She’s not the only one writing herself and the sari out of a stereotype. A number of women are skating, backflipping, shuffling, long-boarding, and sandboarding in their saris and showing off the feat on social media. In sports and activities generally dominated by and associated with white people, Indian aunties and girls are claiming space in a garment that is often reduced to nothing more than a costume when perceived by the Western gaze.
“Being in the Midwest—a predominantly white area—it’s important to cultivate cultural collaboration, awareness, and acceptance between communities here. Wearing a sari while skiing just happened to be one of those things because skiing itself is a white, largely inaccessible, and privileged sport. Being a minority on the slopes, not seeing too many POC or women of color, I wanted to call that out while wearing a sari that’s so eye-catching that people can’t miss it when they see it. I just want the sari to have the same space and respect as any other outfit,” adds Maiya.
It may be argued that gliding down a slope in anything other than a ski suit makes little to no sense, but the practicality of it was never the point. Instead, the point was that a 37-year-old Indian woman was wearing what she felt most comfortable in and indulging in activities that people of color are rarely seen doing. That’s liberating.
“It’s not about Indian women being restricted to that clichéd image of wearing a sari and running homes or getting married. The sari needs a wider horizon because you can do a lot in it when worn the right way. It has evolved so much in the last few years. You can wear it with crop tops, skirts, jackets, and—my favorite—sneakers,” says 41-year-old Akanksha Singh Aggarwal. Based in Gurgaon outside of New Delhi, she describes herself as a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, jewelry designer, and, most recently, a self-taught shuffler.
Aggarwal took up this intensive dance form as a pastime during the 2020 lockdown. Little did she know that sharing this journey online would amass her 305,000 Instagram followers, who have watched her master challenging steps that take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully grasp. “I remember coming across a request in the comments: ‘Could you please shuffle in a sari?’ And I thought, Why not?” And so the sari shuffle was born, with Aggarwal recently tying a woven pink Banarasi silk number in a classic Maharashtrian style on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.