Bangaloreans…Show Me Some Skin!  {or How to dress to show respect, cover shoulders, chest and legs in India}

Bangaloreans…Show Me Some Skin! {or How to dress to show respect, cover shoulders, chest and legs in India}

I was supposed to be in Ibiza this week with my dear friends Mark and Peter.  Had my ticket out and everything but due to the insane reality which is my current employment status…sadly, no Ibiza.  I long for the beach, the blue sky and the sunshine.  But mostly I long to wear a bikini, bake in the rays and to turn my skin from this pasty awful white “winter coat” to a lovely caramel tan. This is the first summer in my entire life – MY ENTIRE LIFE – when I have not been to the beach, been tan, or have donned a swimming costume.  It feels a bit strange.  And it certainly looks a bit strange every time I look in the mirror and see this super white chick staring back at me in August.

Okay, obviously we are not in summer at the moment here in India (I think the summer peak is January?), there really isn’t much opportunity for me to sport a bikini anyway, even if I wanted to.  In fact, here in Bangalore the only place I know where I could do it safely and without drawing attention to myself is at one of the five star hotels.

Aside from the nicer hotels – and from what I understand Goa – Indian women can’t wear bikinis everywhere in India.  Not that they don’t want to but in some places there is actually a ban on it.  Women wear proper clothes when they hit the water.  I have seen a co-worker’s honeymoon pics and his new bride was wearing a t-shirt and pirate pants when the two of them were lounging in the ocean together in the most romantic cove you can imagine.  What got my goat though was the fact that he was in nothing more than swimming trunks!  For women, there is no laying out in a bikini, no blinging it up with a necklace and earrings, no sheer wraps for when you are walking around.  Nope!  For the most part if you are going swimming or to lay out in the sun and you are a woman, you can watch your husband, your brother, your dad or whomever in their bare chest and board shorts but you have to stay covered up.

I pretty much always wear a dress.  And given that I lived in Barcelona for the past eight years, almost all of my dresses are strappy sun dresses.  When I first arrived to Bangalore I was really good about wearing a scarf to hide my shoulders but lately I am a bit more relaxed about that here in the city.  I think in part because I don’t believe that foreigners are held to the same standards of dress as Indians so, simply put, I can get away with it.  But also because I have been here long enough now to know where and when a strappy sundress is appropriate or not.  After my groping incident I think I am a bit more conservative again.  But I can hit UB City in a sun dress and a few other spots (and definitely all the night spots), so I’m fine.

Yet I have to say that every time I see the full belly and back of a woman wearing a sari it makes me wonder what all the fuss is about with my shoulders?  Why is it okay to take in the full glory of a woman’s (often) ample midriff or the rolls of a lady’s back fat peeking out under her blouse but my knees and my shoulders cause a stir?   I read somewhere that for foreigners and dressing in India that the idea is to convey, “I understand I’m not in my own country, I did my homework and learned about the cultural norms here and I respect them.”   But WHY is a belly or back roll okay but shoulders aren’t?  I haven’t heard one solid consistent answer on this yet so please feel free to comment and share with me your thoughts.

Oh man…and talk about seeing more skin than I wanted to!  The past few weeks I have been travelling in daylight on this one particular stretch of road in town that runs the length of a couple of cemeteries and parallel to the railroad tracks.  It’s a nice little road with grazing cows yet, sadly, where I am constantly spotting men urinating.  It’s pretty common all around Bangalore but for some reason – I guess it’s the grassy area that runs just below the train tracks – it’s a pretty ideal spot for a quick pee.  What I don’t understand is why Indian men just whip it out though on the road side and don’t try to go behind the bushes or a tree to wee?  That’s certainly what I would do.  But nope, these guys have either the inclination to stand and just go for it or – my favourite – there are also the squatters who try to shield the world from their pee’ing as much as possible.  My most memorable guy so far we spotted just last week.  I assume – or hope – he was a bit drunk and this wasn’t done on purpose but he decided to pee standing face forward into the direction of our oncoming car instead of away from us.  I caught my first unintended Indian showing of the Full Monty!  Thanks guy but I really could have done without seeing your penis on my way to lunch! haha

So skin… my shoulders are bad but penis man was okay?  Women shouldn’t show their knees but the ass-crack guy at the truck stop on my Chennai road trip was fine?  Yeah, I know these guys are not really “okay” but they are my most extreme examples so far to compare my own flashing skin problems against.

Although I respect the cultural differences of my new home, they are still hard for me to understand at times because of who I am and where I am from.  And trust me, it’s not because I want to strip down or flash anyone.  It actually has everything to do with the inequality between men and women.  Women run the country, run major corporations, fly planes, are CTOs, inspire millions and still manage to run a household and please their husbands.  Just seems like they should be able to throw on a bikini or a tank top every now and again if they wanted to, too!

XOXO Angela

© Angela Carson, 2011

Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 37 countries on 4 continents, residing in 8 of them (currently Indonesia's Riau Islands is my home). I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. sharell

    Legs and shoulders are the forbidden fruit, whereas no one cares about seeing stomach because it’s always been on display. 😉 It was funny when my family and friends from back home visited India — none of them wanted to reveal their stomachs (and their “white fat”), which they usually kept covered, when wearing a sari. They considered it to be much more immodest than showing a bit of leg, because that’s how things are in the west. So many different extremes!

    1. angela_carson

      I understand your friends and family 100%. It just all seems so arbitrary to me…and so wrong that I gramma’s belly is cool 😉 But it wouldn’t be India if it was any other way.

  2. Laurence Byrne

    Hi Angela

    I found your site a couple of weeks ago, having had an approach about moving to Bangalore for an exciting opportunity.. (still waiting on the outcome.. but positive) I was searching around for info on the social life there and up it came.

    Having read through the blogs they are so informative and a little cheeky ! I like cheeky :o)

    Keep up the good work… i will be looking forwards to the next epistle..

    keep the pictures coming too…. where I am we dont see much flesh either :o)


    1. angela_carson

      hahaha…where are you? You have a very anglo sounding name so I’m surprised no skin. Cold climate or you work away from home? Thanks so much for the very kind words, no one has called me cheeky before…and I was having a bit of a rough afternoon and that just picked me right up 🙂 –ange

  3. Tracy Covington

    this is great! love the perspective! AND the visuals! HAHAHA! I am truly giggling!

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks so much!! And thank you Bangalore for providing the experiences 🙂 –angela

  4. Aunty Jee

    Women wear sleeveless blouses with their saris and sleeveless kameez with their salwars in India so I don’t see why shoulders should be a big deal. You don’t want to show cleavage there though! The Indian army would definitely lose its strength to fight Pakistani terrorists in Kashmir if you did!


  5. Gagan

    Thats a different perspective even for a non resident Indian like me !
    And darling… please.. there are no rules that you CANNOT wear a tank top/dress/shoulder showing top, its just that you’d be BETTER OFF not wearing one ! 🙂 You don’t wanna be stared at ! !
    If you go to Leela , UB City etc (as you mentioned), you’d see youngsters wear dresses and showing knee – so its all about the crowd ! 🙂
    Dress as you like as long as you feel comfortable and safe !

    And about the inequality bit… I know its so strange for an expat that a man can be almost naked whereas a woman is always covered up… again its really that we wouldn’t be too comfortable given the crowd (probably) ! The safety angle is always something you HAVE to evaluate in India… 🙂 Good luck and keep writing !

    1. angela_carson

      Thanks so much for the comment. I do sport bare shoulders around town where I can and I love it 🙂 And after the Frazer Town groping incident I am much more aware of the safety angle. Hope you’ll keep reading. — angela

  6. Padmini Ahmed

    “– my favourite – there are also the squatters who try to shield the world from their pee’ing as much as possible”.
    As single mom i find public urination really bad. For some men also the position changes with location. Angela one thing you must understand is whether men squat or stand to pee depends on local culture and customs and what is convenient at that time. In my case, at home it is an Indian toilet and i always insist my son squats and pees. Even though it is womanly I don’t mind if he squats. It keeps the toilet clean. Not to mention for grown up boys like my son peeing standing up at 5:00 in the morning is impossible or when he just wants to release his ‘tension’ . In such cases Squatting is better as he can wash his privates. Outside of home in public restroom he stands as they are usually wall mounted.

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