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Growing up in Detroit, skincare brand founder Rooshy Roy has kept precious elements of her Indian culture to herself.
Staple Indian ingredients – like the turmeric abundant in family dishes and the coconut oil she used to condition her hair – became a source of shame outside her native Kolkata parents’ home.
“I was told by girls that I like the smell of curry or that my hair feels like I haven’t had a shower in ages,” she said. “Things like that I started to understand over time and kind of assimilated to fit in as best I could.”
She started washing “oily” coconut oil from her locks before going to school. She quit eating turmeric meals that would stain her fingernails bright yellow when a fourth-grade classmate called the “fungus” on her hands “disgusting.”
So when she saw hair oiling was trending on TikTok recently, the 32-year-old said, “All I could think was, oh my god, I laughed so hard about how gross my hair is, and now all these cool girls are doing it.”
From hair oiling to turmeric masks to Gua Sha facial massage, traditional Asian wellness practices like the ones Roy was ridiculed for have become hugely popular in Western culture in recent years.
A welcome opportunity to bridge cultural gaps
While it’s important to Roy that Asian cultures not get lost in the excitement, she sees it as a positive thing that the rituals that once made her feel alienated are now being embraced by a new generation.
“It makes me so happy to imagine that young Indian girls who are in my position now don’t feel ostracized like I did,” she said. “It’s almost a feeling of relief in many ways, my two cultures, my two upbringings, are finally united in a very empowering way.”
It was only after business school that Roy felt able to embrace her Indian roots. Roy, then stressed and turning to faithful, homemade rituals, launched her own skincare brand in 2017. As co-founder of Aavrani, she now sells products with the same ingredients as her and her mother used to painstakingly tweak the modified DIY recipes. for various skin problems.
As social media influencers generalize and redefine Asian-inspired techniques, wellness experts and founders of the Asian diaspora attempt to preserve the integrity of their cultures’ rituals.
“If we — brands like us who are authentic in how we pursue this — don’t do it, then that’s where the stories and the culture get lost,” Roy said. “And then we think that, you know, Gwyneth Paltrow is the one who discovered turmeric, when really it’s like something that’s been so sacred in our heritage for centuries.”
With the opportunity, a burden to of course correct cultural appropriation
Hair oiling – a 5,000-year-old ritual from South Asia that involves massaging the scalp and hair with oil – is now being promoted in the United States by beauty writers and influencers under the name “haircut”.
With captions like “Is the hair legit?” and posts showing Day 1 results, social media influencer content mentioning slugging terms saw more than double the number of posts between May 2021 and April 2022, compared to the previous year, and around 600% more video views, according to influencer marketing firm Traackr.
Shalini Seneviratne, who grew up in Sri Lanka dipping her hair in oil alongside two generations of older women in her family, says it’s disappointing that it took ‘a cool new name’ for the media Westerners legitimize hair oil.
“I don’t think the people of [South Asian] cultures are the ones that benefit the most from these things becoming fashionable,” she said.
Seneviratne is working to change that. In March, she launched the coconut oil brand Wildpatch, as an ode to her Sri Lankan heritage.
“I thought it was an opportunity to really change the narrative and really present the genre of South Asian stories the way it should be,” she said.
To ensure that South Asians benefit from the Western fame of their exports, his company sources ingredients from Sri Lankan farmers. “It would be so wrong not to give credit where it’s due and not to support the people whose culture I promote,” she said.
Guasha amassed a similarly fashionable following. Celebrities like Hailey Bieber and the Kardashians are fans. Miranda Kerr’s beauty line sells the tool. Traackr’s analysis of influencer accounts reported a 40% increase in video views of Gua Sha content since May 2021, compared to the previous year.
Gua Sha expert Sandra Lanshin Chiu has examined the delicate line between cultural intersection and cultural appropriation when it comes to the practice of facial massage rooted in ancient Chinese medicine.
She noted how a simple Google search for the practice pulls up images and articles showing Asian faces and minority traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. “I find it painfully ironic,” she said.
“I think where these feelings of cultural appropriation and erasure come into play, and how I have personally experienced it, is when you think about who sells these Gua Sha tools and teaches you,” she said. “Anyone who teaches and sells Gua Sha should be trained and should have some sort of cultural connection to the practice – but that’s not always the case.”
Holistic approaches to Asian wellness are rebranded as quick beauty tips
“Gua” means “scratch” and “Sha” refers to the “redness” that results from using a tool such as a flat jade stone to “scratch” the face, Chiu said. The technique dates back millennia, with Gua Sha first being used on the body to relieve pain and prevent fevers and other illnesses.
Yet writers, brands, and influencers have touted the technique as an anti-wrinkle alternative to Botox, among other claims of its cosmetic benefits. It has also been widely cited as a lymphatic drainage technique, notes Chiu, who says no traditional Chinese medicine text defines it as such.
“Although Gua Sha can produce cosmetic results, it is important for people to understand that this result comes from its ability to improve internal health as a valid Chinese medical technique,” she said.
An acupuncturist and herbalist who founded the New York-based Lanshin Wellness Studio, Chiu spends a lot of time on Lanshin’s Instagram account educating followers on the benefits of Gua Sha facials, in part to combat misinformation. .
“On the one hand, I am delighted with the increased interest in Gua Sha and other TCM practices. These are wonderful gateways to learning more about Asian cultures and the endless wisdom of health and wellness. vitality that is embedded in our wellness culture traditions,” she says. “But more importantly, the whitewashing of Gua Sha leads to the distortion of the practice. And this undermines its credibility as a legitimate form of healing.”
Like Chiu, other Asian American industry leaders don’t quite see these rituals as “beauty” regimens. Roy and Seneviratne emphasize that their brands are part of a mindful holistic approach, which draws inspiration from the ancient mind-body-spirit wellness rituals of ayurveda from the Indian subcontinent.
Between May 2021 and April 2022, Ayurvedic ingredient videos soared more than 170% in views on major social media platforms, compared to the same period a year earlier, reports Traackr.
In another sign of growing mainstream interest, the first Ayurvedic skincare brand founded in South Asia hit Sephora.com in February.
“I really love that this is finally starting to be appreciated by people outside of India, and hopefully eventually all over the world, because this wisdom is something that everyone can benefit from. “said Roy, CEO of Aavrani. Unlike other beauty trends, she added, “it’s not just about trying to adhere to a certain beauty standard, it’s really about what’s good for you.”