It’s election season and as campaigning hits a crescendo, former president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union and CPI candidate from the Begusarai Lok Sabha seat, Kanhaiya Kumar, took a potshot at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of spending crores on facials, while doing nothing for crores of faceless Indians. The context was a conversation on well-publicised welfare schemes like Ujjwala Yojana and Swachh Bharat, which, according to Kanhaiya, have failed miserably. “Ek taraf Modi ka chamakta chehra jispe karodo rupiya unke facial par kharch kiya jata hai, doosri taraf is desh ki gareeb janta, karodo log hai,” asserted Kanhaiya in an interview to India Today TV. In the past, Kanhaiya has also called the PM a “good actor” during demonetisation.
Whether there is any truth to Kanhaiya’s claim about the Prime Minister’s facials is anybody’s guess, though the allegation of crores being spent on them is a gross exaggeration — facials don’t cost that much (unless they’re caviar ones). It’s true, however, that when one looks at Mr Modi, you can’t help but notice his supple, shiny skin that could make a Delhi socialite turn green with envy. Beauty magazines have been saying with zealous authority for decades, stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, live a clean lifestyle — in this case that translates as a warning to stay the hell away from Bihar and UP, that is, if you’re chasing a luminous glow. One can almost sympathise with Kanhaiya’s irritation, it is suspiciously remarkable to look untanned, unlined and non-greasy while campaigning in 40 degrees. It’s common knowledge that heat and dust play havoc with the epidermis. Meanwhile, the competition, Kanhaiya included, look dishevelled and hassled, the hectic pace of electioneering showing clearly on their faces.
The whole point behind Kanhaiya’s catty observation that, who, exposed to the vagaries of an Indian summer can escape unscathed is a broad hint not at the crores spent but what a complicated beauty regimen indicates: a narcissistic personality, perhaps, or maybe a hint of megalomania? Rightly or wrongly, traditionally, a facial has been considered an indulgence solely for women. It’s true that even in the most emancipated societies men feel discomfited by the prevailing social conditioning, that the world of cleansers, exfoliants and moisturisers is a feminine pursuit. A man pampering himself in this way is an object, if not of ridicule, at least of raised eyebrows. Popular culture still portrays the freewheeling macho man, merrily unconcerned about his appearance, as the cooler one. Take for example the sitcom Two and a Half Men, where the character Alan is often shown carefully brushing his hair or examining the blackheads on his nose before a date. But it is his hung over, badly dressed brother whom the women gravitate towards. Similarly, would Gregory Peck or the current heart throb Tom Hardy be filmed in a salon with cucumbers over their eyes? Textbook leading star rules apply and that’s just not heroic. It’s Robert Redford’s scraggly face that comes to mind when one thinks of devastating good looks and he didn’t give a hoot about his complexion.
The perception among men that they too, like women, may be judged by how they look, is kind of new but suddenly you see it everywhere. It’s in the proliferation of men’s fashion, and the more glitzy colours in men’s shoes and accessories. So it’s not surprising that the new generation of men entering the workplace, the 25-somethings, are a more enlightened lot happily participating in a cosmetological shift. They know men can like rom-coms, and pink, and bubble baths, and hence are permitted to address the same female fears of wrinkles. Despite what Kanhaiya says, the emerging millennials are likely to view the PM’s alabaster skin as a natural step forward after having proved the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest. Whether it’s a combination of genetic luck or professional enhancement, it is everyone’s democratic right to choose to be the prettiest.