderful post as ever :) Indeed thought provoking.

    Hmm Clothes have come a long way right from the days when they were first invented to save ourselves from climate and probable dangers to being fashion statements and still further to being status symbols.
    You are absolutely right in thinking that if we were all like Remedios, we might have never known what shame is and we would not have been so conscious of our appearances. When there is no difference in appearances then the world might have been very different from what it is now. I don’t know whether nudity is sin or not but wearing proper clothes to hide our modesty is called civilization. (I feel comfortable and confident in clothes when I’m in public ;) )

    yes you are right, now a days showing off has reached a new level but as long as people are there to ogle at such things media and the so called “fashion moghuls” will try to gain on it. Moreover I personally feel that wearing a particular kind of dress is very personal and should be left completely to the person who is wearing it.
    Of course Western Civilization has contributed a lot for the fashion designing, which is an artistic science in which the emphasis is laid on showing off the beauty/good looking parts and hiding the inappropriate or not so beautiful parts of the body. But sadly, that science is being used with a different purpose and meaning.

    clothes and beauty go hand in hand??? Yes, may be you are right in most cases :)

    And I feel that the only thing which can occupy the present world ahead of shame and clothes and for that matter sin and religion is HUMANITY. :)

  9. Clothes are first and foremost a means of protecting ourselves from the elements of sun and wind that have considerable damaging properties. We wish to preserve health and beauty as much and as long as possible, and clothes help us in doing this. So, Westren civilization was not wrong on this.

    Fashion, that's secondary, although it is important, as it can bring out not only our beauty but also our personality, which is great.

  10. Susan you are a genius. I have read 100 Years of Solitude but never made the kind of connection you have done here. As always, a very insightful post!

  11. I disagree with missionaries only in a single thing...
    Women must go topless !!!

    Jokes apart...the clothing of today has given women confidence and attittude that the ugly duckling too can look good if they wear the right accessories and clothes...

    A few years back all the girls weared the same kind of clothes and only the good looking ones were in demand.

    When I was in Goa, i saw a bunch of ordinary looking ones who looked hot because of ther sunglasses

  12. There's is something similar about this in the getting down to the basic self in the story about Veronika by Paulo Coelho.

  13. I liked that part bout Remedios, where she is bathing yet remains unfazed when a stranger walks in. Times sure have changed now, I guess its part of the conditioning you talked bout earlier... that we cannot now conceive of walking around like the folks of yore, topless and all that. Would be nice in this heat to go back to those times though...

  14. Karan:

    I am not saying that we should carry on without clothes. It is impossible now. I wanted to bring forth the connection between shame, beauty and clothes. And if everyone was like Remedios there would be no need for character depiction! Thanks for your kind words :)

  15. Asif:

    Asif, so many thoughts collide in this post that I sincerely mean what I have said in the last line of this post: I am rambling.

    Sometimes I feel very strongly about how clothes influence so many things and to a certain extent colour our judgments. Being like Remedios is but a dream -- a fascination and Utopian ideal. One can never reach there.

    The 'sin' part is the Christian way of seeing things. Most of the preachers harp on that. I wanted to go against that as well.

    Humanity also comes in shades and colours these days, Asif. Certain areas of life have no black and white answers. That time one feels safe with Gray :)

  16. DUTA:

    But the 'protection' debate has long disappeared. I am not blaming Western civilisation but was a bit miffed by their interference into cultured not connected to them :) Colonisation, is what I meant.


    Thanks for your lovely words. You made me smile. Remedios the beauty has always made me wonder. I read this book years ago but she never left me. I did have a mad obsession to be like her at some point. But I realise that all states of idealism have some counter points to them. Now I can only write about her and her ways. I am helpless in a way :(

  17. John:

    You are a pervert, man! You have the great ability to dilute serious thoughts into fun and laughter. Nice. Yes, clothes do give confidence but that is another thought planted by the media. As long as women gain a pseudo-sense of feeling good, the apparel industry is happy and content. Only when women do not actually bother, their fears begin.

    Looking hot is another topic now. Thanks for taking the time :)


    That is another novel I like. It also brings down so many 'constructed notions.' Good that you reminded me of that dear BM. Hope you are well and joyous.

  18. Karen:

    You should read that part in the novel. It is described very well and I read and reread that part. Times have changed now. Quite true. We have had some forced changes in our culture and when I think of that, it perturbs me. This post was born like that. But as you have said, it would be great if all of us walked around without clothes. We can save money, washing problems, etc.

    Have a great week ahead :)

  19. I would not feel comfortable going about without clothes... fashion I cannot afford, yet I guess I have my own (informal) style... who does not?

    Interesting post here-again

  20. Ahhh.. Clothes, Shame and Civilization.. A different topic as always Susan :)

    Made me think about how the Indian civilization has changed time and over, in terms of clothing. Its all perceived and developed by humans, and that becomes a modern culture to that day. Some people choose clothes to represent who they are and some people dont show much interest in the type of clothes they wear, for clothing is just to cover their body and it means nothing more to them. For some people, clothes give them confidence, some use it to attract others. They mix creativity and nonsense to bring up FASHION. Or so they say!!!

    Have a great week ahead Susan.


  21. Why do u say it's pseudo feeling of feeling good?

    I really don't get that!!

    And when I went thru my comment again. I noticed I invented a new word for the English vocabulary-WEARED.

  22. Dulce:

    More than being comfortable, we cannot do it. I am talking of an ideal state which cannot be attained. I can only think . . .
    I am also in the thought process along with all of you!


    Long time. Yes, clothes have come through different stages. I like the way you've said 'creativity and nonsense.' Take care :)

  23. John:

    I said that because many factors force us into thinking so. I reckon it is the double enforcing from fashion-personality gurus to force us to think so. Hope I am clear. And yes, you have indeed given a new form to an existing past tense of 'wore.'

    Joy always :)

  24. The illusionary veil of culture is so pseudo and hypocritical. Humans are so self-contradicting! I love this one, Susan. Absolutely love it.

  25. I watched a movie recently about babies growing up around the world. The women in one country were topless and I remember thinking that it was not sexual at all. It was just a function of their daily living. Somewhere along the road from the topless Indian women and those women in the movie to those of us who consider ourselves to be "more civilized" the idea of associating shame with our bodies was introduced to the conversation. I'm not sure that's really a "civilized" notion at all...

  26. Mridula:

    One cannot do away with culture but it is just amazing to see how it permeates into us seamlessly. Thanks for the kind words. It was like cold water poured on me on a sultry day!


    Welcome to the meanderings. Glad to read your insights. It was all fine but somewhere down the line we are being forced by media to opt for things. A uniformity is being thrust on us. This distresses me and I am a prey to that as well.

    Do come by when you remember.

    Joy always :)

  27. If I ever understand the clothes-thing I will let you know. I know and see that a lot of people spend an awful lot of time and money on it but this doesn't spark my interest.

  28. Elizabeth:

    You are quite honest and wise. Hats off to you.

    Joy always :)



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