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It's time to admit that being 'pretty' is expensive

Sure, all those treatments made my skin look better, but I was a happier-poorer person; I couldn’t afford anything else!
Updated Apr 18, 2018 02:16pm


I was riding home from work yesterday trying to answer some texts when I noticed something — a weird yellow haze between my phone and my eyes... like a miniature corn field... sort of a halo... two seconds later, it hits me: ah... it’s my bleached moustache!

The reason my moustache is so plush is because this month I didn't have the money to get my face lasered. The reason I did not have the money to get my face lasered is because I got my legs lasered. The reason I got my legs lasered... is as follows.

Rewind to six years ago. I am on a beach; a pristine, stunning white-sand beach in Thailand. I am on a paid-for holiday, the massages are cheap and the pineapple is sweet. In walks a girl with perfectly smooth golden legs, out goes the zen.

From thereon, the pad thai is great but I have porous legs, the wind is so nice but I have porous legs, that Australian boy is cute but... yeah. That’s how it played out for a few days. I recovered fairly quickly, thanks to an upbringing where until I was 18 I roamed around with a moustache (a black one), with my confidence never once faltering. But, that phenomenon of the smooth legs, it played on my mind.

The perfectly smooth golden legs of the woman I saw at the beach played on my mind
The perfectly smooth golden legs of the woman I saw at the beach played on my mind

The woman I saw on the beach — her legs didn't fascinate me because they were white and mine were brown. I am fully comfortable in my South Asian body and self; I'm rather happy about it. I am also aware that Caucasian skin and hair is nothing like ours, and that in a cultural context I should be more worried about my face than my legs.

But her legs inspired me — for the effort she put in — to start paying attention to my physicality, to not take my skin or hair or health for granted, to actually be the best version of myself, the version that makes me happy. A version that invests more in skin than in makeup, in conditioner than in hairdye, in fitness rather than clothes.

I came back to Pakistan and started to do some research; not just on how to get rid of dead skin but on how to clean my face at night properly, how to take care of curly hair, how to maintain nail health; not in an obsessive manner but in a way that meant that I wasn’t going to take these things for granted. That I’ll cherish them.

I started investing in things such as laser hair removal (so waxing my face wouldn't trigger my adult acne or I don’t resort to bleaching every two weeks), I started working out more regularly, I oiled my hair every time before a shower, I got a pedicure even if it was winter and my feet weren’t going to see the light of day. My skin was better, my curls nicer and the pores, yes, they were gone!

The woman at the beach inspired me to be the best version of myself. A version that invests more in skin than in makeup, in conditioner than in hairdye, in fitness than in clothes. However, there was only one serious side effect: I couldn’t afford anything else.

I felt more confident and I also felt liberated. Imagine three months of not worrying about going to a salon for threading, or running to the salon for a blow-dry before every public appearance... I was hooked! It meant I had more control over my life, I had one less weekly errand, and one less worry... which meant I had more time to worry about the things that were worth worrying about; like where in Lahore I can run into Riz Ahmed. Kidding. Well. Not. Really.

However, there was only one serious side effect: I couldn’t afford anything else.

I was now a happier-poorer person. Sure my skin was better but that meant that when my sister was ordering 'The Chocolate Bar' (some yummy eyeshade palette), I went to my room and washed my face with my Sonic MIA brush for consolation. It meant fewer shoes, fewer bags, fewer new things basically (please refer to my last article to know why I was actually pretty comfortable with that).

As a freelance filmmaker/journalist, you often run into months with no money. I get through them by making a budget outline, it’s a habit (thank you dad). Last month this is what it looked like:

1) Gym fee (Rs10,000 membership and Rs7500 for a three-days-a-week group class)

2) Shampoo, facewash, makeup remover (depending on the brand, between Rs2,000-10,000)

3) Legs laser (full legs, Rs30,000)

4) Groceries (nuts, fish, honey, Rs5000 for one person)

5) Salon (manicure, pedicure, hairdye retouch, Rs7000)

6) Makeup brush cleaner (Rs1000)

7) Calcium, Biotin and Fish Oil supplements (Rs5000)

8) Teeth scaling (Rs7000)

*price quotes/ranges are based on averages

(I have let out—actually no, a big sigh has let itself out of me, at this point, as I typed).

Yes, it all belongs mostly within the beauty and personal care category. Yes, I questioned myself, am I spending all this money to fit into the patriarchal beauty mold? I don’t think so, because the list would’ve looked pretty much the same, even if I was a man. Take and give a few. I also think it is also both, to look a certain way, and to feel a certain way.

The difference? Example: Day 1, at the gym, you come home, staring yourself at the mirror, feeling fitter? Yeah that. You ask people if you look fitter, they say no. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s how you feel.

Now that I have intellectualised the topic enough, point is, it takes money! Even months I replace the gym for runs in the park and laser for bleaching my moustache, it takes money. Keeping your skin radiant, your hair shiny, your toe nails clean and your legs smooth; takes money, effort and a lot of it.

Just the months my adult acne surfaced, between peels and ointments, I remember spending a fortune! The months my hair turned into grass, on Kerastase treatments and products. The month I was lifting weights, on fish and almonds and butter and eggs.

When I am travelling for work, such as now, this money doubles as I pay membership fee at new gyms, I order in food to avoid eating oily/friend/packaged stuff, replace the shampoo bottle that leaks in the luggage and so on.

Am I spending all this money to fit into the patriarchal beauty mold? I don’t think so
Am I spending all this money to fit into the patriarchal beauty mold? I don’t think so

And that’s me! Someone who works behind the scenes on a film set and writes. The women that you see on television and films and magazines, imagine the kind of money they’re spending. Excluding the ones that have gone the botox and plastic surgery route, disregarding photoshop and effects, I am talking about the woman who seems naturally pretty in just her insta stories with no makeup. Yeah, her.

Well, just like the no-makeup look actually requires more expensive makeup and a more experienced makeup artist, just like the effortless outfit usually takes a lot of effort, just like that, the naturally pretty woman is spending a lot of money and time trying to look like that (I work in TV/film, I assure you, her cheeks and lips aren’t naturally pink and she gets microdermabrasion fortnightly for that glow!).

It is important to remind ourselves of it, to understand that what you might perceive as an unfair genetic advantage, might be an advantage still, but an economic one. It is also important to remind ourselves that the people we seem to be comparing ourselves to, for looks, actually make money off theirs. That for them, it is both, operational cost and capital investment. That in our case, the same money might be better spent on saving up for a degree, or for that business you have always wanted to have.

That whereas fitness is a goal everyone should pursue, not everyone is Katrina Kaif and has a 100 crores tied to theirs. That whereas you must take off your makeup before going to bed, and put in an effort to feel good, you might still not wake up looking like a Vogue Covergirl. That these are entire industries, these people are professionals; and unless we belong to the same, this competition is just as logical as me wondering why I can’t unblock an artery. Whereas I am putting in money to make sure mine doesn’t get blocked, for my own wellbeing, it would be sensible to remind myself that I am still no heart surgeon.

It's important to remember that the celebs we compare our looks with actually make money off theirs. That for them it is both operational cost and capital investment. That in our case, the same money might be better spent on saving up for a degree, or for that business you have always wanted to have.

In a Buzzfeed article titled 'I didn’t wake up like this', Sonam Kapoor wrote, “Before each public appearance, I spend 90 minutes in a makeup chair. Three to six people work on my hair and makeup, while a professional touches up my nails. My eyebrows are tweezed and threaded every week. There’s concealer on parts of my body that I could never have predicted would need concealing. I’m up at 6am every day and at the gym by 7:30am. I exercise for 90 minutes and, some evenings, again before bed. It’s someone’s full-time job to decide what I can and cannot eat. There are more ingredients in my face packs than in my food. There’s a team dedicated to finding me flattering outfits... It takes an army, a lot of money, and an incredible amount of time to make a female celebrity look the way she does when you see her. It isn’t realistic, and it isn’t anything to aspire to.”

Now imagine the people and money that goes into being the luminosity that is Kareena Kapoor; that skin, that shiny hair and those perfectly manicured hands, always. Sure these are awe inspiring disciplines, but that personal pilates class, every day?! Having someone as Rujuta to plan out every meal...

According to Daily Mail (UK), Kim Kardashian spends £5,500 and over 180 hours on treatments every month, and overall £66,000 a year on looking like that. 24-carat gold facials, tequila body scrubs, weekly eyelash appointments; God only knows what else goes into looking like that. Nicole Kidman will spend as much as $7000, on beauty treatments, before major red carpet appearances.

I am not judging, their ‘spends’ seem just as proportional to their income, as mine.

Whether or not it is justified, is a debate for another time.

For now, I just want to know, what the hell is a tequila body scrub?!