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In this episode, one woman talks about the beauty routines she grew up thinking she "needed," and how her life got better once she stopped paying for them.

Through weekly video essays, "Making It Work" showcases how *real* people have upgraded their personal or financial lives in some meaningful way. Making your life work for you doesn't mean getting rich just for the sake of it. It means making the most of what you have to build a life you love, both in your present and in your future. And while managing money is a crucial life skill for everyone, there's no one "right way" to go about it — you have to figure out what works best for *you,* full stop.

Based on an article & narrated by Jagruthi Maddela:
Jagruthi on Instagram:

Video by Grace Lee

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I was raised in a culture that normalizes speaking about someone's size, shape, skin color, height, and any other physical attribute under the guise of small talk.

During the '90s, millions of young girls in post-colonial India were fed the idea that conventional beauty is being dull, fair, and slim. Multiple calls for arranged marriages still list the qualities as prerequisites for a bride.

As a darker-skinned, short, plus-sized girl, these rules apply to me as well. Multiple industries thrive off of these insecurities, promising the average Indian girl solutions by way of looking like a top actress or a model, starting from beauty parlors, ill-equipped gyms with underqualified or absent trainers, uncertified dietitians on the internet. It seems like everyone is out to make a quick buck off our body and beauty insecurities.

Aside from the fact that these industries cause grave danger to the mental and physical well-being of the people they target, they also make big money. Neighborhood salons or beauty parlors sometimes no larger than 500 square feet constitute a whopping $1.5 billion industry, offering services like waxing, threading, bleaching-- yep, this still happens-- and a variety of facials that promise to make your skin tone a shade or two lighter. The added pressure of looking thinner has millions of Indians also ditching our Indigenous food wisdom for a swanky diet in hopes of becoming thinner.

I played right into this narrative from my early teens until I couldn't take it anymore. Here are some beauty-related things I gave up in my 20s which made my life infinitely easier and my mental health better. Number 1, maintaining long hair.

Having long hair is considered auspicious and beautiful in Indian culture. Having had waist-length hair since I was five, I know this to be a tedious chore. Sundays meant surrendering your hair and patience to an elder female member of the family-- typically, your mom or grandma.

Your hair would then be oiled, washed, and air-dried under the sun. Depending on the length of one's hair, this could easily take a couple of hours to an entire day, all for the idea of traditional beauty. I also have an emotional connection to my hair in the sense that when I have a bad hair day, I magically have a bad mood.

When the pandemic hit last year, and I had no other way to deal with the summer heat, I impulsively picked up a trimmer and razored my hair off. I still get stares whenever I go out, but the ease of not having to worry about how my hair looks multiple times throughout the day pleasantly surprises me. I wake up, clear out the tangles, and I'm good to go.

Hours of time saved, and I've had zero bad hair days so far. Win. Number 2, hair removal treatments.

A beauty parlor visit is a rite of passage for a young teenage girl in India. We regularly get our armpits, arms, and legs waxed, eyebrows and any other facial hair threaded. We are a naturally hairy folk, but God forbid someone knows about it.

I have the pain tolerance of a five-year-old and don't recall a single time I got my eyebrows threaded without crying. I decided this had to stop when I got home one day and looked at my unevenly done brows, all that pain for nothing. So I thought, if I'm going to conform to conventional beauty standards, I'm going to do it painlessly.

I switched to DIY solutions like facial razors and trimmers. I'm still lax about it since I don't get too conscious of my body hair. But when the occasion demands, I know I'm not crying my way to the salon.

Number 3, facials or brightening treatments. Skin bleaching or anti-tan treatments are notoriously common in most parts of the country. In all fairness-- pun intended-- the bleaching industry is worth a whopping $8.3 billion US in revenue worldwide.

This was estimated to grow even more if not for the Black Lives Matter movement and, subsequently, the backlash that comes with promoting skin-lightening products. While I did grow up with the idea of fair equals beautiful, essential reading and gentle discourse around the politics of this idea led me to believe otherwise. These treatments are done using shady products that can damage your skin's natural barrier and sometimes contain hazardous chemicals that could cause skin cancer.

Never mind, I'm keeping my dark and beautiful skin. Number 4, Spanx or tummy tuckers. Most girls I know, irrespective of where they were born or raised, grew up with a sense of insecurity around their bodies.

For me, it has always been about looking smaller than I was. The instant solution to this was wearing shaping undergarments that claim to magically reduce my size. As a teen, it didn't matter if my stomach was cramping, my head was splitting, or that I couldn't think coherently because of the sheer pain these magical garments caused me.

All that mattered was looking thin. While learning to accept my body has been a long journey, I vowed to never put it through such pain again. In exchange, I feel free and truly confident even at my heaviest.

Number 5, painful bras. One of those things most of us have happily bid goodbye to during the pandemic is bras, especially the cute, lacy, painful, underwired ones with no particular use aside from making you feel like you are suffering a cardiac arrest. I now invest in super comfortable ones.

It's super easy for someone like me to take the plunge and do whatever it is that makes me look not like me. This is especially when I've grown up thinking that I'm not conventionally good looking. Giving up on these traditional notions of beauty is also a way for me to resist misogyny and be my authentic self.