Beauty and the Covid Beast

By Vijaya Pushkarna

Counting the Days Under Virus Lockdown by the Length of Trudeau’s Hair.

On Thursday, the New York Times carried a story with that very catchy headline.   The hair salons in the Canadian capital of Ottawa were to open the next morning, so the reporter went on to speculate, “But will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau get a haircut, or will he continue to suffer in solidarity with voters in areas of the country where they remain shuttered?” Strictly adhering to the rules of the lockdown, Trudeau did not go to a barbershop, and his hair and beard both made for a lockdown look.

In India however most of our leaders looked no different (during the lockdown) from how they did before the third week of March when Prime Minister Narendra Modi clamped a nation wide lockdown that began to be unlocked 68 days later, on June 1. From resident barbers to visiting hairdressers, to privileges of having their favourite salon opened specially for them, they have it all.

But for the lesser mortals, things were different. Social media was full of  people’s lockdown look, complete with jokes, caricatures, cartoons and Photoshopped images, as well as  real pictures, as some strutted their natural look, and some clamored for the touch up, make up, the grooming etc. Men and women alike were missing the beauty parlors!

What’s more, the beauty business missed its clients, just the way the hospitality industry and the aviation industry missed those who had made them profitable. It is another matter that the estimated 65 lakh registered beauty businesses did not line up before Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to ask for any kind of support. And for every employee in a registered parlour, there must be no less than five self-employed, working from home(truly so, even before the Covid hit ) beauticians. The number of employees in this line is huge.

If what is true in the US, Europe and China could be true of India too, people’s attitude to how they want to look has apparently changed. They all do want to look beautiful, presentable and feel good about who the mirror in front of them reflects. But when it comes to shopping, it is skin care products and not make up stuff that people are choosing to buy—whether online (hardly) or in brick and mortar stores (even less)

Sustainability has unknowingly crept in, as the kitchen has turned into a spa for many, with men and women becoming their own beauticians, or getting help from family members Didn’t Prime Minister Narendra Modi talk of  “aatmanirbharta”? Selfsufficiency?

The day one of the television channels interviewed celebrity hairstylist Ambika Pillai and got her to demonstrate how one can trim one’s own hair, many came one step closer to being self sufficient. Pillai joked that her demo was going to make it all so easy that she and others in her line would lose business eventually.

 There is relief right now that the favorite hairdresser is going to give that lovely hair cut, or pedicure or manicure with all the social distancing, extra sanitization, mask and even a PPE-like cape etc. Yes, the beauty parlours may not look very different from the images of Covid hospital wards though the client will be sitting, not stretched on a hospital bed. Along with hospitals and dental clinics, the beauty business is where the clients come in close physical distance of the service providers.

By now, some  have already visited the parlours and many have set up appointments—there is a rush to be the first customer to ensure extra protection. There are new photos of  their newly groomed selves that many have posted on Facebook and Insta, sharing their joy and relief. But the relief comes mixed with fear of coming physically close to a beautician—whether at a parlour, or if the service is delivered at home.  Equally, a visit to a parlor now will cost more as they are charging for enhanced hygiene; while many clients have suffered a salary–reduction, some have lost jobs, while parlors are charging for the enhanced hygiene expenses.

Yet, some things in the business of beauty and grooming have changed on account of the corona virus and the lockdown.

According to a McKinsey study, “ given the realities of working from home, physical distancing and mask wearing, it has become much less important to wear makeup and fragrance”

With salons and spas shut, and left to be their own beauticians, people are buying skin-care, hair-care and bath and body products—sales of luxurious soaps, aromatherapy products including candles, detox products, skin, nail and hair care products have gone up by 300 % year on year.

The world over, retailers and big brands trying to woo back customers with promotions and discounts, the study finds a 55 and 75 % decline in the sales of cosmetics and fragrances compared to last year. “”When consumers do return to work, many will continue to wear masks, further slowing makeup’s recovery”, it says.

 Many companies have shifted product line, to manufacture sanitisers and disinfectants. 

In China, the birthplace of Covid19, the sale of “above the mask make up” – eye make up—is said to be growing with the opening up of the economy.





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