Being a Conservationist at a Spa & Salon 

My last visit was a little different. Since I was there for a couple of hours, with just one stylist, he had time to figure out his responses. He asked me to use various products, till I finally lost it and said “A. I don’t like chemicals on my hair, and stopping the usage of such products finally helped it. B. I don’t like chemical products, since they aren’t really good for the environment as well. So if you guys switched to better alternatives, it might be good for everyone.”

I hate salons and spas. While I love the experience of being pampered, it is often interspersed by product plugs and annoying comments about how whatever the product I’m using at the moment isn’t good for me (even if these were products suggested by the same person before they got better commissions from another brand).

However, since I’ve switched to organic brands, these conversations are more awkward. Most often, the stylist goes quiet since they don’t want to comment on the organic part of it, or how they are bad for you.

They do try to still push brands on you, most of them being some version of heat protectors, anti-frizz serums etc. Depending on my mood, I’m polite, sarcastic or plain mute.

The last time, I was getting a little annoyed and decided to confuse the guy. I told him I’m a conservationist, and I try not to use chemical products as much as possible (which is true, though that didn’t start from an eco-perspective!).

If there’s one entity that’s not yet made the attempt to switch to being eco-friendly, that’s salons and spas here. They use copious amount of water to maintain hygienic conditions, or even just wash off the chemicals off the hair and body.

Well, nothing much can be done about that (yet) from individuals. A while ago, there was a mass movement about products being tested on animals, and a lot of customers would ask if the products being used were animal-tested. Some awareness, some impact. We’ve not yet got to a stage where people are asking if the products being used are environment-friendly.  They aren’t talking about alternatives to plastics.

So having one person sitting there talking about how much water you are using to wash one’s hair makes them extremely uncomfortable. This is not a conversation they want to start yet, since that means involving more structural changes (eco-shower heads, better recycling policies, LED lighting, washing policies, hygiene maintenance).

Now to be honest, I’ve never thought much about conservation in the beauty industry. I do know that the water being used here needs to be treated before it enters the sewage system. But no clue if Indian rules enforce this. There’s a tough line to maintain between hygiene and being eco-friendly, and one reason the luxurious places use fresh products – so we know that it is clean.

But for me, I’ve found my way to shut up the annoying sales person the next I want a head massage in peace.


Being a Girl with Hair


Have you ever thought how much women, on average, spend on hair? Yes, I know we are supposed to be the spend thrift, consumerist, favorite with the advertisers because we are so easy to sell to sorta people. But perhaps it is our own warped self-image, the society’s steep expectations or media’s portrayal… or whatever it is, but a lot of it boils to one simple factor – hair.

A woman becomes aware of her hair when she hits puberty. Till then, the stuff on your head is just something to be kept out of the way and the rest of it does not matter. Then suddenly, you have to actually pay attention to these cells.

Let’s see what an average woman, living in a city with a decent job, in the age group of anywhere from 21 to 45, needs for the hair on her head.

  1. Shampoo
  2. Conditioner
  3. Leave-in conditioner
  4. Serum
  5. Anti-frizz
  6. Hair Mask
  7. Hair Spray (to whip it into shape on those bad hair days)
  8. Oil
  9. Heat Protection Serum

Yep, we need alllll that to make ourselves look halfway decent. Not glam. Just presentable.

On average, we spend about INR 3,000 per month on all these prettying ‘basic’ products – and that’s by going for something just above the low-range of products. I’m not talking salon-level products.

Next, since we are obsessed about hair, we need to ensure that the remaining part of the body is free of hair. Which means bi-weekly appointments at the salon for waxing arms, legs, most part of the face, and if you are adventurous, a brazilian as well. When the bikini or the wedding season comes around, you might also need to wax your back, your stomach and well, maybe your whole body. Not accounting for the hours of pain, this also means an average of INR 1,500 per month for removing  the hair from your body.

Then there are the hair cuts – and the search for the perfect hair stylist is as tough as the search for the perfect pair of pants. A single hair cut at a good salon – you are down another 2 grand every 3 months (if you are religious about maintaining your hair, that is).

Of course, you cannot forget the ‘special occasions’ wherein you’ve to get the hair washed, shined and polished styled and set. Which is another INR 1,500 each setting. Believe it or not, most women have at least one occasion every month for which they need to hit the parlor!

Some of us also enjoy a calming head massage along with the other painful treatments, which means another INR 1,500 each month.

Let’s do the math: 3,000 + 1500 + 650 + 1500 + 1500 = 8150

We’re spending about 8 fricking grand on hair every month! That’s 96,000 a year!

All because we are obsessed with this thing called hair – which grows on every single human being over the age of 12.

The Little Wrinkle Under Your Eye

A while ago an acquaintance’s post on Facebook spurred an intense debate about what constitutes the ‘adaa’ or the grace of a woman. Of course, adaa cannot be summarized by the mere word grace, but it suffices for our purposes.

I was rather offended by this woman’s interpretation of what constitutes grace, and how she called women who smoked, wore jeans and swore ‘unwomanly.’

All my life, I’ve struggled to match up to the definitions of being ‘womanly’. I neither had the body build of those who grace the silver screens, nor the easy feminity of some of my friends. Nor was I able to learn those ‘feminine’ gestures and tricks to make yourself look more feminine. I experimented with different clothes. I tried to wear make up. I tried to wear dresses and skirts. I painstakingly waxed my legs and hands. And while some of this left me feeling good, outwardly I still remained the slight bodied, tomboyish female whose best description on a good day would come up to ‘cute’.

Every women aspires to be womanly. Perhaps it is the flood of stereotypical images that are thrown at us from the first moment of awareness, or perhaps it is an innate thing. As I grow older, I’m not so sure that it is an innate thing. Even in the most ‘unwomanly’ woman, I’ve found something so graceful that I wished I had.

I went through a stage in adolescence where I wished I had longer legs. Then I wished I could be fatter, so I could wear a dress and not look like a 8-year old. I was forced to use fairness creams by ‘well wishing’ relatives, that left my face greasier than an oil pan.

As women we experiment with at least 10-15 brands in our lifestyle. We try out different shampoos, hair creams, moisturizers, facial creams, body washes, conditioners, face wash, anti ageing creams, eye make up, lipstick, lip gloss, mascara and so many other products. And then we settle somewhere, telling ourselves that it suits us. Or is it that we get tired of looking and we accept that this is the best we look and focus on other things.

I saw a woman when I was driving home tonight. She did not have waxed arms or face. She was wearing a shabby salwar and a outdated denim jacket as her concession to fashion. And she wore a pod of jasmine on her hair. It reminded me of another image a while ago – when a woman was crossing the street, clad in a sari, with flowers in her hair. She wore an anklet. I don’t remember her face or if she was fashionable or if her arms were waxed and what products she used. But at that moment all i was struck by the little things of our culture that made us feminine. It seemed quaint and for a moment I wished I could make such an effort. And then I realised I couldn’t. I did not have the patience or the attitude to put flowers in my hair and even if I did, it never made me feel feminine. My idea of feminity was not related to flowers in my hair and a bindi on my forehead. At least not completely.

Years passed, and I grew comfortable with my physical self. I accepted my short stature and my ‘cute’ description. But every now and then, with conversations like this, I’m forcibly reminded of my ungracefulness and I wonder why … why these definitions exist. It makes me miserable sometimes. It makes me miserable that I have hair on my arms, even if I’ve been working a 14 hour day and have had no time to go to the parlor. It makes me irritable that I do not have the perfect hair, that I do not know how to blow dry my hair into that clean, straight, shiny mass. It makes me cringe when I look at myself in the mirror, with my tanned skin and black spots. It makes me feel inadequate. It reminds me that I have not made it to the parlor in days. But how sad is it that I cannot even look at myself in the mirror?

Some claim that it is your duty to take care of yourself and present yourself well. I do agree. Every woman on TV showing how perfect you can be. But aspiring for such beauty led to years of heartache or worse for most women I know. We never get that glowing skin. We never get that perfect hair. We never have shiny teeth. And honestly, none of that has anything to do with your job. Glasses are taboo. Bad skin is taboo. Body hair is taboo. Wearing clothes that are last season’s taboo. It just depends on where you want to draw the line, right?

Grace isn’t about how you look or how shiny your hair is. With ample time and money, every woman can get there. Grace is how you are, stripped of everything. Grace is in your smile, in your eyes.

Of course, most people don’t see that if you don’t enhance it with $50 eye shadow from Mac, but well, as long as you can see it… Or least that’s what I’d like to believe. I’m still searching for it. At heart, perhaps I’ll always remain the gawky, uncoordinated tomboy. Will I be content with that or not? 50 years from now…

Baby, I’m fat!

Most mornings, the newspaper these days carries at least one article about dressing Aishwarya Rai for Cannes.

The major issue here is the baby weight that she apparently still hasn’t lost, months after she gave birth to a girl. So everyone is out to hide that extra weight or make her wear things that would have her appearing thin and sexy.

Generally, I wouldn’t really give a damn about her… She’s been a fashion disaster on the Cannes red carpet from day 1 anyway. But suddenly, today, I got sick of reading all those bloody fashionistas going on about how she hasn’t lost weight yet, so she needs to wear a sari to drape it away, or a loose gown etc.

And contradicting those ‘fashionista’ statements were photographs from a favorite photographer of mine who gave birth to a boy recently. She is celebrating her curves, is in no hurry to lose weight and is just enjoying spending time with her baby and partner. She also photographs a lot of pregnant women, in the peak of their pregnancy, full tummy and all.

I’m not going all gaga about the power of womanhood and all that stuff here. But isn’t it your basic right to have some space to breathe after giving birth to a new creature? Why should you rush off to lose that weight and look ‘glam’ instead of enjoying your space, the baby and the family?

So what is Aishwarya Rai has puddles of fat around her waist and is a little more chubby? Why should she shed all that weight or wear tummy tucks simply because the society defines ‘sexy’ as thin?

Ironically, there were a ton of pregnant women on the red carpets in the past couple of years. I don’t hear all this fuss about them.

And all this, when there is an ongoing debate about how young girls are already dieting to death because they are supposed to be thin to look good.