Unpacking Identity: Why Do Turbaned Women Challenge Our Limited View Of Femininity?

Unpacking Identity: Why Do Turbaned Women Challenge Our Limited View Of Femininity?
L: Harleen Kaur ; R: Ishpreet Kaur

The politics of hair and femininity is all pervasive in Indian culture and history, as the association between the two can be contradictory at times. This irony is reflected in our shared beliefs that place restrictive boundaries on women. While long uncut hair is highly valued in certain communities, at the same time a turbaned woman with the same long hair would not be accepted as ‘feminine’ in society. 

It can be observed that the way we embody certain identities and our physical adornment speaks to this performative nature. We're taught to perceive appearance as either threat or safety, moral or immoral, feminine or masculine, we are riddled with contradicting binaries. Historically, these perceived notions tend to harshly impact women and further propagate policing

These unrealistic socially constructed ideals translate to accepted forms of clothing for women and hence exclude the ‘masculine’ turbans. Especially in a South Asian context, which limits the idea of womanhood to a certain mould perfected historically by upper caste/class men.  However in an era where we are starting to question these stereotypes, is it time to reconsider the striped femininity of turbaned women? 

While a lot of Sikh women adorn the turban due to religious reasons, there is also an attribute of non-conformity in the community. The group follow the values of Guru Nanak who revolted against the mistreatment of women in society and worked towards a more equal union between the genders. This awarded a more liberated existence to women which also meant an equal participation in performing religious identities such as the choice of tying turbans.

L: Torani ; R: Harleen Kaur

Turbans, for the longest time, acted as signifiers of respect and dignity. In a deeply divided society a Dalit man is still lynched for adorning a turban at his own wedding, hence reserving the honour for men of a certain caste and class. By embracing this exclusive symbol, Sikh women are not only performing a religious identity but further claiming the stature of respect their gender like many other identities was previously refrained from. 

The unconventional appearance is not considered to be traditionally feminine and so it challenges our limited ideas by broadening the scope of gender. It reframes femininity in a new light that is both assertive and powerful. When Sikh women choose to tie a turban around their head, it is a sign of reclaiming their own femininity that is not defined by a narrow societal view but is liberated from structural divisions. 

For the longest time one could not spot a turbaned woman in mainstream media as Sikh representation in itself remained riddled with singular stereotypes. However in recent years brands like 'Torani' are shifting the narrative by featuring Turbaned women in their campaigns. Furthermore there are now various models working in the industry who now represent the feminine ideals while adorning a turban. 

Ishpreet Kaur, Kavanpreet Kaur and Asees Kaur are leading models in a space that earlier remained off-limits to anyone who displayed nuanced identities. Their presence speaks to countless young women around India and abroad who have yearned for representation in the media. Turbaned women not only diversify femininity but also offer hope for a more fluid society that does not restrict itself to labels.