That the beauty business is big business is evident from the huge ad-spend by product makers. That the target consumers are now young women (and to some extent men) from the smaller cities and towns is also clearly evident. Promotional, advertorials, events, contests and other strategies are being employed by just about every player in the field of beauty products and cosmetics. Parents of adolescents and teenagers complain that they have to shell out unaffordable sums of money to indulge in this newly-created need for products that their children now feel that they simply must have.
All over India, young people are now hungering for beauty, for a career in modeling, VJing, acting, etc. - all seen as a ticket to big earnings and fame. While the cosmetics and beauty industry plays ally to these aspirations, there is another less visible but fairly strong force that is a key participant in these developments: they are the people who run informal grooming and finishing schools; voice, accent and diction coaching; nutrition-diet advice centers, and a host of other beauty services providers. This is besides the name-brand well-established institutes devoted to skin and hair care and weight-loss programs that have been set up in the last few years.
While clients in these name-brand institutes pay anything between Rs 10,000-50,000 over a few weeks, private, 'nameless' groomers and advisers too are able to charge hefty consultancy fees, quite on par with these figures. Their clientele is mainly from lower middle and middle class homes, and yet will pay up to Rs 30,000/- for 6-8 week courses in either grooming, or accent-diction, personality development, etc.
These providers do not advertise in a big way - at the most through classified ads - and depend on word-of-mouth publicity. If one of their clients makes it to the final rounds of even a local talent contest or beauty pageant, it ensures that their services will be sought out by many more.
This kind of money is coughed up by parents, who are more often than not single-income families, or at the most the woman of the house has a school-teacher's salary. How do they afford it, and do they think that it is money worth spending?
Says Shefali Rego, 38, who has funded her daughter through several such courses over the past year: "She was very keen, and not doing at all well in her studies. My husband and I decided that just like we would have taken an education loan, why not take a personal loan for these courses?" But do these courses guarantee that her daughter will be able to make a career in the entertainment industry, as she aspires to? "Does a degree in engineering guarantee that you'll get a job nowadays?" counters Rego.
Interestingly, some parents voice the opinion that even if this does not translate directly into fame, recognition and a well-paid career, the courses provide their sons and daughters the kind of grooming, exposure and 'smartness' that kids from larger metros and wealthier, more sophisticated families have automatic access to while they are growing up. This helps their children to gain in confidence and hold their own in any place, without the complex of being 'provincial' or 'small town' - labels that the parents themselves were stuck with in their growing years, and which they believe have stopped them from really excelling in their respective fields.
There isn't any way of measuring and hence definitively saying that those who are not professionally groomed are losing out; but it appears that being presentable is becoming more important for both boys and girls - and for employers.
Says personality trainer Renu Ramkumar: "It's not only about beauty pageants and careers in modeling and VJ-ing. Tomorrow, even if they work in a BPO, they need to be noticed and to be confident with foreign clients, bosses, etc. What is wrong with acquiring the right accent, the right look?" Ramkumar provides not just grooming tips, but also 'condensed' versions of current affairs, books and movies that people are talking about, so that her clients can learn to 'hold a conversation' without necessarily knowing much. She and other such trainers also emphasize that, at the bottom-line, the courses ensure that their clients' marriage prospects improve!
Many parents who can't afford (or are unwilling) to spend large amounts of money on grooming classes for their children have to face the resentment at home.
One parent, who has reluctantly paid up big fees for such services, on the insistence of his wife and daughter, says: "If you have to pay someone to have your kids 'appear intelligent' - it's really a sorry state of affairs. Everyone wants shortcuts. What does it take to listen to news and analysis for 15-20 minutes a day, or to glance through the newspaper? When we were young, such things were discussed at the dining table - new books, plays, news, etc. And any grooming we needed also came from family and friends?"
But his is a lone voice, as small-town India rushes to spend money on this new set of intangible products.