the beauty issue
January 18, 2003 04:14 PM

I read in some book (I think in "Unbearable Weight", but this is the disadvantage to reading three books at a time) that the idea of beauty and fashion as self-inflicted feminine torment or delight originated in the seventeenth century. The root of the idea is that women are slight of mind and corporeal and therefore vulnerable to such trivial concerns - it's part of the whole "weaker sex" concept.

Considered in that light, fashion, even modern fashion, doesn't seem quite so innocuous. It sounds as if we, as women, are still blamed for the excess of time and money spent in pursuit of fashion. I don't mean only the pursuit of a "perfect" body - but rather, the amount we spend on the products and processes that constitute a merely acceptable, presentable female appearance.

This is some of the time and money I spend each year so that I may go to work in the corporate world:
1. Daily shower and hair wash: 62 hours
2. Daily hair grooming, just enough to look "smart": 41 hours
3. Hair products to facilitate 1 and 2: $300
4. Skin care & make up application, just enough to look "smart": 25 hours
5. Skin and make up products to protect face from office air while looking clean and flawless: $500
8. Hair cuts and sandal-season pedicures: $750
7. Enough clothing to ensure no obvious repetitions in two weeks, all seasons: $900-1200

These are all activities in addition to the standard grooming activities expected of a man (shaving, showering, teeth and hair brushing), and includes none of the purely frivolous beauty expenses in which I occasionally indulge. And I'm not even particularly "high-maintenance" (though women will note from the dollar amounts that I spend more than absolutely necessary on some products).

Thing is. If I did not spend this time and most of this money, I would be seen as less capable, less concerned about my work (and myself), less promotable and less employable. I would make less money. That's the nature of the corporate, mainstream, work world. The arena in which men and women are generally able to make the most secure money, and the arena in which men's earnings are still 25% higher than women's.

In other words. The beauty issue, often dismissed as only appearance-focused, is damned well an economic issue, too. And it's not something women inflict on ourselves. Reduced to a simple form, it's a cultural and economic demand placed upon women (and certain men) by society at large (which is, of course, made up of both men and women).

[I should add, by the way, that this is far from my most well-thought-out argument - even when edited, it's quite reductive, partially because it's primarily a response to a couple of books. Given my empirical knowledge of women who dislike the perceived requirement that a woman follow certain grooming routines in order to do something basic like go to work, I do disagree with the idea that feminine grooming is biological and not social.

In any case, upon re-reading, I realize that this post failed to convey its point, namely: while "serious" feminists have a tendency to reject the idea of beauty and fashion as frivolous, the elements that go into a "professional" feminine appearance do result in significant economic ramifications for many women.

Now, stop talking about this one. I'll say something more articulate on this subject later.]

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your wicked thoughts

Don't feel guilty about the showering though. To me, a hot shower is a luxury and a nice place to escape the world.

I see your point though.

My collection of blood-red lipstick (all slightly different versions of the same color) is probably my main contribution to the "beauty problem."

these are the thoughts of kerri on January 18, 2003 07:05 PM

Can't it just be biological that women (not all, but more often than not) engage more heavily than men in behavior that one might describe as preening? Something common and natural as the boyhood strutting and marked quietness after puberty. People who have less than typical gender identities trade off engendered behaviors as well. How would that be a nurture issue? Or worse, how would it be what sounds like a conspiracy?

these are the thoughts of Trey on January 21, 2003 02:40 PM

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