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Beyond Skin Deep: An Interview with Face Values Author Navaz Batliwalla

September 15, 2021 Carla Seipp
September 15, 2021
Face Values

As the founder of the fashion blog Disneyrollergirl.net, Navaz Batliwalla was at the forefront of the blogger revolution that democratized voices within fashion for a wider audience. Her influence has evolved to authoring the style guide The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman in 2016, freelancing as Senior Fashion & Lifestyle Consultant at Brandthinktank Group, co-founder of positive beauty collective The Beauty Conversation, and as of most recently, authoring the tome Face Values: Beauty Rituals and Skincare Secrets, published by Laurence King.

An intimate glimpse into the beauty cabinets of designers, writers, entrepreneurs, perfumers, and makeup artists, Face Values is a diverse look at the interpretations of beauty and its accompanying daily ritualistic incarnations and philosophies. It offers product recommendations and personal anecdotes alike from names including Frédéric Malle, Susanne Kaufmann, Gucci Westman, and Ellen von Unwerth.

Batliwalla’s panoramic perspective incorporates everything from the artwork of Frida Kahlo to the recent surge in Instagram-tweaked faces, while voices such as those of fashion advocate Bethann Hardison, male beauty content creator Saleam Singleton, and massage therapist Ryoko Hori go beyond beauty as a mere commodity.

Amidst her book’s release, Batliwalla sat down with BeautyMatter to discuss anti-perfectionist beauty, the power of rituals, and the growing shift towards mindful consumption.

How does your own upbringing and life inform your views on beauty?

I’m very lucky to have been an ‘80s kid growing up in London. It meant I was exposed to all sorts of identities and creative expressions and didn’t feel limited to one beauty ideal. Although the dominant mainstream aesthetic at that time was blonde bombshell Marilyn-Monroe-meets-Brigitte-Bardot, there were enough subcultures that one could align with too. As a flat-chested Indian girl I didn’t physically relate to the bombshell aesthetic, so I gravitated to tomboy-grunge beauty and kind of stayed there! Today that translates as an interest in pushing against the trope of perfection and the cult of flawless and poreless skin.

What inspired you to write this book and why now?

I published my previous book The New Garconne in 2016, which identified the tribe of women whose style reflected a more considered, slow fashion way of dressing. I noticed then that their beauty routines were very spare and functional. When it came to pitching a follow-up book, I decided to look at evolving beauty attitudes from the same cohort, because four years later I realized beauty and self-care had become a huge consideration, even for people who previously didn’t “do” beauty. I wanted to document this holistic shift in beauty, with all its nuances, as a form of feel-good therapy and not just about superficially looking pretty.

In what ways has the connection between wellness/mindfulness and beauty not been addressed?

There’s still too much emphasis on overconsumption. On “must have” products, flexing for the ’Gram, and not enough on the benefits that sensorial rituals can have. There’s a reason certain rituals have been practiced for generations. For example, during the pandemic we’ve learnt about “skin hunger” and the importance of human touch on our emotional health. Facial massage is a great stress reliever, it’s so easy to do and it doesn’t cost anything. And in Japan, bathing is a spiritual experience; it’s not just about the function of getting clean. I feel like there’s an opportunity to position personal care chores as pleasurable experiences that can also be stress relievers rather than something to get done quickly.

How did you choose the people you profiled—what connects them all?

I wanted to show, not tell, and the best way to do that was with first-person profiles and photography of the interviewees in their “beauty space.” It was important that we had global stories, so I was looking to profile people from all over the world. Although I’d initially planned to only feature women, we realized we should open it up to all genders, which makes for a much stronger and meaningful study. The connection between them is this sense of beauty going beyond skin deep, using rituals as a form of feeling good and looking after yourself. But not in a cheesy “I’m so perfect” way; we talk about bad habits and contradictions too!

"Beauty is as much about how you feel as how you look, and it’s available for us all."
By Navaz Batliwalla, Author, Face Values: Beauty Rituals and Skincare Secrets

What made you structure its content around rituals rather than traditional chapters?

I’m very nosy about people’s routines and I know everyone else is too, so we wanted to make the ritualists’ lifestyle content—their stories, secrets, and imagery—the main focus. I think that sort of intimacy is something we’ve come to expect in the social media age—creating a connection to the person so you feel like they’re talking to you. But I come from a magazine background where you’re taught to add more value; what’s the takeaway? So we added traditional chapters around hair, skincare, fragrance, and so on for the history and how-to guidance.

What was your biggest revelation during the creation process?

That we need to stop this obsession with categorizing people according to age, race, or gender. This was made super apparent through the course of the interviews, so it was a personal learning curve.

In one sentence, what is the most important takeaway you hope for readers to have from reading Face Values?

Beauty is as much about how you feel as how you look, and it’s available for us all.

What will be the biggest trends and developments that will impact the industry over the next 5-10 years?

Undoubtedly the diversity and inclusion development, which is finally taking hold in boardrooms now. Fashion advocate Bethann Hardison talks about this in the book and points to the fact that we’re starting to see a lot more representation happen behind the camera and on media mastheads 15 years after she first raised the issue. Another major shift, which comes on the back of the sustainability efforts, is the backlash to excessive consumption. So consumers realizing that they can simply stop buying every new product that hits the shelves. This is being helped by the trend for skintellectuals who pride themselves on researching products, ingredients, and formulations, so they’re able to resist the lure of marketing and especially influencer marketing. I think we will see a lot more regulations around this as well as a generation of consumers who just don’t want to consume as much. I see it a lot in fashion and I think it will bring more creativity and self-expression back as opposed to just shopping. And on that note, I’m really intrigued by the world of digital representations, filters, avatars, and the metaverse. The idea of an alternate reality is already present in gaming culture and, although I’m very much a sensorial, tactile person, I’m also fascinated by how that might manifest itself in a futuristic landscape. In retail for example—maybe Smellavision’s time has come!

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