In the summer of 2022, many western influencers famous on Instagram ‘discovered’ the magic of hair oiling in the form of hair slugging and made it known to the world.
Hair oiling is a practice passed down to generations of South Asian women by their mothers and grandmothers. It not only promotes healthy hair growth and vitality but an afternoon of champi (head massage with natural oil) is cherished as a bonding experience.
Like many other ayurvedic (the science of everyday living) beauty rituals, the emphasis lies in understanding ourselves; focusing on daily diet, exercise regime, beauty and healing rituals, as well as on the less tangible forms of thoughts, feelings and emotions. This theory translates to ‘lifestyle’ brands in western countries. Unfortunately there is a major disconnect due to surface level research and fundamental misunderstandings of the practices that they are often inspired from.
The key difference lies in the fact that Ayurveda or any other South Asian practices, do not disregard science. With advancements in the wellness industry, traditional beauty regimens held onto their purist core while at the same time modernising old formulations to make them relevant today.
On the other hand, western companies are inspired by these practices but fail to understand how it actually works. They capitalise on a climate shifting towards ‘natural’ products post the pandemic, in the form of people taking control of their own wellness. The idea of ‘wellness culture’ has roots in the self-care movement which was directly linked with misappropriated practices such as yoga.
Over the years it has translated into companies making money off products that are shallow distortions of South Asian wellness practices; exploiting the lucrative market to sell unproven and misleading products.
Beauty for Indian women has always been ‘skin-deep’. The rich understanding of our bodies in ancient Ayurveda and other practices has formed a strong foundation for Indian wellness companies today.
Brands created by the Indian diaspora such as Inde Wild integrate conscious chemistry with 500-year-old rituals. Many Indian influencers are now reclaiming the narrative by centring the evolution of such concepts around brown women; sharing remedies and recipes for a wholesome beauty routine passed down to them by other women in their families.
Books like ‘Almond Eyes Lotus Feet’ take people on a journey with an Indian princess as the narrator, as she shares rituals from different states in India as told by the women residing there. ‘Glow’ written by Vasudha Rai presents a comprehensive list of recipes straight out of our Indian kitchens, curated to benefit both beauty and health.
In a culture that is now more welcoming of holistic beauty practices, it is important to beware of brands wearing garbs of ‘wellness’. It is more important to focus on the South Asian voices sharing wisdom with a deep cultural and authentic understanding of the ingenious traditions in beauty and health.
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