You could make the argument that a woman’s worth is measured by her face – perhaps literally. A recent survey reports that women in the United States spend $300,000 over the course of our lifetimes, just on products that go on our faces. There is some regional variation; on the East Coast, women have more expensive faces, wearing an average of $11 worth of beauty products each day. In the Far West, in areas like Montana, the average cost drops to around $5 a day.
By the time I walk on the door on a workday morning, I’ve applied no less than thirteen products. The idea, I suppose, is to look like me, only better. The tally doesn’t count shampoo, facial cleanser, body wash, and shaving cream in the shower.
- Hair volumizing spray, applied while hair is damp to coax it into having some body
- Facial moisturizer
- Facial primer
- BB cream with sunscreen (I mix two tubes to get a shade that better matches my skin)
- Eyeshadow shade #1, base color
- Eyeshadow shade #2, contour color
- Eyebrow pencil
- Lip balm
You could say that it is my choice to do this. No one is forcing me. And yet.
I work as a consultant. There is an unspoken but no less potent expectation that women in my field will dress according to a certain standard and arrange their physical appearance accordingly. Every woman in the management chain, from project managers through vice presidents, wears makeup. I have only seen a single exception (and even she highlights her hair.)
I did the math. If I spend 15 minutes on an average workday styling my hair and putting on makeup, for 250 workdays per year (roughly) = 62 ½ hours go into looking better.
That’s over 1 ½ workweeks. And this calculation is only scratching the surface; it doesn’t count time at the gym, time getting haircuts, the occasional manicure or pedicure. All of this is time I’m not researching or reading or building new professional skills. All of it is time I’m not writing.
So comes the double burden for women in the professional space – and arguably, anywhere that women work in Western culture. We must not only be competent, but also attractive – or at least take steps to enhance our attractiveness. There are real financial costs if we don’t. According to a landmark study by Cornell University, attractiveness, and specifically weight, have measurable impact on promotions and wages.
So we are in a bind, spending our time putting this stuff on and then spending our hard-earned wages on buying more of it.
I don’t know if Jane Austen reached for the rouge pot before setting off for a local dance, or if Charlotte Bronte plucked her eyebrows before her meetings with her London publisher. And while I’m bold enough to spend most Saturdays bare-faced, I’m not ready to brave a client meeting in such a state. Yet I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I did.