Kate Harding has a thread up today about the cost of beauty. According to some man who shouldn’t be allowed to write for the Times because he is too stupid, “American women” spend about $1700 (£850-ish) a month on beauty. Obviously, they don’t, because apart from anything else very few American women have that sort of disposable income, let alone enough of it to spare on beauty.

But out of curiosity, what do we actually spend? And how much time do we spend on beauty rituals? I think it’s worth adding up the cost of beauty – because knowing that cost is essential if we want to understand how women are disadvantaged relative to men in their “compulsory” expenses.

First, what counts as a beauty expense / ritual?

  • Anything you buy or do for the purpose of looking, feeling or smelling nice or being more attractive to other people does count. Make-up, perfume, skin potions, nailcare, hair products, haircuts, waxing or other body hair rituals are examples.
  • Expenses or time spent on cleaning your body do not count. So soap, toothpaste and shampoo (but not conditioner) do not count unless you buy an expensive kind specifically because for beauty reasons. Similarly, although the cost of “feminine hygiene” products is very relevant to a discussion about what it costs to be a woman, I don’t think it comes under the heading of a beauty expense because it is about hygiene, not beauty.
  • Expenses or time spent for health or well-being reasons do not count. So if you spend time and money on a yoga class to feel good / better (rather than to look more toned) or if you buy skin creams to stop your skin from itching or hurting (rather than to make it look or feel smooth and youthful or whatever) then these things do not count.
  • Clothes do not count unless you feel that your clothes budget is higher than it needs to be for purely functional reasons, because you spend money on e.g. magic pants, or bras that you don’t actually need to wear, or bras that you have chosen because they change the way your breasts look rather than because they make your body feel more comfortable, or shoes that you wear because you think they make you look good rather than because you like wearing them.

So, to me.

Rituals – I brush my hair every morning. It takes about 2 minutes, which is probably about 1 minute and 30 seconds longer than it takes the average man to comb his hair. I cannot think of anything else at all. I don’t do haircuts, I don’t remove body hair, I don’t condition my hair let alone use other products, I don’t wear make-up or perfume, I don’t even spend 30 seconds in the morning putting on a bra!

Expenses – I probably buy a new hairbrush about once a year. Say £10 a year. I don’t count hairbands (another £2-3 a year, wow) as a beauty expense because (1) they are purely functional to get my hair out of my way and (2) actually a ponytail is not a good look for me. 😉

Gosh, no wonder I’m single.

Hmm, I’m feeling like a nun, no strike that – I’m just a frumpy British woman so this is normal. Right?

Well it wasn’t normal for me until fairly recently. I’ve never been seriously into the beauty merrygoround, but even I did used to spend more time and money – I would do the body hair thing, if half-heartedly; I bought expensive minimiser bras; I would spend modest amounts of money on assorted potions which I would then use infrequently; occasionally I would go on a diet and buy special diet food to make my body thinner and more acceptable.

And I haven’t stopped doing those things out of principle. I haven’t stopped doing them because now I am a feminist it is somehow Not Allowed. Feminism has enabled me to stop doing these things not because feminism forbids me from “taking care of my looks” but because feminism pointed out that it isn’t actually compulsory.

What a relief, to know that these boring, expensive, uncomfortable rituals are not compulsory!