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I don’t know whether it is because I crossed 30 a couple of years ago, or because there are more ads than ever out there – but all of a sudden, I am noticing a super-abundance of advertisements trying to scare the hell out of me.
Some of them tell me that invisible to my eyes, my skin has already begun deteriorating; that it is darkening (gasp!) and acquiring blemishes and ‘sun-spots’ at an alarming rate. That, if I don’t do something about it rightaway (the something involving walking up to a store pronto to buy their expensive fairness product), I am doomed. As for hair, there is dandruff, hairfall, colour damage, weakening of roots, greying – any number of things to spend one’s life worrying about, and any number of products to help miraculously vanish all of those problems.
How is it that we’ve bought into the myth of the fragile human body that can only be succoured by a cabinet full of petroleum-based concoctions?
When I was growing up, I remember the family cosmetic cupboard usually containing a bottle of coconut hair oil, a container of talcum powder and perhaps some multi-purpose cold cream. Shampoo was occasionally bought in sachets – only for days when one was in a rush. Otherwise, my mother insisted on us using sheekakai that had hibiscus petals and herbs ground into it. The only other things in the cosmetic trove would be my dad’s shaving stuff and mom’s compact and a shade or two of lipstick.
Our bodies were none the worse for it. I don’t recall my mother’s face breaking out hideously after she turned 30. Her hands which had no benefit of hand cream stayed as soft or rough as they had always been. Housework or the lack of it, does more to impact hands than the most expensive cream. My mother’s hair began greying as she approached 30 – like that of her brothers and sisters. Neither the sheekakai that I used in my childhood, nor the fancy shampoos I have tried since then, can prevent my hair from following this genetic destiny.
The solicitousness with which we are constantly asked to approach our bodies is the reverse of what we were taught as kids. When growing up, I was always given to understand that what went into your body was of critical importance – hence the importance of eating fresh food, cooked simply and healthily. Traditional food rules play an important role in enforcing good habits in most Hindu communities. For girls as well as boys, the importance of having a strong body was emphasized – “Stamina” was a word I heard often. The unstated messages always were that adult life involved plenty of work, and the body had to be well-prepared to do it. However, nowhere did I hear that the body was a fragile thing, demanding indulgence and the support of products.
Today, we’re moving to the other end of the spectrum, where we believe that we must first take care of the outsides of our bodies, and anything wrong with the inside can always be corrected with medication!
One of the strangest manifestations of this approach is the injunctions against towel-drying your hair. Ads for every hair product (and content in women’s magazines – since there is often little difference between the two) implore one to treat one’s scalp ‘delicately’ and not dry it vigorously – your hair might fall out! As for me, one of my fondest memories from my childhood remains that of having my hair firmly towelled dry by either of my parents, while in a pleasurably half-sleepy state.
(I am tagging a few friends that I believe might be interested in the topic – Lavanya D, IHM and Uma – and of course, anyone who has thought about these things – do share your views and pass on the tag if you like!)