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.
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