The tennis body

Why Indian fashion needs to celebrate Sania Mirza in prêt


File photo of Sania Mirza in a Ritu Pande’s dress during the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015 in New Delhi. Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times
File photo of Sania Mirza in a Ritu Pande’s dress during the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015 in New Delhi. Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times

Indian fashion comes up with some rather good clothes every season but it has been a while since we have had a good story walk down the ramp. Sania Mirza in prêt not couture (as has happened earlier) would be a great serve. Mirza has formerly walked for some designers including the duo Shantanu & Nikhil, but she has been always been swathed in layers of lace, net, embellishments, drapes and borders. She has been imagined more as a “bride” than a sports person; showcased as a “beauty”, not as a globally known player. Try scanning your mind for a quick visual and in all likelihood you will stumble into a preening Mirza—now the number one ranked women’s tennis doubles player—in a shiny Anarkali.

But Mirza’s recent Wimbledon win with her doubles partner Martina Hingis puts her in an entirely different league and not just in sports. She is young, ambitious and perseverant, and that makes her a woman of more than “chiffony” substance. Mirza also loves fashion and dolling up (we have even seen her arrive at a literary festival with a hair and make-up artist in tow) but hasn’t made that aspect the sum total of her personality, which is smart. Now more than ever before, she is an exceptional role model. That’s what fashion needs, if it must plug “heroines” beyond those from Bollywood who come in commercially measured doses of fair, tall, thin with big boobs.

File photo of Mary Kom
Another reason Mirza should be seen on the Indian fashion ramp as the showstopper of a young, bold, prêt collection is because India needs its own version of the debate recently fuelled by a controversial article in The New York Times. Titled Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image with Ambition, it brought up tennis celebrity Serena Williams’ peculiarly muscular frame arguing that her rivals are wary of bulking up their bodies like her because they wanted to stay closer to the ideal of the feminine body type. Many disappointed opinions followed including on social networking site Twitter. But Williams, the winner of 21 grand slam titles with her most recent Wimbledon victory and the fourth in a row—once again shrugged off body shaming comments by appearing in an embellished and fitted pink gown that showed off her muscular arms at the Champions Dinner last week.

Defenders of body image complexities may agree that the best way to silence body shamers is to show off the body that has been billed not so perfect. Right after Williams’ appearance in that gown, Vogue.com came out with an article arguing why Serena Williams and Jennifer Lawrence (the Hollywood actor refuses to starve or sport the starved look) were the new body image role models.

Cut back to Mirza who will forever be remembered as a Wimbledon champion from now on. Given her love for fashion and fondness for the ramp, she can help dilute the myths around body image that continue to stalk Indian fashion in myriad ways. So far, athletes like Olympian bronze medalist boxer Mary Kom who walked for a fashion show in 2012 for a charity event by actor Shabana Azmi or badminton players Saina Nehwal and Jwala Gutta who walked for a fashion show for clothing brand Kaira earlier this year have been seen on the ramp wearing unimaginably complicated clothes. Their athletic bodies get lost in the grip of “couture” and the significance of their presence is lost. Nehwal who has a lean, fit body looked like a disaster in the Kaira show.

Mirza can hit back this stereotype by ditching the Anarkalis and lehnga gowns for casual, spunky and youthful garments. More and more Indian designers are learning to fascinatingly mix the sporty with the elegant—we could make a long list of such names actually. They could choose a showstopper who is neither a fashion model nor a Bollywood actor but is a role model for thousands of young girls—high on ambition, high on fashion. Sania Mirza might be on top of such a wish list. Give her a great arm accessory to applaud her lethal forehand in tennis. But spare her couture week’s excessive ado.

Understatement is a fortnightly blog on popular culture seen through actions or words. Shefalee Vasudev is the author of Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion.

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