Deepika Padukone’s video for Vogue is not empowering—it’s hypocritical

Quartz india
Quartz india

A video featuring Deepika Padukone—in which the Bollywood actress is talking about the prerogative of choice—is now a viral hit.

The video is part of Vogue Empower, an initiative that the fashion magazine launched in October last year to mark its seventh anniversary in India. Padukone’s video ‘My Choice’ aims to bring awareness to the cause of women’s right nationwide.

Directed by Homi Adjania, who worked with Padukone in films like Finding Fanny and Cocktail, the video features 98 other women, including Adjania’s wife, film critic Anupama Chopra, actress Nimrat Kaur and director Zoya Akhtar. The fashion magazine is also selling Vogue Empower merchandise on Amazon.

Vogue and Padukone have a lot in common: They’re both from an industry that is based on fetishising, objectifying and reinforcing sexist standards of beauty on women. So when these two forces combined talk about women empowerment, one is left a bit confused, because, let’s be honest, the fashion and Bollywood do not empower anyone—women most of all.

Fashion and Bollywood thrive on women’s insecurities about themselves and their bodies. They are the propaganda machines of an ultra-narcissistic culture that is constantly telling us the right and the wrong way to do things.

Padukone has been vying for the spot of a confident empowered woman for over a year now. Last year, she put her foot down against a sensational post about her by the Times of India newspaper. More recently, she went public and confessed about her state of depression, and the recovery thereafter. She has even launched Live Love Laugh, a foundation for those battling depression and other mental health issues.

However, she continues to appear in movies or songs that objectify women in the worst possible manner. In her last film, Happy New Year, released in December 2014, she performed a pole dance for an item number. In the song, she is referred to as the “the hottest firecracker.”

Now, she is talking about the right to choose.

In 1991, American author Naomi Wolf argued that as women gain social power and prominence, they are under pressure to adhere to arbitrary physical standards or beauty. In her book, The Beauty Myth, she wrote, “More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our un-liberated grandmothers.”

The basic problem with the likes of Vogue and Padukone appropriating women’s rights is that, they do nothing for women. They talk about the prerogative of choice, but they don’t explain the burden of those choices. They talk about empowerment when they are themselves slave to consumerism.

Freedom and empowerment is not something that can be sold through the glossy pages of a magazine. It can only come through experience and self-knowledge.

What Vogue and Padukone are doing is merely telling a whole generation of women to grow up in a bimbo culture—women can be comfortable with the choices they have made, as long as they fit the stereotypical definition of beauty and conform to the latest fashion trends.

Though the video is being enthusiastically lauded on social media, here are some contrasting observations that too deserve attention.

Additional reporting by Shelly Walia. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.

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