Makeup, fashion, waxing, lotions, creams, self-tanners, manis, pedis, perfume: it’s all really EXPENSIVE. Like Dolly Parton said: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”
Even if you are just doing basic level things (brushing your teeth, washing your hair, wearing deodorant of some form, moisturizing occasionally, maybe wearing mascara, lip chap, etc), there are still a LOT of products needed that all require you to part with your hard-earned money. If you happen to be going above and beyond that (not that you necessarily need to) and you do things like wear makeup, style your hair, color your hair, get waxed, etc., then the amount of money you potentially spend can take up a significant portion of your budget! If you happen to be someone who chooses to surpass that and pay for things like laser hair removal, laser resurfacing, botox, fillers, or who knows what else, then the sky is the limit for how much money it is possible to spend. I have pretty varied interests, and so I have a pretty diverse set of girlfriends, ranging from hardcore ultra-marathon runners who don’t wear much makeup, and don’t spend too much time or money worrying about keeping up with Kardashians (or Joneses, if you will), to downtown city bartenders who have a monthly budget for things like laser, botox, and fillers (I did spend 14 years as a bartender, but currently don’t have the kind of income that would allow this type of spending). Recently, at a baby shower, I overheard an acquaintance state quite proudly that she budgets a whopping 300$ per month for botox and fillers alone. This is to say nothing of her (evidently) high budget for hair color, hair styling, makeup, manicures, pedicures, etc. Now I don’t say this to judge, because she is likely making a lot more money than I am at this stage in my life (I hope). And honestly, if money was no object (which it never will be), who knows what I would drop it on…
Generally, if I averaged my friends in Canada and abroad, I would say that mostly they are women who take pride in their appearance, and spend some amount of money on hair cuts & color, makeup, lotions, hair products, the occasional mani/pedi (some more often than others), and some level of retail fashion. I also find (probably because of my many years in the service industry) that I have quite a good number of girlfriends who spend money on extra things like laser, dental whitening, botox, fillers, and sometimes plastic surgery.
Having said all this, let me take a minute to talk about my thoughts on this. I would say that I personally experience a lot of inner conflict around these subjects. On the one hand, I am vulnerable to social pressures, and so I want to wear makeup, and look “pretty” (whatever that means), and keep up with the local Joneses to an extent. (In truth, I found that last sentence pretty hard to write, because I am embarrassed by it. I think though, that it is is important for me to write it, because it’s the truth.) On the other hand, I regularly find myself ranging from anywhere between irritated and enraged that simply because I was born with a certain set of chromosomes (or a certain gender identity, as you prefer), I am forced to spend my money and my limited time on nonsense like styling my hair and painting my face EVERY. DAY., while men get to just roll out of bed good-to-go. I really have a hard time with this concept, and I would say I routinely rollercoaster up and down over 6-month periods between “I’m not doing any of this superficial $%*&!” to “I like wearing makeup & today I feel like wearing heels.” It’s sort of like I’m doing a cyclothymic rotation between staunch feminist and barbie doll. Well okay, that’s probably an exaggeration, since I would say my appearance generally remains pretty stable while it is only my internal perception of the process that changes. Now of course no-one has to adhere to these cultural expectations, but because so many people in our society walk around applying these types of unexamined biases without being conscious of them, it’s often better to do just enough meet that minimum criteria(in my humble opinion). Let me be clear, I hate this as a concept, but a lot of the people walking around with these biases happen to be hiring-managers, directors, CEOs, or even just the person who stands between you and that delicious looking donut you want to buy. Any time you interact with people, their basic reaction to you has a lot to do with how they are going to act toward you, and how hard or easy they might decide to make your life as a result. Keeping up with the basic status quo, unfortunately, may gain you access to areas, people, conversations, and opportunities that you may not otherwise have had, had you not complied with these expectations. I know, this is a terrible argument for a feminist (which I am), but I’m also a realist, and unfortunately, this is the cold hard (and ugly) truth. I’m not talking about “gaining access” or having your life “made easier” in a seedy way, but in a very basic, surface level way, and at a minimum, not causing adverse reactions in people prevents you from losing out on potential connections, conversations, or opportunities. Here is an example, let’s pretend there is a woman named Jane. Jane grew up with conservative views, and she thinks women should look a certain way. Let’s say Jane is 18 and she works at a donut shop. If I go in to get a donut and I present myself in a way that Jane disagrees with, she may (unwittingly) be less friendly to me, serve me slower, and not go out of her way to provide good service (or she might be great, but bear with me). Later on, Jane is an adult, and let’s say she is the hiring manager at a business I would like to work for. If I go in for an interview with Jane and I am, again, presenting myself in a manner Jane doesn’t agree with for whatever reason, how do you think my interview will go? What type of small, but consistent differences do you think Jane might make in rating my response to each interview question asked? What I’m saying, overall, is that as much as it creates a sort of rage that lives and grows in a deep part of my body and soul to know it, conforming my appearance to the gender roles of my society (to the minimum reasonable extent) makes my life easier than if I didn’t. It prevents me from losing opportunities before I even get to open my mouth to speak, and in some cases, it might even help me gain them(ex: “She looks like a nice girl“). To be very clear, I’m not saying it’s right. I hate it, but it’s true. All I’m saying is that I’m trying to have a realistic view of the world around me, in order to be able to navigate is accordingly. So yeah, this is an internal struggle I work with. I explain this struggle for a couple of reasons.
- To point out that, at least from my perspective, beauty/appearance related expenditures are not really an optional category (within reason).
- To explain that this cyclical struggle doesn’t only affect my feelings about the physical time and energy I put into my appearance, but it also affects how I am budgeting toward “beauty” at any given time.
Some examples of categories that currently exist in my budget are “haircuts/color”, “laser”, “toiletries”, “clothing”, and “fitness”(though this doesn’t mean I am putting money into them at any given time). I will note here that I don’t consider fitness to be strictly an appearance category, because it’s also my main social activity and my main mental health/wellness activity. However, there is an element of this for sure that is about appearance, so I list it here anyway. Depending on location in the cyclical struggle, I may feel okay with budgeting a higher or lower amount to these categories. Regardless of where I am with it though, I tend to keep coming back to thinking about certain questions: What percentage of my earnings am I okay with spending on this category? Why am I motivated to do this? Should I be okay with this? How does this fit in with my values?
I honestly don’t really have answers to these questions yet, and this is something I process on an ongoing basis. But here are my thoughts so far:
- Because I, albeit begrudgingly, view beauty expenditures as an investment in my ability to navigate my social & professional worlds, I am willing to part with a small amount of my money on it, and only so long as I am also aggressively paying down my debt.
- I hate spending money on these things, so I am always trying to find ways to bypass the costs. One example is that I am constantly on the lookout for rejects / hand-me downs from friends and family. I will semi-frequently remind people like my sister, my aunts, and cousins, that if they are getting rid of clothes, I am always receiving. I recently got a huge pile of clothing from an aunt who is sort of a chronic shopper. Half of what she gave me was from great brand names that would normally be outside of my reach, and they still had the tags on! She literally just bought them and threw them in her closet until she gave them to me! My sister has a similar habit, and has handed me down hundreds(if not thousands) of dollars worth of barely used MAC cosmetics, makeup brushes, clothing, and all kinds of other things, either because she tired of the colors, or for other reasons(ex: She once went through an anti-makeup phase, and gave me all her stuff). I am not opposed to accepting charity! lol
- I am also trying to get into the whole “buy nothing” and “buy and sell” groups on Facebook in my area, & will report back when I have had more experience with that.
- I do like to look nice, and it feels good to know I am putting my best face/foot forward. Though I do continue to ask myself questions like: Where is the line where you care about your appearance too much? How will I know if I have crossed it?
- I try to question my motivation for beauty expenditures. Why do I want this? How will this make my life different or better, if at all? Could it actually make it worse?
- A note on the question about making it worse: I definitely think with any investment of finances, energy, or thought into appearance, you will always reach a point of diminishing returns. The graph below about diminishing returns is out about output at work, but with beauty, I think the diminishing returns are actually a little more serious than just less results for your time put in. With beauty, when you pass a certain level of effort, it’s not just that you see less results, you also begin to actively have negative results, in the form of lowered self-esteem and negative self-talk. The thing is, at the end of the day we are human, so if you spend too much time thinking about your appearance and striving for something other than what you look like, it begins to affect your mental and physical health in negative ways. This is what I mean by the last question: Could it actually make it worse? I mean what when I look at something I might buy or do, I am really asking: Am I passing over into a place where I could start to feel bad about myself? To feel not good enough? Or less-than? If so, I might need to pass on this purchase and try focusing on observing my self-talk and trying to focus on my positive self-worth and other areas of life I enjoy for a while.
So yeah, this is where I am at currently. I try to keep the expenditures on appearance related items low and necessity-only, though I sometimes struggle nonetheless. It’s not perfect, and it’s an ongoing process of reflection, thought, introspection, budgeting, and financial planning. Does anyone else think about or struggle with these types of issues? If so, I hope this has been helpful in some way, or at the very least interesting.
Thank you for reading