5 Beauty Routines I Ditched In My 20s (& How My Life Got Easier)
I was raised in a culture that normalizes speaking about someone’s size, shape, skin colour, height and any other physical attribute under the guise of small talk. During the 90’s, millions of young girls in post-colonial India were fed the idea that conventional beauty is being tall, slim and fair. Multiple calls for arranged marriages still list the qualities as prerequisites for a bride.
As a darker-skinned, short, plus-sized girl myself, these rules apply to me too. Multiple industries thrive off of these insecurities, promising the average Indian girl “solutions” by way of looking like a top actress or model. Starting from beauty parlours, ill-equipped gyms with under-qualified or absent trainers, uncertified dieticians on the internet – it seems like everyone is out to make a quick buck off our body and beauty insecurities.
Aside from the fact that these industries cause grave danger to the mental and physical well-being of the people they target, they also make big money. Neighborhood salons or ‘beauty parlours’, sometimes no larger than 500 square feet, constitute a whopping $ 1.5 Billion industry, offering services like waxing, threading, bleaching (yes, this still happens) and a variety of facials that promise to make your skin tone a shade or two lighter. The added pressure of looking thinner has millions of Indians also ditching our indigenous food wisdom for a swanky diet, in hopes of becoming thinner.
I played into this narrative right from my early teens until I couldn’t take it anymore. Here are some ‘beauty’ related things I gave up in my twenties, which made my life infinitely easier (and my mental health better).
1. Maintaining Long Hair
Having long hair is considered auspicious and beautiful in Indian culture. Having had waist-length hair since I was five, I know this to be a tedious chore. Sundays meant surrendering your locks and patience to an elder female member of the family- typically your mom or grandma. The hair would then be oiled, washed and air-dried under the sun. Depending on the length of one’s hair, this could easily take a couple of hours to a whole day. All for the idea of traditional beauty.
I also have an emotional connection to my hair in the sense that when I have a bad hair day, I magically have a bad mood. When the pandemic hit last year and I had no other way to deal with the summer heat, I impulsively picked up a trimmer and razored my hair off. I still get stares whenever I go out but the ease of not having to worry about how my hair looks multiple times throughout the day pleasantly surprises me. I wake up, clear out the tangles and I’m good to go — hours of time saved, and I’ve had zero bad hair days so far. Win!
Average time saved a week: 2-10 hours / week
Average money saved: varies
Priceless Perks: zero bad hair days
2. Hair Removal Treatments
A beauty parlour visit is a rite of passage for a young teenage girl in India. We regularly get our armpits, arms and legs waxed, eyebrows and any other facial hair threaded; we’re a naturally hairy folk but god forbid someone knows about it.
I have the pain tolerance of a five-year-old and don’t recall a single time I got my eyebrows threaded without crying. I decided this had to stop when I got home one day and looked at my unevenly done brows. All that pain for nothing.
So I thought, If I’m going to conform to conventional beauty standards, I’m going to do it painlessly. I switched to DIY solutions like facial razors and trimmers. I’m still lax about it since I don’t get too conscious of my body hair, but when the occasion demands, I know I’m not crying my way to the salon.
Average time saved a week: 1- 2 hours
Average money saved: $40+ / week
Priceless Perks: No more tears from painful treatments
3. Facials/Brightening Treatments
Skin bleaching or ‘anti-tan’ treatments are notoriously common in most parts of the country. In all fairness (pun intended), the bleaching industry is worth a whopping INR 3000 crore (and makes up for about $8.3 billion USD in revenue worldwide) worldwide, which was estimated to grow even more, if not for the Black Lives Matter movement (and subsequently, the backlash that comes with promoting skin lightening products).
While I did grow up with the idea of fair = beautiful, essential reading and general discourse around the politics of this idea led me to believe otherwise. These treatments are done using shady products that can damage your skin’s natural barrier, and sometimes contain hazardous chemicals that could cause skin cancer. Never mind, I’m keeping my dark and beautiful skin.
Average time saved: N/A
Average money saved: $10-$100+ depending on treatments used
Priceless Perks: More self-love and healthier skin due to avoiding toxic chemicals
4. Spanx/Tummy Tuckers
Most girls I know, irrespective of where they were born or raised, grew up with a sense of insecurity about their bodies. For me, it has always been about looking smaller than I was. The instant solution to this was to wear ‘shaping’ undergarments that claimed to magically reduce my size. As a teen, it didn’t matter if my stomach was cramping, my head was splitting or that I couldn’t think coherently because of the sheer pain these ‘magical garments’ caused me. All that mattered was looking thin. While learning to accept my body has been a long journey, I vowed to never put it through such pain again. In exchange, I feel free and truly confident – even at my heaviest.
Average time saved: 5-15 minutes taken off dressing time
Average money saved: $40-$100 depending on the garment(s)
Priceless Perks: gaining true confidence and overall body positivity
5. Painful Bras
One of those things most of us have happily bid adieu to during the pandemic is bras. Especially the cute, painful, under-wired, lacy ones with no particular use aside from making you feel like you’re suffering a cardiac arrest. I now invest in super comfortable ones.
It’s very easy for someone like me to take the plunge and do whatever it is that takes to make me look, not like me, especially when I’ve grown up thinking I’m not conventionally good looking. Giving up on these traditional notions of beauty is also a way for me to resist misogyny by being my authentic self.
Average time saved: N/A
Average money saved: $20 – $40 depending on the bra
Priceless Perks: more comfort, less back and boob ache
Jagruthi is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India. She is passionate about being vocal for social change and is an avid zero waste enthusiast. You can check out her work here and follow her on Instagram @jagruthimaddela where she documents all her 3 AM thoughts.
Image via Unsplash