Leave the shoulders of Amtul Baweja — and other women — alone

Leave the shoulders of Amtul Baweja — and other women — alone

She has something to say about policing women's clothes and bodies and we're listening.
02 Apr, 2021

Amtul Baweja, comedian and co-founder of Patangeer, has something to say about the policing of women's bodies and clothes and we want you all to listen.

Baweja posted a series of Instagram Stories on Wednesday night about her experience on the Nadia Khan show. The stories might be gone, but what she had to say is very important. After her interview, she was asked to take some photos for the show's thumbnails and promotions, which is where the problem arose.

Baweja was asked to cover up her shoulders that were showing through the cut outs of her shirt.

"Why is this an issue? If someone was wearing cut out shoulders in shalwar kameez it wouldn't be a problem but when it's a shirt there's a problem," she said. "Firstly, it should not even be a point of discussion, secondly have the decency to inform your guests from before that wear these kind of clothes, this is acceptable, this is not acceptable, then the guest can make their own decision whether they want to come or not and what kind of clothes they want to wear because this is really weird to me," she said.

She described the situation as very humiliating, weird and awkward, because she was asked to fix her clothes in front of everyone on set. "You're telling me to do something about it but I don't have anything! I don't have a scarf, I have nothing with me, what do I do?" she said. Eventually, they made her take the picture with her hair awkwardly draped over her shoulders.

This is how Baweja's hair was draped to cover her shoulders
This is how Baweja's hair was draped to cover her shoulders

She did it because she had no other option but she asked why the show, or all shows in general, couldn't just choose guests of people they want to associate with that go with their brand identity or vision. "Don't just call people and expect them to change for you. I know it's 'just clothes' and people will say 'it's just some small matter and you're making a big drama over nothing' but us women have been going through this for a long, long time."

Being in the industry, Baweja said this happens to her a lot. People tell her her clothes are too tight and she should loosen them and that her butt is showing or her clothes should be darker. "Tell me from before so I can make my own decision because if I knew this was the deal I would never go because I don't want to be someone I'm not," she said in the video.

This has happened to me before, she said. People have told her to wear dark coloured clothes because her figure or curves were showing and to wear long shirts to hide her hips and thighs. "When you approach me, or anyone, tell them from before that these are the requirements so they can decide if they're comfortable coming or not," she said.

"And what bothers me more is that women have to face this because no man will ever hear 'yaar your clothes aren't right, your shirt is too tight' or 'why are you wearing a light-coloured shirt, change into a dark one'," she said. "Nobody will tell a man this but we have to forever, forever, forever, hear this."

And she's right. As women, we are often told what we can and cannot wear. It's not always as overt as being told we aren't allowed to wear jeans or must wear a dupatta in public. Sometimes, it's being told that we shouldn't wear horizontal stripes because it makes our chests look bigger, being encouraged to wear black because it's "slimming" or having someone tell you to button an extra button on your shirt. Policing a person's body means you're trying to control what they wear and how they look.

For Baweja, the production crew told her to cover her shoulders, but she's right in that the professional thing to do would have been to inform a guest about the dress code before the show. Amtul Baweja isn't alone when she says she has been policed for her clothes because almost all women have been too.

It starts young and continues until we're on our deathbeds. Telling women what to wear isn't fair. We're all sentient beings and able of deciding what's best for ourselves.

Baweja is also right when she said no man will ever have to go through this. Men are not told to wear clothes that are flattering on their figures, or to hide any part of their bodies. It might indeed sound like a non-issue, something that people might say is being blown out of proportion but let us ask you this: when is enough enough? How many times do we have to be told what to wear before we're allowed to get annoyed? Twice, thrice, a 100 times?

Even once is too much and though it might feel like a small thing to you, it might be the straw that broke the camel's back to someone else.

A while later, Baweja posted another story in which she thanked women for sending her messages about their experiences of having their bodies and clothes policed in response to her videos. "I can't believe so many of you, so many women go through this. Whether you take a hijab or wear shalwar kameez, people will always comment," she said.

She then called on her followers to send her videos of themselves wearing "whatever the hell you want". You could wear a tube top or a shalwar kameez or a niqab or abaya, whatever you want, she said. "Imagine you're looking into the eyes of society and you're saying you're going to wear what you want and do whatever it is you want to do," she urged. Baweja has something up her sleeve and we can't wait to see what she's cooking up.