The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: beauty (page 1 of 2)

Projecting “Beautiful” Ideas

Conversation between a mother and her eight-year-old son:

Darling, we need to move our car because it is blocking Nimmi Aunty’s car.

Mom, who is Nimmi Aunty?

She is an Aunty who has just moved into the city. She is very beautiful.

A pretty innocuous and regular conversation, no? Right.

I think it’s all good too, except the “beautiful” part. Let me explain.

In my family, we are somewhat hair-obsessed. We notice hair all the time. As a child, I heard a lot of “Ooh, what lovely hair!” from my mother, aunt and cousins. So, it became obvious to me at a young age that good hair was golden for a woman. Straight or wavy, black or brown or grey, long or short… It didn’t matter. All you needed was lots of it, and you were set. Thus, the covetousness was born. Now, I am reasonably blessed in the hair department. But I always felt like it wasn’t enough. I remember praying earnestly, God, please give me 15% more hair on my head, just 15%.

I was naive enough to think that people with good hair had it set in life, and that losing hair (or having scanty hair) was a major misfortune. Yes, I was somewhat misguided.

As a student of communication (and life), I am fairly cautious about stating my opinions to young children and teenagers, especially when they revolve around beauty and attractiveness. The absolute last thing I wish to do is project my ideas on to their tender minds. I’d hate for them to take on my ideas as their own, consciously or not. If a youngster is sensitive, searching and impressionable, this becomes a real possibility.

No, I don’t want to create an impression on you. Neither do I want to lend you any of mine.

(Nimmi Aunty is truly a beautiful woman, I can vouch for that too.)

Hair Trajectory

“Ooh, she has such lovely hair.”

Growing up, I heard this one a lot from my mother and aunt. No, they weren’t talking about me; it was about other women. Mummy and Veliyamma noticed hair A LOT. And you get to see a lot of fabulous hair in Kerala. Thick plaits, shining long ringlets, swinging braids, lustrous sheets of dark hair… Ahh.

Now, my sister and I are reasonably blessed in the tresses department. She has a full head of hair, somewhat wavy in texture. As for me, I have always had stick-straight hair, shining and smooth. Not as thick as my sister’s mop but it isn’t too bad.

But I always wished for more. “God, just give me 15% more, that’s all I want.” Like many Indian girls, I sometimes wished for lighter skin but hair featured higher on my “please-God-give-me” list. It must have been the constant refrain I heard while growing up that did it. Good hair was golden. I wanted it, and more of it.

As I turned 16 and headed off to junior college, my hair gained a life of its own. Guys seemed to want to touch it, play with it. Of course, I was flattered. My hair grew in length. It swung happily around my shoulders, bouncing joyfully… finally pleased to get some decent attention.

(When I introduced P to my friend A, she asked him, what do you like about Lakshmi? He responded, her hair. Ahh. I still wonder if he meant it! Or maybe he had to come up with a good response, pronto.)

When I traveled to Egypt, my hair went on a trip of its own. I got loads of compliments from men and women alike. One of my Egyptian workmates took me to her hair stylist to get a color job. It was my first time. The color was strong, and most likely it seared the roots. But it was glamorous in a way that I’d never been. Of course, I reveled in the attention. Those were some heady days (pun unintended), and hair was a huge part of it all. Plus, I was going to marry the love of my life soon, and that added to the drama and excitement. I tried hard to see myself as less girl, more woman. Long hair, shapely hips, slim thighs, dark eyes… Just like movie goddess Rekha.

Girl-Woman

I enjoyed the woman phase for a short while post-wedding, then reverted to “girl” soon after.

The hair obsession is mildly amusing. I would spend a substantial amount of mental energy thinking about hair, style options, cuts and color, etc. I am a tad spoilt too because I have a spectacular hair stylist, and she indulges nearly every whim I have. So I kept dreaming, and she kept fulfilling my hair fantasies.

Until one day I felt that I had had enough. I wasn’t ever going to age like Rekha or Shobhana. I didn’t look like those gorgeous women. I’d forever look like my Dad’s daughter — big lips, broad nose, greying hair et al. Plus I was tired of the constant evaluating of styles, cuts, etc. I decided to pick the option to end all options. No, I didn’t go bald. I picked a short pixie.

Cut to the present. My hair is short, cropped. It began the inevitable descent into silver-grey a few years ago. I half-heartedly tried color but my heart wasn’t in the endeavor. It cost money, too much for my comfort. And I reasoned, as long as there is hair, why bother about its color?

Of course, it isn’t just hair. It was/is an entity of its own. It gave me a fresh and exciting aspect to life when my own felt lacking and dull. It made me a bit of an It Girl. It got guys to take a look, then another. I had been gawky and skinny for so long… my hair gave me a personality that I never had.

(There is a story that appears in a Ruskin Bond novella about a young girl (Munia?) with beautiful hair. A well-meaning aunt warns Munia that she shouldn’t be leaving her hair untied because that presented the perfect invitation for jinns who are said to take a fancy to young women with open, beautiful hair. And such women were ultimately doomed.  Of course, Munia ignores the warning. Ultimately, she falls deathly sick, and all that remains of her is the luxuriant hair.)

A Friend with Style and Class

I cannot recall when/how I chanced upon To Universe with Love, a personal/lifestyle/fashion/travel blog, penned by Archana Paladugu. I read one post, then another, and kept going. It has now become the blog I check every morning. Archana writes with candor and honesty, sharing her views on sustainability, style, ethical consumption, travel and more. She has a loyal base of readers whose comments generate useful conversations and information. I am real happy that Archana blogs regularly, and in the event that I go to her site AND she has no new post up… I simply go read an old post, then another. There is enough stuff on her site to keep me reading and re-reading.

I asked Archana if she could write a guest post for me, and she agreed.

Popular blogger Joanna Goddard has a series titled Beauty Uniform where she quizzes women on their style philosophy, beauty tips, favorite products, etc. I created a set of questions for Archana that was loosely based on the ones Joanna asks on Beauty Uniform. So here goes…

What is your daily skincare routine? 

I really enjoy the ritual aspect of skincare. Buying products is one thing. But consistency is what makes the most difference for my skin.

AM : I cleanse my face with graham flour. And apply sunscreen.

PM :

Cleanse : graham flour

Serum : SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic or SK-II

Moisturize : May Lindstroms face oil

I was given Retin-A by my dermatologist this December. I usually forget to use it but been meaning to include it somehow. Being aware of all the toxic ingredients in it somehow makes it harder to pen it into my routine.

Do you have a game-changing beauty product?  

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic acid. You should have seen my skin when I lived in Arizona. I was outdoors a lot. My skin was in a terrible condition with sunburns. Once I got religious about using the antioxidant and layering sunscreen on top, it improved tremendously. I have hyper pigmentation from those days which always resurfaces when I don’t use it.

Do you have any non-beauty rituals that help you feel great?  

Inversions. Go for a run. At the end, stretch by touching your toes. The rush of blood to the face and the warmth can be felt. It gives me a glow throughout the day. Wheel pose. Hand stand. Shoulder stand. Head stand. I feel great when I exercise regularly and smartly.

Yoga. I have tried meditation and never could get into the zone. Then tried the moving meditation — Yoga. It’s made a lot of difference in how I feel during the day. I am addicted to it. I try to sneak it in, come what may during the day.

I sip on tea all day long. My tea contains dried herbs, white tea leaves, ginger, lemon and turmeric. I have a desk job and having something to sip on is comforting.

The blueberry green smoothies I drink everyday helps too. I don’t like yogurt or milk products. But I add a spoonful of it to my smoothie. It’s camouflaged by the fruit and I would have gotten my probiotic needs for the day. I try to include some raw food in my diet everyday and it’s convenient to blend it up. My skin gets a visible glow when I am consistent with my smoothies.

Do you have any unexpected physical traits that you love?  

When I exercise regularly, I grow visible muscle. I really like the look of them on me. It’s hard for me to put on muscle and easy to lose it. I have to work hard at it. And love it when I see the results. Does this count as unexpected?

Do you have any stories of regrettable beauty moments or experiments-gone-wrong? 

Not using sunscreen is the biggest. One day, I read some article on how most urban dwellers don’t get enough Vitamin D. I then decided I wouldn’t apply it on my body to “catch some sun.” I used to bike to work and my hands were getting too much sun. I had a dozen sunburns in no time. I tried to cure it in my kitchen by applying yogurt and aloe. I was keen on treating it “holistically.” But it kept getting worse from the regular sun exposure. One day, a coworker saw the scars and asked me about potential domestic violence at home. After that incident, I went to a dermatologist who helped me heal it.

When I first moved to America, I didn’t know how to cook. Neither did I know how to eat when there is no one spoon-feeding me. I was buying zero-fat ingredients and making sandwiches for every meal. I soon “dried” up literally and became very lanky. Good fats are very important for hormonal balance and for proper functioning of organs. I am pro-healthy fats. It wasn’t an intentional experiment but more ignorance on my part about what to eat. I learnt how to cook and feed myself over the years.

What is your bedtime routine?  

This is not exactly a recommendation. But lately, I have been falling asleep listening to a book on Audible. I need to read before bed but I am too tired to these days to read. So I listen.

Have there been any important women in your life who taught you about beauty?  

Not really. Most people I know treat taking care of oneself as vanity and unnecessary waste of money. Every thing I do, I taught myself by trial and error.

How does food play a role in your beauty philosophy? Are there any foods or drinks that help you look and feel your best?  

I grew up in the household of a dermatologist. He has taught me about the skin being a result of four factors: genetics, the general state of health, the surface, and environmental factors.

We eat a lot of home-cooked fresh food. I make it a point to get my dose of probiotics and raw food in my diet everyday. I exercise. I do these for my well-being more than for beauty. I treat it as one of the contributing factors. I would not rely solely on the food to be my skincare. I need the external and internal nourishment.

What do you like most about your look?   

Nothing and everything. I don’t single out facial/body features anymore. Being critical like that only brought me self-confidence issues and I have stopped thinking that way.

Do you have any style inspirations?  

Yes I do. Georgia O Keeffe. Not in the way that I want to buy items of clothing that she wore. But in the way she approached dressing. Our views on aesthetic, art, life, love, modern women, style, clothing, … match.

Last but certainly not least, what’s your overall beauty philosophy?

Find sustainable happiness. Work on something that you love and are proud of. Everything else will fall in place automatically. I don’t want to be remembered for my clothes or appearance. I want a legacy that changes the world in some way. I am most confident and feel beautiful when I am happy.