Peek –a-boo bra, Emancipation, Identity, Attraction and Kim Kardashian

The HT City’s March 3rd edition carried a item on its front page titled ‘The inside, outside’. It also showed pictures of four celebrities, Chitrangda Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kim Kardashian and Kangna Ranuat. But then what these actors had to do with the headline ‘The inside, outside’? It was their peek-a-boo bra. Style experts say that ‘paring a sheer top over a sexy bra is a cool trend’. Innerwear is new outerwear this season.Chitrangada Singh

Apparels are commonly distinguished as inner or underclothes and outerwear. The need to wear underclothes was born out of a need to protect outer clothes from getting soiled due to bodily discharge (perspiration) and providing support (breasts).  The additional layer of clothing inside can protect from cold and prevent physical activity related injury (sports bra or guard). The usage of undergarments can also be traced to the reason of modesty preservation. Garments like slips and camisoles to ‘cover up’ body to avoid unwanted attention.

Apparently innerwear owes their usage to protective role- from unwanted attention or physical injury. Undergarments are also called intimate apparels (lingerie). Their intimacy connection comes from their being next to skin. Further this category includes products such as gown, night robes, nightdress, and underwear. The term ‘intimacy’ describes the nature of relationship between people in physical and emotional sense which includes love, romance, and sex. Intimate relationships are close, personal and are emotionally charged. These garments draw their name from their use situations. At work here is their role in moments of physical intimacy (love and sex). Their use- context pushes their meaning into the realm of emotions. Away from their protective role, now innerwear is coveted for its higher order role in fueling passions in moments of physical proximity. In private, innerwears are instruments of seduction. It is for this reason; most lingerie brands never draw attention to protective functions in their communication. Rather seduction, passion, desire, and sex form core of their appeal. The obvious paradox between the huge prices that top lingerie brands command for such a small itsy bitsy piece of fabric can be reconciled by the fact that it is not the piece of fabric that commands you to sacrifice huge price rather the promise of passion, excitement, ecstasy and exhilaration.

But then why bra is getting out from close confines of four walls out in the open? It is that two triangles and a string have assumed new extended role?  One fashion expert says that peek-a-boo bra is about revealing but not everything. Dress is culturally constructed and socially enforced. Deviations invite outrange and sanctions. The extent to which body can be exposed depends on culture. For instance western societies accept body exposure more than eastern societies. Revealing clothes breach socially imposed boundary of what is construed as decent. It is a deliberate act of transgression, daring and challenge of power balance between genders. Dress is much more than mere body cover. Quantitatively less of cloth implies qualitatively more of power.  

 kim kardashian

An intentioned act aimed at blurring the division between inner and outerwear reveals ‘can do’ and ‘will do’ and ‘don’t care’ attitude. It is about assertion and assumption of individuality. From being governed to governor. Bikini arrived in western society in 1950s as a fashion item later evolved into a symbol of female expression, an emblem of freedom. The two- piece swimwear had tough time in getting to mainstream because of opposition from the orthodox. So coming out of innerwear as outerwear is not entirely about being in fashion, it is also about identity and emancipation.

In marketing use of sex appeal to promote products is common. Scantily dressed women are often used to break through communication clutter and capture attention. Vance Packard in his book mentioned about a controversial ad of Maidenform Bra: ‘I dreamt I stopped traffic in my Maidenform Bra’. In the campaign the model fully dressed expect that she wore only a bra above the waist was shown wandering with normally dressed people. Her undressed state was justified on the ground that she was dreaming. The ad was claimed to be sound because the desire to appear naked or scantily clad in a crowd is ‘present inn most of us’. Hence it represented ‘a beautiful example of wish fulfillment’.



Honey Singh, Lyrics, Images, Rape, Identity and YOLO generation

Who am I? What do I stand for? Where am I going?

These questions are so simple that they don’t get any attention. Simple is obvious and obvious is ignored. The YOLO generation – you only live once, especially in their twenties do not have comfort of latching on to cultural categorizations to construct their self and the new is not yet fully emerged. The windmills of liberalization and globalization have rendered the old structures obsolete. The new generation is caught in the situation where the old is not completely gone and the new has not yet fully emerged. The khap diktats, civil society outburst, consumerist culture, rise of the nonsensical movies and lyrics, are all manifestation of this chasm and friction. With the blurring of boundaries the new generation is left on its own to seek answers to the above questions.

The people of the new nomadic tribe are robbed of identity and their privileges that stemmed from fixed social structures. Take a macro look in a metro station or a mall, the humanity stands homogenized but take a closer look and everyone seems to be on a perpetual identity construction voyage. The deeply entrenched power structures are shaken and there is emergence of the new ones. Market is now supplier of symbolic material and consumption is no longer about satisfaction but identity construction.  A Scorpio and an Audi radically differ from each other in their supply of symbolic meaning to one at the steering wheel. Both can’t latch on the old identity structures based on who they are, therefore brand is commissioned for both identity creation and signification.

When the system fails to provide the notions of identity, people are free to make a choice. It is now upon the will of an individual to construct the person he or she wants to be. Consumption in this context gets beyond the realm of utility to acquire symbolism. The choice although free, operates within the overall constraint imposed by a set of possible selves made available in a socio-cultural context. It is not that people choose from a set of infinite selves. Media supplies a limited set of images, symbols and models differing in narrative. Popular media is one big supplier of images and models which are picked by people in arriving at their identity definitions. Primafacie people are said to be free to make a choice but it operates with a constraint imposed by total available set. Culture industries provide repertoire of symbolic products out of which free will is exerted. Bacardi ad says ‘be what you wanna be…’ but images of people portrayed- supply of symbols- narrowly push to you to be ‘the kind of person you should be’.

Each aspect of the environment is laden with symbolism. Popular media as an important part of culture producing industry is a dominant supplier of identity construction resource. The expression of this process manifests in choices that people make – what we buy and how we behave. This influence is so subtle and sub conscious that it escapes conscious scrutiny. The codes of behavior are implicitly established.  Bacardi has very successfully managed to create a new symbolism around rum and establish acceptance of white rum in the youth market. Relationship can only get sanctified if you wear a platinum band, so are you a part of group called ‘platinum people’? Love has got a new expression.

When the identity is fluid and undefined and when we look out to symbols in identity construction process is a song by Honey Singh a potential threat? If diamonds which have very little practical utility can be ‘women’s best friend’ and chocolate can say it ‘better than words’, lyrics can certainly creep into our consciousness taking a sub-conscious route. The blanks of mind are imprinted with ideas supplied by the media to a great extent. The expression of the concept contained in the lyrics would be dangerous, even if it happens in one exceptional case.

Bal Thackeray, Power Brand and the Power of ‘Against’

Branding space is not limited to the world of commerce and business. Branding possibilities exist in virtually every sphere of activity involving exchange of value between two or more parties. In socio-political space, brands are created at a point where ideas intersect. Political brands like the BJP or Congress stand for a combination social, religious and business ideologies which they seek exchange with voting public. In the similar vein Barack Obama brand was meticulously created in the US at the centre of which sat the proposition of hope ignition (“Yes We Can”) and change (“Vote for Change”; “A New Beginning”).  Congress managed to dislodged NDA by appropriating an idea of common (‘aam admi’) which range bell with ordinary people, a silent majority left out and marginalized.

Branding begins with the search of a meaningful idea. There is no dearth of ideas; but the ones floating around tend to be less valuable. Surface ideas offer shallow platforms and create superficial relationships and hence fail to create deeper commitment. Real brands are created by a search and appropriation of ideas which lay buried in the depths of human consciousness. Their location below the threshold of awareness makes them  harder to reach. Only a few with a vision can access them. But these offer pristine branding opportunities. Hitler was bestowed with extraordinary powers visualize what Germans dreamt in their sleep and whispered in the quiet of themselves. He understood these well and subsumed in his ‘Nazi’ brand.  The longing for a change and feeling anomie that Americans suffered became the foundation stone of Obama brand.

Brands derive power from resonating and unique idea.  Brands resonate when the idea on which they are built connects deeply and intimately. The idea or insight must be built by a careful study of life condition of people (the idea of ‘beauty’ (Lux) or ‘iconoclasm’ (Apple). It is the power of idea that a brand manages to extract customer commitment, attachment, love and engagement and ultimately create a community. The critical condition defining a strong brand is that its idea should un- shared.

Whether one likes or not, the out pouring of lakhs of people on the streets of Mumbai to mourn the death of Bal Thackeray certainly provides testimony to the fact that he was a powerful brand.

  • Brands seek loyalty; on this measure he commanded unflinching loyalty of his followers.
  • Brands forge emotional connection to create following; his followers held deep emotional bonds.
  • True brands command unwavering allegiance.
  • Their customers can ‘go out of their way’ (bear discomfort or assThis was equally true for Thackeray.  Shiv Sainiks willingly take both physical and legal risk to carry the will of their brand. But the essential question remains, what idea did this brand appropriate?ume risk) for them.

Many brands forge connection based on the power of negative emotion. So brand strategy is built on the not what it is or who it is for rather what it is not and who it is not for. Bourdieu explains that preference formation may not a positive emotional response rather a negative one.  It implies choice is not based on what people most like but reject what is most disliked. It is choice based on rejection (‘refusal of the taste of others’/ ‘visceral intolerance of the tastes of others’). Class distinctions are often based the rejection of the style of others (lifestyle, tastes and preference).  The choice for a brand like Apple may be based on the rejection Nokia being the common choice of others. Bal Thackeray’s ideas were often based on opposition like support the emergency (when most people disliked it); admiration of Adolf Hitler (people hate him for what he did to Jews); against socialist trade unions (when socialism was cherished dream); and a movement called ‘Marathi Manoos’, anti- Bihari (against the idea of one nation one citizen).  

We may disagree with his ideas and ideology. But given the fierce loyalty that his brand commands it certainly stands for an idea highly differentiated and highly resonating for a select group of people.