A culture of beauty

January 2013
Beauty in India is as multifaceted as the country is diverse - tradition and ancient rituals on one end and glossy Bollywood-inspired aspirations on the other.

Woman receiving pizhichil, ayurvedic oil bath

In Pizhichil, dosha-prescribed warm oil is applied to the head. © Getty Images

Woman receiving pizhichil, ayurvedic oil bath

In Pizhichil, dosha-prescribed warm oil is applied to the head. © Getty Images

Beauty in India is as multifaceted as the country is diverse - a happy, boisterous co-existence of tradition, spirituality and ancient rituals on one end of the spectrum, glossy Bollywood-inspired aspirations on the other and many fast-evolving variations in-between.

Indeed, Indian culture has considered beauty an expression of Godliness, almost something to be revered. Indian Gods and Goddesses, such as Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and Parvathi ( wife of Lord Shiva), are beautiful as they are bountiful.

The need for cosmetics is seen from very ancient days - people were using a variety of cosmetics products both for curative purposes as well as for enhancing beauty. Many Indian women still prefer herbal, natural beauty products and homemade recipes continue to play an important role in grooming routines. Holistic beliefs abound; Ayurveda, or the belief that inner beauty radiates through outer beauty, is one of its basic principles.

While eyeliner, jeweled and dyed bindis, and henna-stained hands and feet have defined beauty for centuries, Bollywood presents another facet of Indian beauty where color, shimmer and gloss are the order of the day. Despite the size of the country and its regional diversity, this Bollywood-reinforced pan-Indian ideal of beauty is based on very specific criteria: fair skin, a silhouette with feminine curves, big expressive eyes, and long, dark, shiny hair.
These typical beauty codes are transmitted through beauty salons which are social gathering places for both men and women.

Did you know ?

 

1/ Three Indian stars belong to the very private circle of L’Oréal faces: actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai; Freida Pinto who was discovered in the film Slumdog Millionnaire (2008) and more recently, the actress Sonam Kapoor who stars in Bollywood is the new L’Oréal Paris face in India.

These three icons perfectly incarnate ideal Indian beauty: fair complexion, long dark silky hair and big expressive eyes.

2/ The Bindi – or kumkum – is the dot that Indians draw between their eyes.

It is a religious symbol but it can also be used as a mere cosmetic ornament. Coming from the Sanskrit word “bindu” which means “a drop”, the bindi represents a person’s mystical third eye and symbolises good luck.

Traditionally applied with red kum-kum powder, today it is sometimes replaced by stickers of different shapes, sizes and colours.

3/ Each beauty attribute has its importance in India but its order of priority is not the same between men and women, although complexion is still key.

For women: 1. a fair complexion, 2. a blemish-free complexion, 3. an attractive figure, 4. beautiful eyes, 5. long silky hair

For men: 1. an athletic build, 2. a fair complexion, 3. a blemish-free complexion, 4. expressive eyes, 5. strong hair

Source : L’Oreal consumer insight study, 2011