I thought there was a scripted way to experience beauty, but Kulfi proved me wrong

Kulfi founder Priyanka Ganjoo

The magic of seeing yourself in beauty. 

By Priyanka Ganjoo, Founder 

I never really saw myself as a “makeup person.” When you think of someone who’s into makeup, there’s a certain image that comes to mind: the friend who follows all the new launches, knows how to perfectly sculpt the contours of their face, and can put on false lashes in under five seconds. So many of us grew up thinking that there’s a scripted way to do beauty, and until you could master “that look,” you weren’t part of that elusive in-crowd. 

Through my journey building Kulfi, I know that script isn’t real. 

Makeup has served different purposes throughout my life. 

Growing up in Delhi, my sister and I would play with my mom’s makeup kit when she went to work every morning. It was lighthearted and fun. In my teen years, wearing makeup took on a different implication: it attracts the male gaze. My mom once scolded me when she saw me wearing kajal in tenth grade. I didn’t really start wearing makeup until my early working days. I was often told that I look “so tired,” because of the dark circles under my eyes. I remember going to the makeup counter at the department store and walking out with a bunch of different products and a look that didn’t make me feel like myself. 

At the onset of creating Kulfi, I noticed an emotional gap in the beauty space, after speaking with so many South Asians. 

We haven’t seen people who look like us be part of that quintessential narrative, the in-crowd.

Last summer, I spoke to Sana Javeri Kadri, the founder of Diaspora Co. She explained that she hadn’t really worn makeup until 2016, when she found makeup products that allowed her to use her fingers (Glossier) and skincare products that were tailored to her skin needs (Haldi Skin).

Sana said something that stays with me: “I think the big thing was coming into my Queer, femme identity and seeing that it’s all about self-expression. I started seeing people that I identified with using makeup, especially Queer and/or South Asian folks. I was seeing women owning it. I’ve realized that I can be Queer and a feminist and all of these things that have nothing to do with performing for the male gaze. Even within this decade, we've come so far in our understanding that makeup is for us. And it's for nobody else.”

Sana speaks to two important external and internal touchpoints that are essential to our journeys with beauty: 1. When you see people embrace makeup in their own way, you feel empowered to explore your relationship with it. And 2. Taking back our gaze and defining beauty for ourselves, as individuals, are powerful acts of self-love. 

From our Bites platform, to customer discovery sessions, we’ve become curious about the in-between stories and understated parts of the beauty experience. These moments of beauty experiential knowledge are precisely what gives new language to our evolving perceptions of beauty. In turn, 

We hope younger generations will have a more holistic, inclusive way of understanding and experiencing beauty. 

My love for makeup ultimately grew from an internal place of discovery. 

When I reflect on these moments, it’s less profound, really. It’s the YSL Glossy Lip Stain in a coral shade I carried with me everywhere from 2016 to 2017. Dabbing it on my lips and cheeks made me instantly happy. It’s the first time I wore the ABH highlighter that you could “see from the moon.” It’s playing with glitter eyeshadows in my day job as a beauty merchant and realizing: This is fun. 

I find this to be an interesting phenomenon. We form a holistic relationship with makeup through a mixture of the right timing, curiosity, and abandonment of preconceived notions. For example, we’ve all had that moment when someone says to you, “Eyeliner would look so good on you!” You immediately have flashbacks of black eyeliner running down your cheeks at the end of a hot day or a handful of unfortunate attempts at a cat eye look before big events. But ultimately, 

The magic comes from discovering the secret to makeup working for you. 

Perhaps you find a product type or color that suits you or a different way to apply it. But you also gain a newfound sense of ease, confidence, or sexiness. 

Whether or not I consider myself to be a “makeup person” now, I love that it has allowed me to connect with people in my life. My friend Shikha Gupta, who I hadn’t seen in years, visited me recently. What started as “You have to try our eyeliners,” evolved into a full makeup session, where I tested all our products in development on her face. She left feeling beautiful and bewildered. Her parting words were, 

“I really didn’t expect you to be a beauty founder, but I can see you are so passionate about this.” 

In a way, I hope people around me feel less intimidated by makeup; my perspective of beauty doesn’t put people into categories, because I don’t quite belong to one. 


As told to: Samia Abbasi, Editor

Cover image credit: Badal Patel, @bybadal

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