For the past three decades, the marketing technique of Santoor, the soap brand, has remained constant. While most beauty and personal hygiene products have shifted their market base to the Gen Z, Santoor has miraculously continued to target the 30-something-year-old mother with young children. With this marketing technique, it has done rather well for itself. The Wipro owned brand is now the second-largest selling soap in the country. One recalls the 2014 ad where a young woman dances, waving around a ribbon and Saif Ali Khan was left flabbergasted, almost titillated, when he finds out that the woman was not the new heroine, but, in fact, a mother.
5 years on, another ad that targets the exact same demography – the thirty-something-year-old mother has been released. This time, the young hunk employed to drool over the “yummy-mummy” is Varun Dhavan.
The format is largely the same. A young woman, in a packed cricket stadium, starts dancing after catching the ball which was presumably going for a six. While she danced like a lunatic in a packed stadium, Varun Dhawan and some other woman (who looks older, and hence, clearly doesn’t use Santoor) tells Dhawan that they have finally, finally found their new “college girl” for a movie. At that point, with his tongue wagging like a panting puppy, Dhawan approaches the “college girl”, who turns out to be a Maa!
There are several things wrong with the ad itself if one looks closely. Firstly, the underlying assumption itself that mothers cannot be ‘heroines’ in movies is staggeringly clear when Saif Ali Khan is shocked that the woman is not a ‘heroine’ but a ‘mother’. Second, the fact that the mother in the second ad simply lets her child loiter in a packed stadium only portrays an image of a deeply irresponsible parent, even if the parent looks as young as a zygote.
However, apart from the basic flaws in the storyline, the underlying USP of the product itself is deeply unsettling. For over 30 years, Santoor has sold a dream to young mothers – that escaping the ravages of age is possible. That dream being used to market the soap mostly went uncriticised because after watching the ad, mothers would silently use the product and when it didn’t miraculously transform them into teenagers, tell themselves that they actually use the soap because it has natural properties like sandalwood and saffron.
With the digital revolution, the silent exploitation of insecurities is no longer possible. A trend took Twitter by storm where several women posted their pictures with the hashtag #SantoorMoms. The images were stunning. With some mothers looking like children and their children looking like their school/college mates.
However, as I scrolled through the hashtag, something troubled me deeply and at the onset, I could not really put my finger on it. I sat wondering, what was it about this trend that left me vexed? That 30-something-year-olds were trying to look like teenagers? Their clothes? Was I just an average, judgemental prude? Was it a tinge of jealousy, an emotion that I personally consider the greatest sin there is?
I realised then, much to my relief, that none of the reasons came close to why I had trouble coming to terms with the trend. The Gordian-knot in this issue was the underlying values, expectations and constructs that not only the ad but the trend was promoting in the society. To understand what truly bothered me, I had to, uncomfortably, dig into my own insecurities as the mother of a 3-year-old who juggles an extremely demanding job.
Motherhood is a supremely joyous journey. From the 9 months that the mother carries the child, nourishes it, literally with her blood, to watching the child then grow, find its way in the world and grow into a person the parents can hopefully be proud of.
While the joie de vivre of raising a child in unparalleled, bringing the child into the world has its own share of challenges. A woman’s body changes, her personality changes, her hormones wreak havoc and by the time she comes to terms with the changes in her life, the onslaught of the years start raising their ugly head. Some women are genetically predispositioned to handle the cruelty of the past autumns far better than others. Some, just aren’t.
After a difficult pregnancy, when my child was born, my body had changed beyond recognition. I had a serious case of post-partum depression and while my daughter’s face momentarily melted the worries away, the insecurities would invariably return.
A few months into motherhood, I was back to work and my depression had vanished, thanks to a supremely supportive family. But there were fleeting moments when I secretly thought about how my life had changed. While clearing my cupboard, that one favourite dress made me think of a time when I could step out, nonchalantly, without a care in the world, looking like a million bucks. While many other dresses were packed away in a carton, that one dress was folded and kept away as a reminder of what used to be.
When out with friends, a glass of wine started to seem like something that should be avoided, first because I was feeding my child, and then, because I wanted to get home to my daughter in my senses – ‘what will she learn if I pick her up smelling of alcohol”, I think.
“Please eat, beta, I need to get back to work”, I say to her now. “Please take a bath, beta, I need to go cook and then get back to work”, I say to her now. And then, at the end of the day, everything seems worth it, a day well spent.
As life moves forward, suddenly, a call from a college friend leaves you ecstatic. “It has been so long! 12 years!”, we say. And when he mentions an old flame and the childish wooing that was rejected eventually, you laugh at the beautiful life long memories. Much later in the day, you look at the mirror and think about what it used to be. The cheekbone was just a little higher, the breasts did not need the underwires and the ass… well.. the ass.. was far more appropriately shaped and aesthetically placed.
The change is not as drastic as a woman believes it is. It never is. At the cost of sounding pedantic, women overthink almost everything. But the process of acceptance, the process of realisation that their life has changed starts after one has a child.
Things have, of course, changed drastically and with life expectancy increasing manyfold and the fitness culture taking over, rightly so, the 30s can very well be considered the new 20s. However, the societal standards of beauty that are often imposed and ingrained in women is what drives women to the edge, wondering what used to be, and trying to crawl their way back to what used to be, even as their life progresses. It is often a silent tormentor that women don’t talk about. “I don’t care”, they say. “I am so much happier now than I ever was”, they say. But a slight tuck of the shirt to cover the love handle during a meeting, a slight tuck of the hair when a 20-something-year-old passes them at the mall, a slight moment of pause after putting on their lipstick, gives their torment away more often than not.
My trepidation with the Santoor trend is that it aims to not only exploit this underlying, unsaid, silent tormentor but also reinforce the impossible standards that are expected from women.
Human beings, and especially child-bearing mothers are not supposed to look like teenagers forever. Some do, and they are genetically blessed, but by and large, nature is bound to catch up, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. I know of very few 30-40-something-year-olds who would behave like teenagers jumping and dancing during a cricket match, not because they are conscious, but because their personality has progressed, experience, making them far more measured. While women come in all shapes, sizes and personalities, imposing the construct that middle-aged women behaving and looking like teenagers should be a goal to aim for is problematic and subconsciously, women riddled with these insecurities further that construct.
‘Age’ is certainly not what it used to be even a decade ago. Working women with demanding jobs and children live their lives just as joyously as any young-adult. However, to age gracefully with the full realisation of one’s responsibility is a blessing oft discounted. Doing so while not competing with women decades younger is grace which women should aspire for.
For a marketing gimmick to feed on unsaid insecurities of young mothers is an abomination that must stop. Women over 30 have no business behaving like 20-year-olds, and at the risk of sounding prudish, the ones who try almost appear mentally incapacitated. Every decade that nature bestows comes with its own triumphs, joys and even tribulations.
30-something-year-old accomplished women can dress well, act their age, be responsible and still look attractive. A woman really does not have to behave like a teenager, making a mockery of herself to be acceptable to the society and aiming to be attractive to teeny-popper boys is certainly an uncomfortable construct to further. It must be said here that I am referring strictly to the ads aired by Santoor and not the mothers who were sharing their pictures.
To impose a false, unmatchable construct on women that makes them run a race they can never win and end up looking stupid while trying is a curse foisted on modern society and only women can break the cycle – if not for ourselves, then our daughters. Let them not grow into a world that forces them to adhere to impossible standards.