Women’s Prickly Relationships With Personal Grooming During Quarantine
There’s a corner of the internet that believes the ongoing coronavirus-induced lockdown is the perfect time to press the reset button on our bodies. Here you’ll find 30-day challenges for rock-hard abs, green juices for lustrous hair, and homemade face masks for your skin to really lock in that pollution-free moisture. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum; the Instagram pages to remind you that, in case you didn’t know, we are in the middle of a pandemic! That means you’re under no obligation to be productive, eat clean, work out, or even get out of bed, really. As they say, if it doesn’t serve you, send it packing (and good luck walking the 800 kilometres home).
In the months since the confinement first began, I’ve found myself tossing between the two ends like a beach ball. There came a point when I had to give myself some credit for admitting that I’m human, with naturally conflicting needs and desires. As much as I’d like to, I will not be returning to work with a chiselled stomach and miraculously rectified hairline. Having said that, there’s no denying that sliding off the bed for a 30-minute yoga session does seem to do me well. And I’m positive that the one time I brought myself to change out of pyjamas into a wildly over-the-top dress did wonders for my self-esteem.
Our relationships with our bodies, and by extension, what we do to them, will never be black and white: is beauty self-expression or oppression? Have women reclaimed make-up and skincare as a form of empowerment, or have we simply submitted to a capitalist power structure that would like us to believe consumerism equals emancipation?
In her photographs, Pretika Menon sets out to interrogate these grey areas. Razors and exercise balls are seemingly suspended in time as a floating pair of tweezers and dripping wax convey the palpable listlessness that now accompanies most attempts at grooming. Take a dive into Menon’s visual dreamscapes, as four women examine their changing relationships with beauty under lockdown.
Shruti Sunderraman, 28,
Environmental journalist, Bangalore
I’ve never had strict beauty regimes as such, but whatever little I did have almost vanished during this quarantine. Initially, there was a lot of stress and just no time. But as the whole world slowed down to the pace I’m usually used to, I could focus on rethinking my idea of wellness. I’m essentially going through a fundamental shift in the way I approach health, and after some initial struggles, it’s showing on my skin. Boosted by this, I’m doing my best to care for my skin and face with home remedies. (I’m a baby zero-waster, and I make everything you’d normally buy in the market at home — from face wash, to cleaning supplies, to night serums, to under-eye creams).
I no longer have the same routine I used to, and in a lot of ways, it’s been a massive relief. I realised I don’t even like to keep doing these skincare routines. I do them when I can and when I want to, all the while focusing on overall wellness and nutrition. And it helps. (I don’t skip on sunscreen though. Even when I’m at home the whole day.)
I shaved my legs with a razor yesterday and spent a good amount of time applying aloe vera for razor burn. I don’t usually shave my body hair with razors; I prefer waxing. But now, since I’m trying to zero waste, waxing is a lot of waste.
I’ve been pretty lax about body hair in the last year or so. Honestly, I don’t like body hair on me. It feels itchy and not smooth. I am a tactile person, I like my skin feeling smooth, irrespective of its visibility to the world. I am also a fairly sweaty person, so body hair is extra uncomfortable in the summer.
Piano teacher, Mumbai
When I was growing up, I’d say ages 15 through 17 — when people were super mean about body hair — I used to religiously get waxed every month. But then as I got older and busier and stopped caring, that changed. So I would do it, like, once every six months when I felt like it. Plus I was in college at the time, where I had to wear long pants anyway, so hair showing under shorts was not a problem. And then after I graduated, I would still wax only when I had to, like if I had a shoot or something. Post-lockdown, I stopped giving a shit entirely, but my mom has been like, “Shave your legs! Shave your legs!” So one night, I took my trimmer and shaved my legs only up to my knees because my battery ran out. It’s fun because she’s always been against shaving — the usual reasons people think taking a razor against your skin is bad for you.
I’m super religious about getting haircuts though — I’d go about once a month to get haircuts, and that has not been possible so I had a breakdown haircut once, which was not too bad. Now I want to do it again. In case I ever go abroad to study or something, it’s good to know that I can cut my own hair and don’t need to pay, like, hella cash to a barber.
Shreemi Verma, 30
Writer and host of YouTube series ‘Chugli’, Mumbai
The first week of the lockdown I was like, “It doesn’t matter, I’m not going to care anymore — I’m working from home so let my moustache grow, let whatever happen”. But then I realised it was just bringing me down so much. For someone who’s not really into heavy make-up, it was affecting me quite a bit to see myself with absolutely nothing on day after day. So then, just to have some semblance of time, I started putting on lipstick. And that was sort of a cue to my brain that said, “Okay, now from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., I have work”. So my beauty routine now involves this lone lipstick, which I keep somewhere near my bed, so I don’t even need to hunt for a different one each time.
These days, because of a lack of movement — wow, I’m going to come off sounding like such a lazy person in this — even when I apply liner, it’s like a solid upper body workout. Two of my very close friends are really into make-up. One is a graphic designer and the other is a lawyer, and they’re the kind of women who will invest in an eye cream. One of them has straight-up given up. She’s just like, “It doesn’t matter, it’s not worth it”. While the other one, I see her applying her under-eye serum on our Saturday night Zoom calls. She’ll be telling the rest of us, “Oh you know what guys, y’all should try this!” Everybody is dealing with some kind of neurosis in their own way. The way mine is to put on lipstick, hers is keeping up with her nighttime beauty routine, I guess. I’ve been taking a lot of photos of myself because…what else do you even do right now? I guess you could call it a vanity project, but it’s almost a form of journaling or documentation. I’m sure someday I’ll look back and think, “I can’t believe I let my eyebrows grow out like that”.
Sakshi Shivdasani, 23
Before quarantine, when I was wearing shorts and going out, I’d shave every couple of days at the least. I’m in sweats all the time now, so I only do it once a week or something, if it’s bothering me or gets way too prickly for my liking. My eyebrows were bothering me a lot, because I’m still filming some videos. So I ordered a tweezer from Amazon, and I’ve been straight-up shaving my face with a razor. My dermatologist always recommended it, but I never had the guts. Once I started, I realised the hair hasn’t come back darker or coarser like I thought it would. I didn’t even get the tweezer on its own, I had to order an entire mani-pedi kit. I spent 399 rupees for one tweezer, basically. But I realised after I got it that I can’t tweeze my own eyebrows — it’s really painful!
I started doing it in 11th or 12th grade. If I let my eyebrows grow out enough, I’m pretty sure I’d have a unibrow. With hair removal, honestly, I’ve just been doing it very lazily. Like, if I get in bed and one part is prickling, the next morning I’ll go and literally just shave that part. So it’s not uniform at all. But I feel like it’s fine only… no one’s seeing it but me. I don’t think I’ll put myself through the pain of threading my upper lip again, I’ll just shave. But other than that, I can’t be lazy once lockdown ends!