Till I was about 12 years old, I would not have been able to pick out my oldest sister in a police line-up. Six years older than me, our paths rarely crossed outside the house. Inside, though, her face was unrecognisable under a thick protective coat of toothpaste. I kid you not. In those days, everyone believed that toothpaste warded off unborn zits. So my sister, who had a sprinkling of teenage acne, used to spend all her time at home under a bulletproof layer of Colgate Dental Cream.
My middle sister’s cement of choice was Nivea creme, which she would slather over her face. They were both also obsessed with all nature of cottage-sector skin nutrients. So multani mitti, rose water, eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, besan, honey, curd, milk, malai, coconut cream, cashew nuts, almonds, orange pulp, papaya, pineapple, mango — all of it was puréed, pulped, juiced, sliced, diced and otherwise treated to render it gloop-worthy to apply on faces.
Unfortunately or fortunately, I could not join in because I turned out to be viciously allergic to practically everything. Everything natural that is; anything commercially produced with a hundred chemicals and acids had absolutely no effect on my bionic skin, but the merest hint of anything vaguely natural would leave it angry, red and swollen. The upshot of this was that I grew up with a very healthy level of mistrust of all skin gloop.
Things were absolutely peachy while my skin cells were miraculously renewing themselves. When this stopped, karma, as always, came back to bite me in the bum.
Being Pahari meant that I had inherited the skin type that makes it possible for the skin of every Pahari woman above the age of 32 to approximate the texture of a corrugated iron roof. Apparently, my sisters knew this all along and had been caking their faces as an insurance policy against this genetic windfall. I, who had spent my life mocking them and their rasoi-on-a-face approach to skincare was caught totally unawares.
In my early 30s, it was clear that in order to salvage my skin, I had to intervene in some modest, fuss-free manner. My first instinct was obviously a complete face transplant. Given that wasn’t really an option, the only other alternative was to overcome my lifelong reluctance to slather myself in face fertiliser.
Sadly, my face proved as stubbornly resistant to all natural jadi booti, which meant that all interventions had to be acquired from the skincare counter.
The skincare counter — for those of you who don’t know it as well as I do — is an amazing wonderland where science and youth and beauty and sheep’s innards (seriously, sheep’s innards) come together in the service of humanity and its skin. Having been to practically every skincare counter in the world, I consider myself an expert. Here is what you need to know about them.
1. Everything costs the same as a kidney. Unless it has the magic words elixir, serum, gold, pearl or caviar on it — in which case it costs the same as two kidneys and a pancreas.
2. The lesser of anything there is in a jar, the more it costs.
3. The more it costs, the more miraculous the thing it does.
After a lifetime of “the only thing that touches my face is water” asceticism, I fell violently in lust with the skincare counter. The mere promise of acquiring them made my skin tighten and tone itself. That’s how I became mesmerised with moisturising, committed to cleansing, a face-cream floozy.
I allowed myself to be seduced by all nature of tiny, expensive jars offering microscopic portions of eternal youth. But I never went right ahead and just bought what I fell in love with. Instead, I always bought it along with its entire exquisite upper class family, in case it got lonesome on my shelf. I mortgaged body parts but I bought and used them all.
Over the years, I have invested the GDP of a mid-size African nation to buy myself better skin than nature and early nurture designed. And my sisters, Colgate and Nivea? They have refused to give up their fondness for jadi booti skin interventions. The fact that, consequently, they are in possession of a considerably vaster fortune than me (plus their own kidneys) is immaterial. Because I have been vindicated. My staggering investment in skincare has finally paid off big time.
A few days back, we were all at a family wedding. An aunt, who hadn’t seen us since we were girls, identified my two older sisters in a flash and cooed about how they had not changed even one smidgen in the intervening decades. Then she peered at me and asked whether I was our much older cousin (decades older) because I obviously could not be myself — I looked way too old to be the youngest of the bunch.
See? This is what happens when you don’t look after your skin. Anyone with half a brain knows that the noble scientists toiling in the upper reaches of the Swiss Alps distilling the essence of caviar and sheep’s uteri into jars the size of fairy thimbles for the benefit of mankind can’t have gotten it so wrong.
The only explanation is that our aunt has neglected her own skin-care regimen so much that she is now almost legally blind. It’s clear that the invisible dark spots that were waiting to leap out from under her skin landed on her retinas. In addition, not possessing my cunning or my serum, she has also neglected the fine lines around her eyes to such an extent that they are now in her eyes. Poor blind bat, if only she had thought to invest in a few jars of Visonnaire Serum, what a dramatic difference that would have made.
So those of you hovering at the skincare counter and wondering whether to cut off an arm to pay for what seems like a hideous indulgence, let my aunt serve as a reminder that your investment in those jars could impact every aspect of your own future, not just your appearance. You’ve got more skin in the game than you think.
Vatsala Mamgain is a glutton, cook, runner, tree lover, shopper, reader and talker.