Anita Bhagwandas on self-esteem, autonomy, and Ugly

by | Jan 4, 2023

‘I entered the industry because my self-esteem was attached to cosmetics,’ starts multi-award winning beauty journalist, brand consultant, broadcaster and speaker, Anita Bhagwandas.

With tenures at Stylist and Glamour UK – and a proliferation of freelance gigs – Bhagwandas is at the forefront of beauty commentary. Her debut book is set to undo the traditional narrative and give us back our beauty standards

Tried to email Anita for beauty advice over the last few months? You’ll have received a stirring out-of-office reading: ‘My debut book Ugly is due out Feb16th 2023 –  so things are a wee bit busy right now.’ Then, undoubtedly, a response from the debut author.

Anita is spinning many plates, on top of acting as Condé Nast Traveller’s Beauty Director, she is publishing columns for the Guardian and doing her bit for Beauty Backed too. So, where did she find the time to pen the 336 pages of Ugly? 

‘It’s been pretty long, stressful, and tricky managing the way my brain works as I have ADHD which (for me) can lend itself to perfectionism and hyper-focus – the book had to be prised out of my hands to be published,’ she explains before saying: ‘The research I’ve uncovered for the book is both fascinating and mind-blowing.’

In Anita’s words, ‘Ugly offers insights into the history and psychology behind why we might feel so bad about our looks, and delves deep into the factors that can help us understand how this could be affecting us now.’ An amalgamation of personal experience, anecdotal, and statistical evidence, the book is a unique exploration into modern beauty standards, why they exist, and how we can reclaim autonomy.

The author’s pre-set experience has added value to the writing process: ‘I’ve worked on the inside of the industry, I’ve got a very unique insight into how so many parts of it work. The personal experiences I explore in the book bring together the elements of politics, history, science and psychology of beauty standards,’ she explains.

Working in the industry since the 2000s, Bhagwandas has witnessed the shifting beauty standards of the last 15 years. Reinforced by the introduction, then propagation, of the now omnipresent internet the Eurocentric ideal has been the standard for decades. ‘We can see that from the lack of inclusivity in beauty products through to representation in magazines and advertising,’ begins Anita, before saying: ‘Over the last 15 years this has started to change, which is amazing and so overdue.

‘Social media has given people more of a voice to feedback against the lack of options. There has been more inclusivity within leadership positions in industry which has led to change. Brands have also come to realise that there is money to be made from catering to a larger cross-section of society.’

Anita finishes with just an ounce of the consciousness that you are bound to read in pagefuls throughout Ugly. ‘Things aren’t perfect. In many ways, these Eurocentric standards – and the forces that control them – have become more covert and less visible, but they still exist. 

‘My biggest wish is that the book can help people step away from feeling like their beauty is dictated by external forces. I hope that the beauty, wellness and tech industries can be more accountable for their part in the trends/ideals that they ‘sell’ to their consumers, and that beauty standards become far more inclusive. But really inclusive – rather than just on a surface level, as they often still are.’ 

UGLY by Anita Bhagwandas publishes on 16th February 2023 (Blink Publishing). You can pre-order the book here

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