As a teen there’s nothing worse than being unique. With all the harrowing experiences that accompany puberty, sometimes standing out can feel like having a target on your back. Nobody knows that feeling quite like 20-year-old Prarthana Jagan. An engineering student and beauty vlogger from Bangalore Prarthana had to deal with the additional pressure of being different from a very young age but today is using it as a tool to empower other young women. At 11, she was diagnosed with vitiligo, a skin condition that affects the melanin in skin cells and results in anomalous pigmentation.
Though it was a long journey, coming to terms with her condition, Prarthana did it with aplomb. The underlying message of her success story is one that is being echoed across the Indian beauty industry, a once restricted arena, we’re slowly transitioning to an environment where weight, gender, complexion and age are no longer bearings on beauty. Though there is a way to go before India kicks its bad habits and obsessive skin-whitening, we’re seeing a gradual shift in the climate that has been long overdue.
We spoke to Prarthana about her journey and learned her insights into the turbulent world of Indian beauty standards.
Check out more of her work on her YouTube channel.
Homegrown: When did you first have to come to terms with your skin condition? How did you feel?
Prarthana Jagan: One morning I woke up and found a very light white mark on my forehead, I didn’t think much about it because I was 11 years old and I thought it was probably because I hadn’t taken de-worming tablets. The very same day, I took the tablets and eagerly waited for the mark to go away. I woke up the next morning only to find that the intensity of the white patch was a lot more when compared to the previous day. That’s when my father took me to the dermatologist. It was mortifying. I just wanted to be a regular kid who played in the sun and didn’t have to wear makeup. I hated wearing makeup because I didn’t know how to apply it and kids in school would point and laugh at me.
HG: When and why did you actively make the move into beauty vlogging?
PJ: I started making videos on YouTube in March 2016. My reason for just going out there and doing it was because I was severely ill and was in the hospital for a week with absolutely no makeup. The doctors or the nurses treated me as any other human being in pain. I realised that life was too short to be hiding behind 10 layers of makeup. I wanted to empower people and make them realise that your skin does not define the person you are, you are whom you are because of your soul and that’s what matters.
HG: How did your relationship with make-up evolve into a tool for empowerment?
PJ: I started watching other beauty influencers on YouTube in 2015 right after I was done with my schooling. It didn’t seem too hard and I knew the kind of foundation that worked for my skin. I slowly started with my mother’s eyeshadows and blushes. Soon, I was able to contour and give some dimension to my face. I started to love putting on makeup and experimenting.
I realised that makeup is art and I wasn’t putting makeup on because I was embarrassed to have vitiligo. It generally takes me 20-30 mins to put on a full face of makeup and that is my me time! It’s so calming and there’s just something so relaxing about it. I love making the looks that I imagine come to life on my face! It’s just a wonderful tool to make you feel good about your skills. When I did it because I wanted to hide behind it, I hated it. I became my own artist and I feel empowered and confident with makeup and also without.
HG: The internet can be a judgmental place at the best of times, how do you feel using YouTube as a platform has furthered your personal growth?
PJ: Honestly, I haven’t faced any hate until now (touch wood). I feel like people on some level relate to me because I do talk about insecurity and how I was bullied. Young girls and boys these days get bullied even more than I had and my main focus was to target them and let them know that they are not alone. Nobody is perfect. Having a beautiful face and body will only get you somewhere but having a beautiful soul will take you places and people will love you for it. As I started telling my audience about these tiny affirmations, I started using them for myself.
Today, I’m so confident in my own skin that I haven’t worn makeup in maybe 3 weeks. I can only thank my followers, if not for them I wouldn’t have learnt to love myself.
HG: There has been a shift in the Indian beauty industry to become more diverse. Do you believe that it’s moving in the right direction and what improvements do you hope to see?
PJ: The beauty industry in India has drastically changed. Many men and women have come to the conclusion that makeup is art and it’s their expression. We finally have a huge platform to showcase our looks and teach people about makeup. A couple of years ago, concealer was such a new terminology, today we have products like highlighters, brow definers, etc. India has finally caught on to the craze. But we are still work in progress. Many women bash each other because one likes to wear makeup and the other doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense as to they talk behind our backs but it is the truth.
Men are still talking about taking women to the swimming pool on the first date, little do they know that most makeup these days are waterproof, haha!
The kind of improvement I would hope to see is, no more fair & lovely ads, allowing men and women to feel free in their skin with or without makeup and I would love to see Indians to keep an open mind and work towards recognising makeup as a form of art.
HG: What advice would you give to people on their journey self-acceptance? What has been the best advice you have been given?
PJ: Self-acceptance/love does not happen overnight, you have to be super patient and keep your mind open to really know how to deal with the negative thoughts about yourself or any insecurity you might have. I’ve always admired RuPaul and I quote him here, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” It is so true because the way you treat yourself is often how people know how to treat you. Our society will always be judgemental. If you’re fat, skinny, short, tall, people like to comment on everything. So, love yourself because your mind, soul and body are more important than “log kya kahenge”
The best advice I got was always from my parents. They taught me that people will find ways to bully you but you need to have your own back if you want to get ahead in life. They always told me that I must remain humble and respectful no matter what the other person said. I truly kept my ground and worked with my head down. I worked on myself until I found me, I held my head high. Tada, look where it got me! I have so many supporters now than people who bullied me. Kids in school who were mean to me apologised as well. So, be patient. Work on yourself because you are a masterpiece. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
HG: In 3 words, who is Prarthana Jagan?
PJ: I have a sentence with 3 words to describe me, work in progress.