Only a few years after being told that we need to wear makeup to appear competent, Debora L. Spar, President of Barnard College, is making us wonder whether our beauty routines are costing us valuable time that we could be investing elsewhere.
In an excerpt from her new book, published in the September issue of Glamour, Spar talks about why women can’t have it all. While she raises many excellent points, one that really stood out to me was the sidebar discussing the amount of time women “lose” over the span of their careers compared to men simply from grooming. According to Spar’s calculations, every year her beauty routine (which seems fairly average compared to most women I know) will cost her 282 hours, while her husband will only spend 30 hours making himself look presentable. Spar observes that, over the span of a 40-year career, this means she will “spend 10,080 hours- nearly 5 working years- trying to look as presentable as the average guy sitting next to me.”
I wish I could consider Spar’s observation shocking or abnormal but I think it’s quite the opposite. As a woman of color, I’ve often noted that if Black women could put the energy that goes into maintaining our hair (whether relaxed, natural, braided, locked or anything in between) into politics, we would rule the world. Unfortunately, in order to compete in one of the most conservative professions in the world, society expects me to look a certain way and to look that way (while maintaining healthy, manageable hair) requires an investment of time (and money!) that most of my counterparts could not begin to imagine. Mind you- I consider myself pretty low-maintenance, perhaps even too much so. If I devoted myself to keeping up with every single beauty routine required to be perfectly polished from head to toe, I’m not quite sure I could hold down a full-time job. Additionally, Spar doesn’t even begin to discuss the difference in time (and again – money!) it takes a woman to shop for and maintain a professional wardrobe as compared to a man.
So what’s a woman to do? Obviously we can’t just start rolling out of bed, slapping on cologne and donning yesterday’s trousers and a shirt and tie our mother/girlfriend/wife bought us. Many people envision mani/pedis and salon appointments to be some sort of spa experience and while they can be occasionally, Allure Editor in Chief Linda Wells observes that “people hop from one blow-dry bar or manicure chain to another, choosing speed and price over intimacy…Today, women are lucky to have time to even brush their hair; racing between work and kids, a quickie blow-dry is a welcome convenience.”
So is this beauty deficit simply one more thing we have to compensate for in our stilletoed climb up the ladder of success? Unfortunately, I think so. So how do we do it? I’m not sure anybody will ever come up with a definite answer but here are my suggestions for making it manageable:
- Pare it down to the essentials. Figure out what you need to look presentable and what is a luxury and prioritize them accordingly. Belle for example, doesn’t usually paint her nails, but does clip, file and trim the cuticles “because there’s unpainted and then there’s unmanicured. The former is a choice, the latter is laziness.”
- Pay the efficiency premium. This one is a tough one because budget constraints are a reality for most of us, but I think it’s worth it to figure out if there is any way within your means to make your beauty routine more efficient by outsourcing. Time yourself the next time you do at at-home mani/pedi, “wash day”, etc. and then ask yourself if it would be worth it to pay the price to reduce the amount of time invested in that task by letting a professional handle it.
- Schedule it. I am notorious for getting stressed out because I “need” to get my eyebrows done, get a pedicure, etc., and can’t seem to find the time. This generally happens when work gets crazy and I let myself fall into utter disrepair only to wake up one day and realize I cannot continue to appear in public like this. I’ve found that the solution is to plan way ahead (e.g. how many facials do you plan to get in the next year? Pick general dates and put them in the planner now), put beauty appointments into my calendar (even the at-home stuff!) and respect the time I’ve set-aside to complete the tasks. This way I waste less time trying to “find” time and am able to budget better as well. Also, it’s much easier to cancel a weekly standing appointment than to try and squeeze one in last minute.
- Multi-task. We all know that multi-tasking is generally a bad idea but I think this is one of the exceptions. If somebody else is focused on curling my hair or painting my toenails, I can use that time to read through documents, work on my iPad or perhaps even be on a conference call (if I’m very senior, nobody on the call can tell and I’m not disturbing anybody else in the salon).
- Don’t Obsess Over It. This issue is not unique to you. If Supreme Court justices, professional athletes and political powerhouses have found a way to make it work while still looking fierce and phenomenal, so can you. It might mean a few hotly debated media moments over your beauty choices, but you can do it.
How much time does your beauty routine cost you annually? Is it worth it? For more of Spar’s observations on the pressure to be perfect, check out the full Glamour article here.