As teenagers, my sister and I were a volatile combination, a fiery pair placed at opposite ends of a spectrum, she was tidy, I was messy, she was academic, I was dramatic, she was practical, I was impulsive, and we fought like warriors. But there were those moments of connection that bonded us in the midst of all of this strife. And I recall that on dull, rainy Sundays, stuck indoors with nothing to do but read women’s magazines, talk about boys and argue, we often created our own home designed beauty rituals. These might include facial saunas, which involved putting our heads over bowls of hot water sprinkled with various random dried herbs we’d found in the food cupboard, followed by a cheap face mask in a sachet bought from Woolworth’s, then a wash-in, wash-out hair colour, all finished-up with a bit of eyelash curling (my sister was particularly keen on this, using what looked to me like a Victorian torture contraption that never really made any difference to her short, straight lashes).
Communal beauty rituals are something women have performed for centuries. The shared actions of cleansing, washing, grooming and nourishing served a deeper need than vanity or personal hygiene, they were a natural vehicle for intimacy, they helped women bond with one another, improved well being and strengthened and facilitated familial and community relationships. Roman women bathed together and then exfoliated, massaged and perfumed each other in communal therapeutic bathhouses, filled with natural light and mosaic encrusted surfaces. The beauty and adornment rituals Egyptian women carried out were also spiritually symbolic, a way of honouring the gods and goddesses. While Indian Head Massage, and the accompanying scented-oil and hair conditioning, by its very nature a plural activity, was born out of the ancient Ayurvedic tradition, which values the care of physical and spiritual equally.
And so it was, remembering with fondness the beauty sessions that pacified and cheered my sister and I , and armed with a small collection of A.S.APOTHECARY skincare products, that one lazy Sunday, while the roast slow cooked in the oven, I succeeded in dragging my 12 year old daughter and her best friend away from their mobiles.
It’s not always easy to carve out quality time with teen or pre-teen girls, and with the allure of tech devices, it’s becoming even more challenging. So when I venture upstairs to my daughter’s bedroom, I am not shocked to find them sitting in focused silence, side by side on the floor, staring spellbound into tiny screens. My first instinct is fresh air; and I suggest a walk. It is not well received; there is an almost imperceptible groan, a ripple of distaste . They are too tired, they say, they have been up half the night, they'd prefer to chill. I glance out of the window at the pewter sky thickening over the downs in the distance and decide, maybe it's not such a good plan, after all.
‘How about a green facial then?’ I propose, this idea piques their interest considerably more than the downland ramble...
In my bedroom I gather my A.S.APOTHECARY jars and bottles and put them in the middle of my double bed. Apart from the joy of working for Amanda and her amazing team, one of the wonderful perks of being an employee at A.S.APOTHECARY is that we get to take home the products to try, so we can all act as brand ambassadors.
The girls and I sit in a circle on my bed, cross-legged and Pow Wow style and they watch as I blend the Mineral Powder with the Cleansing Oil in a little dish. I tell the story behind the products, the making process, the picking and distilling, and I describe the cleansing and therapeutic benefits of the natural ingredients. We gently apply the mixture to cheeks, foreheads and noses as a mask, and there’s a great deal of hilarity because we look like wild things that have emerged from a muddy creek, and because lumps keep falling off onto the bed and we try to stick them back on. Then, we wait for the clay and the seaweed and calendula to do their magic. And we chat and banter.
These girls have been friends for years, and we revisit funny memories that we share, and they talk about the everyday, about their likes and dislikes, and the future with all of its vast and sparkling potential. I cherish these moments. It’s a wonderful age, this brief and luminous window between childhood and adulthood; and because I also have a grown-up son, I know how precious it is. Their insight, their unique perspectives and observations, as yet untainted, are inspiring; they are delightful: fiercely mercurial, lucid, playful and oh, so witty.
After we’ve got all the chat and laughter out of our systems, a calm silence descends as we gently wipe away the mask with warm, comforting, damp flannels, then spritz our faces with Lavender Aromatic Water, and Geranium Aromatic Water, inhaling the delicious and uplifting floral perfumes. Finally, we smear on Moisturising cream number #3.
The girls are luminous - inside and out! They have lost the grey, zombie like aura that hours of screen time produces. Their youthful, flawless skin hardly needs a skincare treatment but this simple ritual has created intimacy, warmth and connection between us. And I wonder, what is it that makes these simple things so powerful? It’s more than just the chance to self-indulge, to chat and laugh together, it’s the shared awakening of senses, it's the pleasure of the natural scents and lovely textures, the grounding physical actions of mixing and applying and cleansing, of connecting hands to face, of touch and the warmth of skin, and the closeness engendered by these timeless feminine ablutions.
And it gets me thinking later, about these time-honoured communal domestic activities. And it seems a shame that so many of the activities that were traditionally shared in groups have become solitary, like cooking and eating, caring for children, cleaning and making, and even conversation is increasingly a solitary, digital activity. I hope we see a move back to a more plural way of living and working, because sharing the everyday rituals is such a delight, and the way we are meant to live, connect and deepen our human experience.