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The trouble with fashion magazines

How did we go from critiquing a problematic video to slut-shaming Deepika Padukone?

Recently, a fashion magazine (full disclosure: a competitor to ELLE) released a video with Deepika Padukone talking about a woman’s right to choose. It’s… not very good. A lot of people have ripped it eloquently to shreds. It rings hollow. It deifies women, which we need to stop doing because dude, I don’t want to be your goddess, I just want to walk down the road in peace. It believes sexuality is a choice. It’s embarrassingly glib. Worst of all, it’s a wasted opportunity.

But the more recent criticism of this video has taken on a disturbing tone. It suggests: What business does a fashion magazine have talking about empowerment? And: What business does a star who dances to an item song have talking about choices? Wait, WHAT?

Haven’t we been over this before? Last year, when the Times of India suggested Deepika Padukone take its cleavage tweet as a compliment because as a young woman who wears plunging necklines she was kinda sorta asking for it? Didn’t we establish then that the clothes she wears or the movies she makes does not strip her of the right to be treated with respect? Then how come we’re responding to the current video by posting clips of her item song and sneering: “Now she’s talking about choices”?

Just so we’re clear: Even beautiful people who have heaved their bosom on screen in the past get to have an opinion on women’s empowerment. Or mental health. Next thing you know, they’ll be allowed to vote! Madness, I tell you.

And then there’s this contempt for fashion magazines. Ah, this is an old one. Even Chetan Bhagat is in on it.

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I don’t understand this insinuation that only people who dedicate their lives to social service can talk about social issues. Only news magazines and real journalists who are authentic enough to not care how they look can take a feminist stance. The rest of us needn’t worry our pretty little heads about it. The grown-ups have got this.

This video is problematic, yes. But it’s okay to get it wrong sometimes. That starts a dialogue more nuanced and enlightening than the filmmakers envisioned. It underscores our tendency, as people and as publications, to offer an opinion on an issue before we have thought it through.

Judge this video on its own merit. Trash it, parody it, rage against it poetically. But when you drag your loathing of Padukone, Bollywood, fashion magazines, short skirts, crop tops and wind machines into this critique, then I’m going to have to offer you some fashion advice: sweetie, your prejudice is showing.

– Deepa Menon