Natasha Pilbrow, co-founder of LeSalon, on why the beauty rituals that make us feel confident are a valuable source of self-empowerment.
As Fleabag so vehemently stated in the penultimate episode of the much-loved series: ‘Hair is everything’. It’s a sentiment that resonated with a nation of women – and not just for hair. Any part of you that makes you feel confident is everything, sometimes. Admitting that your hair means something to you doesn’t make you a bad feminist, it makes you human. The way we look and present ourselves is intrinsically linked with our sense of identity, and it always has been, regardless of beauty ideals of the time. To dismiss the value inherent in our beauty routines is to deny ourselves the pleasure that can be derived from looking and feeling our best.
In fact, there’s a lot to be learnt about empowerment from our ritualistic beauty routines and the small victories they win us on a daily basis.
Our beauty routines remind us that feeling empowered is so much about feeling in control. When you’re snowed under at work, juggling partners and families, with washing to do and dinner to cook and friends to keep in touch with, life can feel utterly insurmountable. Sometimes your decisions no longer feel like your own, as every move you make seems for, with, or because of somebody else. This lack of agency can be terrifying and overwhelming, so to reclaim some ground by doing something solitary that makes you feel good – be it getting a spray tan, treating yourself to a manicure, or indulging in an expensive face mask – is a way of regaining a sense of calm and control.
I felt this most strongly after having children, when manicures and me-time felt like an impossibility as I struggled to grasp a sense of ‘me’ in the unknown land that was motherhood. I know I wasn’t the only one to face this battle post childbirth, too. As with any routine that you value for the order it brings, when I did take the time to fit a tiny beauty treatment into my week, I felt polished, professional, and a little more like myself. It was hugely empowering: a little win and a welcome tonic at an otherwise overwhelming time.
Beauty rituals also show us that it’s the little things that make a monumental difference to a day. Taking the time to perk yourself up with your favourite book, beauty treatment, film, or food, could mean the difference between saying ‘yes’ to impromptu plans after work with colleagues or friends, or slipping off home to do ‘life admin’ because you haven’t had five minutes to yourself for as long as you can remember. A lick of paint or a good hair day can be as rejuvenating, restorative, and as intrinsic to your good mood as an empty carriage in rush hour, a proper belly laugh, or a posh morning coffee. Rituals can be a lifeline, no matter how frivolous they may seem on the outside.
There’s also so often a social element to these routines – be that the way you discuss and share products with friends, chat to your nail technician, or catch up with your hairdresser. We’re social animals; these interactions are valuable. Sharing an experience with somebody who is similarly interested or invested in its outcome creates a sense of communion, with countless studies showing the positive impact of socialisation on mental health and our overall sense of wellbeing. The client-therapist relationship is also one that involves an element of trust, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it empowering when that trust pays off to result in a great new haircut or a shiny set of Shellac.
Perhaps most importantly, beauty rituals can be an important reminder for us that empowerment is intrinsically linked to our sense of identity. Millions of men and women worldwide wake up in the morning and engage in a routine that makes them feel better prepared to face the day. No matter how many ablutions, products, brushes and cups of tea it takes, if that individual feels a little more like their best self when it’s done, that is time well spent. What the routine entails hardly matters; what does matter is that when we get up and get ready, book a manicure, or deep condition our hair, we’re allowing ourselves to feel joyful, confident, polished, and fresh. Is there any better feeling?
The confidence we build carrying out our beauty rituals ultimately seeps into how we communicate and interact with the world outside our bedrooms and bathrooms. Being heard, being seen and being listened to rest upon how we present and express ourselves, and the inner confidence that comes from feeling our best plays a big part in this. Hair isn’t everything in as much as a bad haircut won’t kill you; but it is everything when you think about the impact low self-esteem can have on our approach to everyday life, and the people within it.
Ultimately, empowerment is all about having the agency to do and say what we want, and we will always feel more comfortable flexing that muscle when we feel most at ease, and most like ourselves. With that in mind, beauty rituals – like all of life’s little pleasures – are far from frivolous: they are central to our sense of identity, and a quick route to feeling great when life rages on, out of our control.
We don’t have to wear a full face of makeup and get a blow dry every morning to feel our best, but the occasional skincare, hair care or nail care treat is, for many, part of an empowering self care regime that makes them feel like themselves.
So yes, hair is everything; because there are few things more powerful to a person than feeling fantastic.
Illustration: Camilla Ackley