We live in a society which glorifies beauty. From the time we are born beauty matters. In Mumbai, children as young as ten flock to salons for facials, funky hairstyles, waxing and threading. Nilofer Rane, of Trendset Beauty parlour in Mumbai says, “Little girls just love the idea of being pampered from head to toe. They love it because it’s what their moms do,” says Nilofer. All little girls like to ape their mothers. Considering that we live in such a looks obsessed society, is it right to get them hooked on beauty regimes at such a young age?
The pressure to look good is high. Sughatha George, Mother of a nine- year-old says, “Though I don’t allow my daughter to thread or wax, but she is very particular about the way she looks. When ever I take her to the beauty parlour for a hair cut, she decides what cut she wants. She has developed a mind of her own at a very young age.
Botox is also becoming very popular amongst teenagers. "They’re hearing about it from their mothers, so it trickles down," said Dr. Rekha Seth, a dermatologist who recently Botoxed a 17-year-old girls. Her 14-year-old sister expressed interest in the procedures as well. "We’ll have girls walk in with a picture of her mother and say, ‘I don’t ever want to have that line like she does,’" Dr. Sethl said. "The 14-year-old was only copying the 17-year-old, who was copying what the mother did, and the mother was only 35. If you added up all the ages, maybe that person needed Botox!"
Considering the time and money Indian teenagers are willing to spend on perfecting themselves, Botox is just another drop in the beauty-regimen bucket. At the height of what should be their ugly-ducking phase Mumbai teens look as sexy and smooth as never before. Since Britney, teen superstars have seemed to get younger, and look older, every year, inspiring young Lolitas with dreams of perfect skin, flowing hair and hot bodies. And for the privileged ones, expensive and now taboo-free cosmetic procedures make them come true. Hey, remember the oily years of awkward adolescence? Chances are, someday, these girls won’t.
City kids also have the money—of course, their parents’ money—to transform themselves. Once they start spending, and seeing the results, it’s hard to stop. Like any addiction, it starts with the light stuff. Anika Sharma, for example, a 15-year-old student from Loreto Convent, Kokata, an all-girls academy, pays for regular manicures, pedicures and waxings. She’s had her hair Japanese-straightened twice ("I need to touch it up!") at the Javed Habib’s salon at Elgin road.
"I’m pretty high-maintenance," Ms. Duff, a school teacher from Kolkata admits. "But the younger girls at my school are a lot more high-maintenance. They wear designer clothes and get their nails done every two days. I guess the younger generation is more particular about looks than what we were."
God, I remember being that age, and I looked like a giraffe! Gawky! It’s amazing what’s going on: No one’s going through that weird, ugly stage of being odd-looking, scrawny and knob-kneed."
And judging by the way teen girls look these days—spending hours at hair salons, making trips to their neighborhood plastic surgeon, firming up their abs at aerobics and dance classes— Sudeshna Roy, a fitness instructor from Vizag says, “The awakward phase of girlhood has disappeared. I was a late bloomer—and looking back, I’m glad, because I think it slowed everything down," Sudeshna futher added. "I was always forced to rely on my personality instead of my looks."
It’s horrifying the kids are so aware of themselves. Girls are obsessed with being beautiful at this super-young age when they should be out playing games and having fun. I find it incredibly sad."
At the high-end salon in Lakme , Kolkata, for example, roughly 20 high-school girls have weekly standing appointments for blow-dries, which go from Rs.1000 to Rs.2000. This summer, over 50 teens (including 12-year-olds) came in for Japanese thermal reconditioning, a technique that permanently straightens naturally curly hair says Farzana Dastoor, a stylist at the Lakme saloon.
Instead of doing arts and crafts, we’d stay in our cabin and do makeup and manicures, talk about fashion and what’s in "and what’s out, and play with each other’s hair," says a 13-year -old school student.
Remember braces? It used to be that the only attractive thing about metal braces were the optional colored rubber bands, though even they left one’s mouth looking like Vegas. Now Invisalign’s clear braces set teens’ teeth straight imperceptibly—humiliation not included. "The parents are recognizing that children can’t get away with hair on the face," said owner Sarita John, owner of a beauty clinic at Kolkata. Recently, Sarita had to turn down someone requesting permanent hair removal for their 7-year-old. "Ridiculous!" she scoffed. "And just too traumatic for the child."
But full-body waxing seems benign compared to the more invasive procedures young girls sign up for in anticipation of skirting over the pudgy acne years. Popular skin specialist, Dr.Rekha Seth, from Mumbai, said chemical peels and microdermabrasion are standard practice for young patients. Teens even request liposuction under their chin to accentuate the jaw line. In her opinion, the drive for perfection comes from lack of confidence. "They’re trying to keep up with their contemporaries," Dr. Seth said.
Yoga Instructor, Shalini Deb, who runs local Yoga classes in Mumbai says, “A 10-year-old girl one day asked me- ‘How do I make my abs tight? How can I keep this from Jiggling?’ “And its like, ‘Are you kidding? You weigh 40 kgs!”
The parents are competitive also. They feel the kids are doing better if they’re looking better. And kids probably feel better if they’re working on themselves and taking their physical idiosyncrasies into their own hands. In many ways, having a "problem" and rapidly fixing it feels good; just knowing that a remedy is out there—remedies sanctioned by the sophisticated adult culture-at-large—comes as comfort. Often, however, it feels like pressure to be perfect too. In this pressure to look good every body wants to be a ‘Cosmo Girl’ over night.
"Depression has increased for my generation," said 15-year-old Juhi Malhotra, an aspiring actress. "I think some girls use shopping as a way to make them feel better—to keep pushing the sadness down instead of confronting how they really feel. But then they have to keep going and can’t really stop."