The Cost Of Curated Beauty: A Loss & Gain Of Self Identity

(L) British Vogue; Prarthana Jagan (R)
(L) British Vogue; Prarthana Jagan (R)(L); @prarthanajagan (R)

There are innumerable articles and research papers out there outlining the terrible effect that the beauty industry has on people’s self-worth and self-confidence. However, with the Indian beauty industry consistently pushing the standard of fair skin, long straight hair, an hourglass body, and wide eyes with swollen lips onto our screens and into our houses, no amount of articles or research papers will change the trail of destruction that the industry seems to be leaving on our self-esteem. Adhering to these standards or trying to adhere to them puts an immense amount of pressure on any person, but women especially face a provocation to conform or to risk societal rejection. For example, studies have found that when women in the workplace put on a ‘professional’ amount of makeup, they are considered to be more competent than their colleagues who don’t use makeup at all or use ‘too much’ makeup.

However, the fact of the matter is that we have reached the stage where the beauty industry and its trends influence our identity and vice versa. Essentially, what we see in ad campaigns, and on Instagram has been carefully curated to target our insecurities through the data that is mined from our online activity. Nonetheless, there are individuals and brands who use the identity-driven beauty algorithm to their advantage.

Image Courtesy: @thehdose

Speaking to creator Hrithika Sathish (@thehdose), she says she initially started her account as a photography account, which then evolved into her making makeup tutorials and product videos full-time. She says, “I’ve been creating content for a long time but I was able to find my niche only during the pandemic. I started creating content that I didn’t really see a lot of Tamil bloggers do, especially from Chennai. My mission is to create content that makes people feel included.”

Growing up, she never saw any women that looked like her online, especially not South Indian beauty bloggers like her. Buying a shade of lipstick or foundation became incredibly hard without any references. She adds, “We Indians are made up of different skin tones but brands were and are still coming out with only 3-5 shades in their range with undertones that wouldn’t even suit those with fair skin tones in our country.”

She hopes that in the future, brands will be more open to working with more South Indian creators so that they have the same opportunities as their North Indian counterparts. She also hopes to make people feel included through her mindfully created content that helps people maintain their curly hair or feel less intimidated about makeup because of their skin colour.

Image Courtesy: @prarthanajagan

We also spoke to Prarthana Jagan (@prarthanajagan), who is a model and makeup enthusiast by her own definition, creating content for both Instagram and YouTube. She was diagnosed with vitiligo at the age of 11. Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that affects the melanin in skin cells causing the skin to lose its colour. She says that the content that she creates is for everyone and that she uses it to reach out to her audience, which is inclusive of people from all walks of life. She says “I like working with brands that work well with me and it used to be something I would tolerate for the money, now it’s easier saying no and standing up for myself”. She hopes that in the future beauty brands will continue to work with more diverse people, as Prarthana concludes, “From my own experience, I can definitely tell that representation is important in order to make people feel like they belong in this world.”

Image Courtesy: @biddy

Creator Biddy (@biddy) says that she’s had a very unique experience as a third culture kid. “I know who I am and what my experiences are outside of the labels that are on paper or face value”, she adds. The beauty of growing up a third culture kid is that she’s found a piece of herself in so many communities, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Her identity as a third culture kid has informed her content, “​​...because it’s a form of expression, honesty and genuinely who I am.” Biddy creates what she likes to see, and as she puts it, “...what I resonate with while still incorporating my identity at the intersection of fashion, beauty and creative direction.”

We know now that the beauty industry impacts identity and there is no stopping it or slowing it down. But through that, there is a way to make it a more inclusive and accepting space, through the efforts of individuals like Hrithika, Biddy, Prarthana, and their audiences. India has never been a homogenous country, so why should we expect our beauty standards to be static and unchanging? These creators only prove that bringing their unique aesthetic to the table helps not only themselves but also their wide audience of impressionable young women who look like them. Homegrown beauty companies are slowly catching on to this message, and have all made a mindful and conscious effort to be more inclusive and atypical. Representation has never been more important than it is today and it should be our responsibility to make sure to include everyone. Reclaiming one’s own history, heritage, and identity could be the key to open self-acceptance. The word ‘beauty’ goes beyond a purely aesthetic sense and starts to really mean inclusion and acceptance for all and not just for someone who fits into the standard of beauty as we know it.

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