May 20, 2016 12:39PM

Sanam Sindhi On Body Hair, Complex Identities & Self-Acceptance For Oyster #108

"I would grow my unibrow back now if I could."

'BBHMM' star and make-up wizard Sanam Sindhi talks about the complexities of identity, rejecting Western beauty ideals, and the origins of her beauty routine for Oyster #108: The Origins Issue

"When I was young my mom and my sisters were my ideals of beauty. I used to love watching my mom get ready, especially when we'd go to weddings or parties and she'd pull out her best saris and all her crazy amazing jewellery. At the parties everyone would be singing old Bollywood songs or watching Bollywood movies and I hated it; it was torture. You know when you're young and you don't want to do anything your parents want you to do? So me and my sisters would go and we'd have a miserable time, but as I got older I started to discover Bollywood on my own and really get into it. Now it's my favourite thing — the make-up is so good. A lot of the make-up looks I do are super inspired by old Bollywood movies.

I had a unibrow when I was younger, up until I was about twelve or 13 maybe. I would go to school and people would make so much fun of me — even my sisters would make fun of me. I would cry about it every day and beg my mom to let me do my eyebrows and get rid of my unibrow. She was like, 'No you don't understand, the unibrow is beautiful.' But I was so humiliated — my name at school was literally Unibrow. One day I came home and I'd had enough, so I went in the bathroom and shaved my unibrow off but it looked strange because no one had ever seen me without a unibrow. The next day when I went to school I thought everyone would freak out but they were like, 'You still look stupid' because my eyebrows were still so thick. I would grow my unibrow back now if I could, but it doesn't grow back because I've been plucking it for so long."

On make-up:

"I started wearing make-up when I was about eleven or twelve. I had no idea what I was doing. My mom wouldn't buy me expensive make-up so I just used drugstore stuff… It would look really terrible but I was just so happy to be wearing it. It wasn't until I was around 15 or 16 that I started really learning about foundation and primer and how to properly apply eyeliner.

I don't feel like there should be any rules when it comes to make-up. Every day I sit down and I'm like, 'What am I going to do with my face today?' I just experiment until I like the way it looks. I'm not a professional make-up artist and I'm not as make-up savvy as everyone thinks; I'm just really good at fooling everyone into thinking I am — my make-up always looks good but I don't know how I get there. Sometimes it happens instantly and other times it's like two hours of sitting in front of the mirror with Q-tips and make-up wipes doing it over and over again.

I always use liquid eyeliner. Most of the time I use Kat Von D's Ink Liner but I also really love Almay — they do this really good liquid eyeliner that stays on forever. I've been using eyeliner since I was 16 and just in the last few years I've gotten really good at doing my wings. People always ask me, 'Do you use tape and stuff?' and I'm like, 'No, it's freehand. I've just been practicing for seven years!'I've been doing my own eyebrows my whole life. I use Anastasia DipBrow Pomade and Anastasia Brow Gel to set them. Last year I plucked my tails off because I really wanted to do a straight Spock brow. It looked really good when they were filled in, but then when I would clean my face it would look crazy because it was a tiny little eyebrow with no tail. I used castor oil on them and that helped them grow back much faster.

Lately I really, really love using lip pencils on my whole lip. I'm not crazy about lipstick anymore — lip pencils are so much better because they're matte and they stay on forever and they don't wipe off when I'm eating; I don't get it all over my face and chin and I can kiss people and it's not on their face. It makes so much more sense to me. Why does everyone still wear lipstick?

For me personally there are various reasons why I wear make-up. There are days where I don't feel good about myself and putting make-up on makes me feel good about myself. There are days where I just do it 'cause it's fun. There are days where I don't wear make-up because I feel shit and I've got a headache and I don't want to do it, but there's so much stigma attached to that shit. I think a lot of the conversation around make-up is so patriarchal — like the way men talk about women who wear make-up on the internet. You know those memes like 'Take her swimming on the first date'? I hate the idea that women who wear make-up must be hiding something or that they're not good enough … The whole point is that we should be able to do whatever the fuck we wanna do. Everyone just wants to hate women so much. It's like, 'Get over it.'"

On skincare: 

"My skin is pretty good but I have really bad dark circles and I break out when I get stressed. My daily routine is African black soap and African black soap lotion — for a long time I was having these crazy breakouts and I had this weird burn on my face and nothing would make it go away, and I started using African black soap and it went away in like two weeks. I was like, 'Whoa, this shit is magical.' At some point in the future I want to be very carefree and have skin that's so good I don't need to wear make-up, but I think when I'm older, like in my 60s, I want to be very, very glam. I want to be one of those super-old women who walk around New York with their hair done, wearing head-to-toe designer clothes and so much make-up it's ridiculous. 

Sometimes I'll do a turmeric and yoghurt and gram flour [face mask], which is something my mom introduced me to as a kid. You put three or four spoons of yoghurt in a little bowl and then about half a teaspoon of turmeric, because that shit's strong — you have to be kind of careful because it can stain your face, too — and then just a few pinches of gram flour, which is the same thing as chickpea flour, and you mix it all together to a paste. I leave it on for about 15 minutes or until it dries. It helps with my skin a lot. Using coconut oil and turmeric and shit like that is super trendy now, but women in our culture have been using them for centuries."

On hair: 

"Everyone thinks my hair is healthy, but it's really not. It's just really resilient — it can take a lot of shit. I like using coconut oil in my hair — my grandma's been putting coconut oil in my hair since I was like four or five. Sometimes I'll do a mask with avocado, banana, honey and egg. Those are all things that are so good for your hair, so I mix 'em all together. I wash it two or three times a week [and] I dry shampoo in between, just to maintain my colour."

On fragrance:

"I made my own perfume recently with water from a holy river. I'm really into crystals and metaphysical shit, so I made this perfume with rose oil and holy water and infused it with palo santo and a quartz crystal. It smells really good. I also spray it all over my bed and my room. I feel like essential oils are so much more of an investment than perfume 'cause you only have to use so little and it's so fragrant."

On culture & diversity: 

"The word Desi has been used a lot this past year to describe me. Desi is a general term that South Asian people use to describe themselves and other South Asian people because it literally means 'my kin' or 'someone from my country'. I know some people who don't really identify as Desi — some people have an issue with the word because it can be very exclusionary. A lot of people in other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal don't really feel like they identify with the word because it's been so attached to Indian people. I don't necessarily use it very much but I don't have a problem with it either. I use it with my other South Asian friends because there's an understanding of the history of the word and how complicated it actually is, so I know when I'm saying it to them they understand where I'm coming from. I don't really know that I have a word I use to describe myself, because I'm South Asian but I'm first generation — my parents are immigrants — so I have a very complex identity. I don't really know how to put one word on it."

On life:

"In the last couple of years I've really come to terms with my body hair and stuff that isn't really accepted by Western beauty standards. I think it's becoming a thing where now there are all these conversations being had about body hair and feminism, but it very much still caters to white women. Like if a white woman puts a picture of her armpit hair on the internet it's so cute and adorable, and that's not the case for brown and black women — our body hair is still not acceptable and not 'cute'. I'm just now starting to be OK with it and really embrace it and talk about it a lot more, and that shit was a real source of pain for me growing up.

I feel like investing in my happiness and taking care of myself mentally and emotionally and physically is really what makes me feel beautiful. As someone who's dealt with depression and anxiety and a host of other mental illnesses my entire life, it's really, really hard for me to get to a good place and stay there, so when I can do that is when I start to feel really good about myself. There's little things I do that help me a lot, like taking time away from my phone and my computer, or reading, or writing in my journal or meditating.

Sometimes I'll just go buy new make-up or new clothes. People have gotten mad at me for saying shit like this before because they're like, 'You've giving into to capitalism or consumerist bullshit.' But honestly I like buying myself my favourite things when I'm sad, because I feel like I deserve it. So why wouldn't I? There are so many things I can do to make myself happy and I just forget about them sometimes. I just have to get better at taking care of myself, I think. It's very much a chicken-and-the-egg thing because I have to take care of myself to get to a good place but I also have to be in a good place to want to take care of myself. So it's a lot of work."

Words: Sanam Sindhi as told to Nadia Bailey
Photography (top): Tim Barber
Photos (throughout): @trustmedaddy

Hair & Make-up: Sanam Sindhi

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