A stylist steps out of her com­fort zone on an ad­ven­ture in In­dia and Bangladesh.

What a fash­ion stylist learned on a two-month trek to In­dia and Bangladesh.

Elle (Canada) - - Insider - By Sarah Jay

noth­ing com­pares to the feel­ing of mak­ing some­one else feel beau­ti­ful, which is the core of why I do what I do as a stylist and non-toxic-beauty ad­vo­cate. So when say­ing a friendly hello to a stranger on a dusty Jaipur street led to an in­vi­ta­tion to join a lo­cal fam­ily for tea and a “makeover,” I put wor­ries of a lan­guage bar­rier (and chem­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties) aside and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally nod­ded yes to the role re­ver­sal that was in store for me. Fu­elled by my cu­rios­ity and their kind­ness, the women of the fam­ily trans­formed me into their In­dian ideal.

I stood out in In­dia with my fair skin—which was opaquely whitened to a be­com­ing shade of “mime” by non-nanopar­ti­cle, biodegrad­able SPF 50 sun­screen—and my go-to travel wardrobe: a men’s shirt, bike shorts and a high-fash­ion fanny pack. (Yes, there is such a thing.) To these women, and surely to oth­ers, my ap­pear­ance was alien. They laughed at my ex­posed legs and shook their heads at my closely shaven un­der­cut. Sev­eral chil­dren gen­tly reached out, gig­gling, to ex­am­ine my fin­ger­nails, which I’ve al­ways worn quite long.

They sat me on a mat in the cen­tre of a com­mon area, each tak­ing part in my en­hance­ment in some way. One woman at­tempted to get a comb through my hair, part­ing my heavy bangs down the cen­tre and push­ing them to the side to con­ceal the un­der­cut, another liq­uid-lined my eyes and yet another red­dened my lips with a tube of cer­tainly-less-than-eco lip­stick.

“When in In­dia...” I thought, ex­hal­ing and re­new­ing my silent vow to re­main open to all, à la An­thony Bour­dain. I couldn’t help but laugh when I con­sid­ered my ap­petite for risk in the grander scheme. Wow. This was me liv­ing on the edge. Gam­blin’! Get­tin’ wild! But I do have beauty bound­aries, and I had stepped be­yond them. Back home, I even feared the lead in my lip­stick— I’m the girl with no chem­i­cals in her house or makeup bag. I do sniff tests of cabs and re­strooms for brain­bend­ing air fresh­en­ers and ask as­sis­tants to avoid scents when we’re work­ing closely. So In­dia—with its per­fumeries, diesel-fuel ex­haust and burn­ing-plas­tic street fires at al­most ev­ery stoop—was a con­stant strug­gle for me.

The most elab­o­rate and en­joy­able el­e­ment of my trans­for­ma­tion was the mehndi. Us­ing henna paste, the ladies turned my skin, from bi­cep to fin­ger­tip, into ma­hogany lace; the in­tri­cate de­signs were skil­fully ap­plied in bridal pro­por­tions. And the fresh le­mon juice and eu­ca­lyp­tus used to ac­ti­vate the mehndi’s stay­ing power was as ther­a­peu­tic to me as the ladies’ art­ful touch, sooth­ing the con­stant headache I had from the soot and smog and in­cense.

What fol­lowed, of course, once I re­turned to the streets, were many con­grat­u­la­tions and well wishes for mar­ried bliss. This lasted for days and made me and my

Sari fab­rics dry­ing in the open air in In­dia; the writer hav­ing henna ap­plied as part of her In­dian makeover; spices at a mar­ket in Bangladesh

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