Much of the conditioning around beauty rituals, such as skincare routines, applying makeup, and creating elaborate hairstyles, has long been associated with shame and dismissal. These practices have predominantly been labeled as frivolous, vain, and not necessary, with no real justification aside from belittling women and femmes for pursuits they genuinely enjoy. To be openly excited about beauty or visually “dolled up” can lead to being called shallow and even result in being thought of and treated as less intelligent. It’s strange to reflect on how consistent these attitudes have been from the onset of modern beauty rituals. Such a large and essential part of many people’s lives continues to be ridiculed and considered a hobby, even though these practices are universal and are an accepted, even necessary, part of daily life.
Beauty rituals have been around for thousands of years and have existed in many iterations, but a common theme throughout has been the overlapping exploration of self-care with beautification. In many cultures, these concepts were viewed as one and the same and there wasn’t the separation of what we currently see, which is self-care mainly associated with health and wellness, and beauty associated with vanity. The division of the two in the modern world has been incredibly damaging and has instilled shame alongside the desire to take care of oneself when it comes to skin, hair, and overall appearance. And, even in the face of society’s changing values, going the extra mile when it comes to makeup or thoughtful skincare routines can still be viewed as excessive and superficial.
In the case of women of color, many of our rituals are multi-layered, elaborate, and rooted in centuries of knowledge.
Hustle and grind culture potentially has an enormous part to play in this narrow and oppressive view of beauty. When we are immersed in productivity and shedding anything that’s viewed as “not necessary,” it’s no wonder that what makes us feel our best, but seems extraneous, will be the first to come under attack and be expected to go. Oftentimes, there’s also the contradictory expectation to be beautiful but to also not place value on outward appearance. In a way, society wants us to partake in all of these rituals but not speak or hear about any of them. Hide the process, and don’t take pride or relish in the enjoyment of it, but appear looking put together and ready for the day.
In the case of women of color, many of our rituals are multi-layered, elaborate, and rooted in centuries of knowledge. Whether passed down or acquired intuitively, it’s a part of who we are on a level that is anything but surface. Protective hairstyles for Black hair and traditional Indian self-massage (Abhyanga) are two great examples of the time and loving energy we put into beauty, and this goes barely acknowledged or mentioned. In a modern and Western context, these practices are lumped under the all-encompassing “daily beauty ritual” but they are so much more than that.
The tragedy of heading down the misguided path of accepting beauty as an impractical and meaningless commitment is that we lose a powerful opportunity to connect with ourselves. Beauty is one of the primary ways that we check in and interact with our bodies on a regular basis. It is the process we undertake when preparing to face others and the world outside of our bubble. It can be our shield or our number one form of self-promotion. Beauty has such extraordinary power that it’s no wonder it has been attacked and disregarded for several decades now.
Use beauty as a tool and not as a burden. And whatever you do, don’t ever ask for permission.
Fortunately, the tides are turning and cracks are showing up in harmful judgments and stereotypes around beauty. Expression and individuality are radiating outwards in countless directions, and we’re seeing a reclamation of beauty in ways that haven’t been seen before. There isn’t one accepted way to claim beauty rituals and the practice of self-interaction. There is no universally accepted verdict to say minimalism is better than maximalism or vice versa. It is up to the person in front of the mirror and the messaging is becoming increasingly encouraging: Be who you are. Use beauty as a tool and not as a burden. And whatever you do, don’t ever ask for permission.
In many ways, this revelation is full circle. It’s the return of the acceptance of beauty as self-care, empowerment, and connection: A holistic, hands-on approach to self-love, expression, acceptance, and sometimes defiance. Our outward appearance is not all that we are, but it can be our devotion to embodying our full self for everyone else to see and, most importantly, for us to feel authentic and enjoy in our own way.