“Madam aap Keratin treatment karva lo. Aapke baal bahut phiji hain” ( Madam, please have a Keratin treatment done. Your hair is too Frizzy”) said the hair dresser at a Delhi Salon. I let it go when I heard it for the first time. Poor chap, dealing as he was with the soft Punjabi hair on a regular basis, my tresses must have presented him with a challenge! But when I heard the same from another hair dresser at yet another salon in Delhi, I had had enough!
I mean, what was wrong with my hair? No hair dresser had ever commented on it in my native Chennai! The Bengali ladies in Kolkata during my growing years had raved about my thick mane.. Why…. even the Goddess Durga idols in the city had hair like mine! So why should I shell out Rs 5000 or more and try to make it straight?
Okay, so it might be more manageable but I suspect it is not just the manageability that is the issue here. So, was it a marketing stunt? Trying to push a product on someone? I guess it is something slightly beyond that.. something more subtle. A strategy by the beauty industry where one brand of looks is being presented as aspirational as opposed to another- straight hair and fair skin being the preferred brand of looks! I suppose coming as a I did from Chennai where a majority had my kind of looks it was not so obvious but in Delhi where people with my racial features were in a minority it was automatically assumed that I was a “freak” and therefore might be looking out for an option to “conform” !
“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” so goes the saying. But what we forget is that the beholder is not neutral. S/he is vulnerable to suggestion by which certain brands of looks can be presented as THE epitome of beauty!
India is an amalgamation of different racial types ranging from dark skins and curly hair in the south to the fair skin/ soft hair of the north to the petite ever youthful looks of the north east. So what makes light skin and straight hair the good looks standard? I might have said Bollywood through its songs about “Gori Gori choris” ( fair girls) with “Sunehere baal” ( golden hair) and “Gulabi gaal”(pink cheeks) except that most of the leading ladies in Bollywood have traditionally been women from the south – the land of dark women with frizzy hair!!! From Waheeda Rehman ( yes she is a South Indian!!!!) to Hema Malini and Rekha to Sri Devi, Shilpa Shetty, Aishwarya Rai and now Deepika Padukone we have had Southern beauties ruling the Hindi film industry.
But it is sad to see how even people like Sri Devi have conformed to this standard, straightening out her once frizzy/ curly hair! I remember the first time I saw Kajol on screen, I loved her for her frizzy hair, dark skin , uni brow and of course her plump frame..!! Today I find she has also conformed to the so called “beauty standard” .. Sadly, both Sri Devi and Kajol I think, have lost their unique charm!
And what is even more shocking is that the southern film industry, noted for its dark voluptuous beauties has today girls from the north as its leading ladies! Most of them cannot speak the language that the film is supposed to be in.. yet the audiences are crazy about these fair skinned girls!
While admitting that all of us in India have always nurtured a desire for fair skin, I do not know when the hair obsession hit us! When did we start coveting straight, brown hair? I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable watching a fair and light eyed Paro with straight hair in Sanjay Leela Bansali’s “Devdas” ! I wonder how long will it take before the craftsmen from Kumartuli start fashioning out idols of Goddess Durga with straight, soft hair and light eyes!
After all isn’t that the standard?
Each sub culture within our country has its own definition of beauty based on the racial type. Instead of trying to preserve it we are trying to aspire towards a standard format of so called good looks and becoming like poorly grafted clones of our Punjabi sisters.
What we fail to realize is that beauty is all about being unique in some way. The moment we start trying to conform we become just one more face in the crowd…!!!