There’s so much to learn from the past, and one of the best ways to do that is through our elders and cultural traditions. It’s often the case that the practices our ancestors used have more reverence for nature, don’t require any special trendy tools, and produce no waste.
When it comes to personal care, many of our ancestral practices are rooted in relationship to nature and community. What can we learn about our own relationships to personal, planetary and communal care when we explore “generational beauty”?
Why Are We Interested in Generational Beauty?
We’re curious about the personal care practices of past generations because they’re a part of our heritage. The “beauty” practices of our ancestors are not separate from health or the rhythms of daily life. They intersect with local ecosystems, cultural foodways, spiritual beliefs, and traditions of adornment that can serve a specific function or signify community roles.
To explore the topic of generational beauty, we asked ourselves and a few friends how they connect with cultural practices of personal care, and why those practices are important to them.
Ancestral Personal Care Practices are Rooted in Community
“Hair oiling is a practice that I love and has been passed down from generation to generation. In India, hair oiling is a weekly ritual that helps protect and nourish the hair but also serves as bonding and family time.”—Michelle Ranavat, founder of RANAVAT
When we went looking for examples of generational beauty, we found a lot of family and community wrapped up in those traditions.
Meow Meow Tweet co-founder Jeff Kurosaki shared some of the cultural beauty tips they learned from their mom and Ojichan (grandfather) on Instagram. “One of my Ojichan’s daily rituals is a facial massage, which he does every morning and every night before bed. At the end, you gently slap your face until it’s slightly rosey and pink to promote blood circulation. My three year old toddler watches me do this every night and thinks it’s hilarious but also now mimics me. I like to think that they’ll carry this on in their own facial care routine.”
For geographer, researcher and writer Teju Adisa-Farrar, the concept of generational beauty also brought up memories of family skincare rituals. “On both sides of my family, moisturizing your whole body daily, especially your face, is considered a crucial part of our routine. Usually using some kind of oil like Vitamin E or Ghanaian shea butter.”
Teju says “these care practices are important to me because they’re specific to me, my body, and my skin. Growing up, mainstream beauty and care practices were not geared towards young Black girls [...] who looked like me. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and father made sure I knew how to take care of my skin and body in a way that worked for me and honored what I look like.”
Generational Beauty Can Help Us Reconnect
Michelle Ranavat said; “Cultural practices are the basis for my skincare company. I continue to be fascinated with them because I grew up in the US, far away from India. At that time, beauty was a way I connected with my heritage and was able to find out more about what being South Asian really meant.”
Exploring generational beauty can be a powerful way to connect with our culture, but for many of us, there are roadblocks to participating. Families disrupted by colonization, enslavement or displacement may not have the privilege of being exposed to ancestral traditions or access to cultural food, medicine and lifeways. Even for those who do have access to that knowledge, many face shame, ridicule or violence for practicing traditional methods of personal care.
Enjoli Ferrari, who is the Programs Manager for LA Compost and a guest in our Legacy of Zero Waste series, says that “cultural care, cultural relevance and cultural acknowledgment are necessary for healthy human dignity.” She reminds us that “those who are furthest from their cultures are the most vulnerable. We have no baseline to go back to, and limited-to-no support systems to connect to.”
Uprooting Indigenous people and dispossessing them of their land, community and cultural traditions has long been the doctrine of colonization for precisely this reason. In our blog post Who Gets To Be The Face of Natural Beauty? we discussed the lasting impact of colonization and colonial beauty standards on BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people today. Centuries of Eurocentric standards designed to dehumanize and oppress have led us to a modern beauty culture that lacks representation and perpetuates violence.
Despite colonization, many ancestral beauty practices have persisted through the generations. In our Legacy of Plants series, we learned that modern green beauty ingredients are often rooted in ancient cultural traditions. We also learned that generational beauty practices are strongest when rooted in the appropriate ecosystem, and a sense of place.
Even if you can’t connect directly with the land your cultural care practices come from, cultivating them can still be a powerful thing. In an interview with PBS, Traditional Inuit Handpoke and Skinstitch artist Sarah Walen-Lunn said that; “we have the opportunity to create community through the communal markings of our ancestors. It truly does that. It’s remarkable the strength of self it places in you when you wear your traditional markings. So I think every bit of it is about reconnection.”
Reclaiming Generational Beauty As A Form of Resistance
Generational beauty is about so much more than “self-care.” It’s about community care, developing a relationship between your body and the plants and land around you. Practicing generational beauty is about learning from the cultural traditions of our elders so that we can build better systems for future generations.
If being disconnected from our heritage makes us vulnerable, then reconnecting with that heritage makes us powerful. When standards remain rooted in colonialism, racism and oppression, practicing ancestral traditions for personal care is one way that we can resist and reclaim “beauty” for ourselves.
“We need to change our perspectives of beauty. We do that through listening and learning from Indigenous women. For Indigenous women, true beauty came from the roles we upheld. From our kinship systems. Connection to country and waterways. And how we pass this ancient knowledge down to the next generation.”—Sasha Kutabah Sarago, Writer, Filmmaker, proud Aboriginal and African-American woman
The Meow Meow Tweet Blog Is A Collaborative Thought Project Between The Founders Of Meow Meow Tweet And Our Editorial Team. This Post Was Written By Faye Lessler.