Nadia Elkharadly: Beauty Secrets

Can I just say that being sick is the worst!  It’s such a time suck.  I spent this weekend, unlike most weekends, confined to my apartment.  I was too tired and worn out to do anything else but laze around, read Game of Thrones on my Playbook, and watch tv.  I was flipping channels and came upon a formerly much talked about film, comedian Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair.  Being a new father to two adorable little girls, Rock began to notice that black women have an intense focus on hair, their own or otherwise.  Hair extensions are a staple to black women, hell, to most women, and being the good dad that he is, Rock decides that if his daughters are going to grow up to want “good hair”, he needs to learn everything about it.

In this film, Rock interviews all sorts of women, celebrities, teachers, mothers, about their hair.  He travels to India, the capital of the fake hair industry.  There, women of all ages sacrifice their thick, long, lustrous and gorgeous hair in a ritual called tonsure, in order to strengthen their prayers, and hopefully earn God’s favour.  In a city called Chennai, the hair collected is sold, and turned into hair extensions, to be purchased in the first world by women looking to have long gorgeous hair of their very own.  The money made by the temple in Chennai is second only to the Vatican, all made literally off the heads of pious women.  To them, their faith, and their hopes are worth more than their vanity.

I’ll admit it, I’ve had hair extensions before, twice in my life.  I’m pretty sure the first time, the hair that ended up on my head came from India.  The second time, I know for sure it was, and I took to referring to the new hair I’d “grown” as the “indian village.”  At the time, I thought it was funny, albeit a little strange.  After watching this film, I’m not sure I could ever have hair extensions again.  After watching these women donating their beautiful long tresses to make their prayers come true…buying it to wear on my own head seems even vainer than it was already.  But I did it because I thought it was beautiful.

In Good Hair, the reverend Al Sharpton called the obsession black American women have with the hair industry their economic exploitation, and it got me thinking.  Women in general, regardless of race or ethnicity, spend much more of their (or someone else’s) money on beautifying themselves.  When a guy gets a big bonus at work, he may spend it on some new tech gadget, a video game, or maybe put it towards a new car.  The last bonus I got, I spent it on a Gucci purse, and I’m not even that girly.  Purses, clothes, makeup, skin and haircare products, women spend and spend on these things they’ve convinced themselves that they need.  I’ve said time and time again that I needed that bag/pair of jeans/shoes/top/dress to live.  Would I have survived without whatever that was?  Probably.  Did I want to?  Nope.  Sharpton would likely say that I’m allowing myself to be enslaved.  Maybe he’s right.  But the fact is, women have been slaves to the beauty industry since, well, the beginning of civilization.

It’s fascinating to think about the lengths women have gone to over the millennia, all for the sake of beauty.  Some are interesting, some are dangerous, and some are just plain crazy.  In ancient Egypt they lined their eyes with lead based eye kohl.  In the Renaissance period in Europe, women used face powder containing arsenic to whiten their skin, to look more aristocratic.  And every day in the 21st century, women are injecting pig botulism into their skin to deaden their facial muscles, thereby preventing and smoothing out wrinkles.  Poisons, plastic surgery, pots and polishes, these are the choices women have made, and the tools they have used, from pratically the beginning of time, in order to align themselves with some sort of an ideal of beauty.

I’ve always found the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” kind of ironic.  It’s meant to imply that the person looking upon the beauty can define it, that outside person, a lover looking upon his or her beloved.  I’ve always found it very strange that the general consensus is that women spend so much effort and, beauty wise, all to impress, catch, or entice men.  While that is part of it, it’s definitely not the whole truth.  For the amount of time, energy, and money that women spend on their looks, on being beautiful, anyone who truly believes they’re doing all of that ONLY for the sake of men is delusional.  In the end, the true beholder is a woman’s reflection in the mirror – that is to say, herself.

As women have come further in society, climbing the corporate ladder, becoming more and more independent, they’ve also correspondingly created a variety of beauty ideals.  When women had fewer choices, they also had fewer standards of beauty to choose from.  And with women working and becoming self-reliant, namely financially, they now have the disposable income to spend on whatever beauty choices they want to make. And in the end, that’s what true feminism is all about, giving women the power to choose, to be whoever and whatever they want to be, and to look however they want to look.  So, to all my wonderful DBAWIS ladies out there, this column was for you.  Whether you want to be a vampy vixen, a flower child, a power suited executive, or even if you just want to live your life in yoga pants; the point is you can.  As long as you are exactly who you want to be, you will always be beautiful.

Until next time,



Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

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Nadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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