Beauty Culture: Where’s the Line?
Want to know how to make a bachelorette party awkward real fast? Simply interrupt the botox convo with a quick introspective question about the degree to which we’re collectively upholding patriarchal beauty standards by opting in ourselves.
I don’t recommend this if you have either, a. been drinking and are feeling fortified by liquid courage to get on your soapbox (this can be grounds for regret in the morning, depending on how feisty you get). Or b. aren’t prepared for a combination of blank stares, eye rolls, or verbal pushback.
That said, it’s hard not to get a little worked up upon hearing how much the average woman spends on maintaining her appearance over the course of her life. As one Byrdie writer puts it, it could put you through Harvard.
That’s right. The average woman spends about $313 per month on her appearance. Which adds up to $3,756 per year or $225,360 over the course of a lifetime. What the actual fuck. That’s double what men spend, which tracks, considering all the anti-aging, skincare, makeup, plastic surgery, weight loss and other miscellaneous beauty products women typically purchase. Not to mention the pink tax, or a markup on goods and services marketed toward women.
I’m now getting very sweaty and borderline rage-typing, so let’s move on from the numbers.
Some of these purchases are fun. Things that come to mind are buying a new bottle of nail polish, getting a haircut, or taking time to have a cocktail and get dressed and put makeup on before a night out (when that was something I regularly did). It’s also totally normal to have a healthy sense of pride in how you present yourself, and enjoy expressing yourself through your appearance.
But where’s the line?
It’s of course okay to care about how we look. But at what point are we wading into the waters of self-objectification, and putting a majority of our resources toward validation from others?
Oftentimes utilizing beauty products and services can come from a place of insecurity about how we look. For example, skipping an event because of a breakout, or panicking at the thought of leaving the house without makeup. A lot of this is about molding ourselves to conform to “ideal” beauty standards set for us by our society.
We’re taught from a young age that being attractive is highly important for our happiness and “success”/stability in life. Afterall, it wasn’t long ago that being worthy of male attention was a lifeline for women. Like you couldn’t get a credit card or purchase a house without a man (🙄). So we’re not just making this shit up. We are biologically wired to seek approval and avoid rejection.
We’ve noodled on this topic quite a bit around here, and it’s something that comes up quite a bit with our clients too. Does shaving our legs make us bad feminists? Does the patriarchy win every time we apply eyeliner? More thoughts on this from us in this episode of the pod:
It’s totally normal to care about your appearance and put effort into presenting yourself, AND you can also work on improving your body image and embracing more neutrality. Things like skincare, makeup, and clothes can be tools for feeling how we want to feel. But they can also be detrimental if our self worth hinges on them and they’re zapping our resources. Whenever you need a little touch back to reality, just recall that statistic about how much the average woman spends on “maintaining” beauty, and think about how else you might use a couple hundred thousand dollars.
It’s important to note the varying levels of privilege surrounding this conversation. Not only in the aforementioned statistics: that the question of how much should one spend on beauty products is, in and of itself, a privileged question to ask. But also, there is very real stigma in our culture and people are frequently treated differently based on how they look. Being beautiful is something that is rewarded, so it makes total sense that we’re all trying to be more beautiful. Being thin is also a privilege, and we are not here to ignore weight stigma or the anti-fat bias in our society. Again, it makes sense that we’d all want to be thinner, because our culture perceives thinness to be more attractive. The point here is not to suggest you stop pursuing whatever appearance you want to pursue.
I’m speaking to women who perhaps are a little tired of constantly trying to achieve those beauty standards, and realize the cost, and don’t want to pay it anymore. But maybe also have some questions about how to actually shift their thinking and behavior.
So again, we have to ask ourselves, where is the line?
We believe what matters is the intention.
Asking WHY you’re doing something, when it comes to a beauty product or service, and how it makes you feel.
Here are some questions that might be useful, running through your current routine:
- Am I spending a lot of time, energy and money on how I look, so that others find me attractive?
- Do I actually enjoy this? (Honestly, does anyone actually enjoy getting a wax?)
- Would I do this if I didn’t care about how I looked? Aka is this a useful form of self care for me?
- Is this in any way harming me, either physically, mentally, or financially? Or in other words, would my current self have appreciated my younger self caring a little bit more about her credit score and how that might impact her future and perhaps skipping all those goddamn blow outs? Yes. Yes, she would.
- Could I be putting these resources toward things that will support my happiness/provide fulfillment or pursue something more meaningful/impactful?
- What would happen if I didn’t do this/what is the perceived fear?
If you’re constantly thinking about how to improve your appearance and it’s exhausting, taking up a lot of mindspace, or it’s using precious resources, there is absolutely another way to live.
You can take care of yourself and take pride in your appearance without obsessing or feeling unfulfilled. Here are a few shifts I’ve found to be helpful in my own life.
5 ways to “draw the line” when it comes to beauty culture:
- Embrace more neutrality. You don’t have to think you’re beautiful all the time or look a certain way in order to respect your body and take care of yourself and your needs. Maybe sometimes you’ll feel like slapping on some lipstick and hitting the town, but you certainly don’t need to in order to be acceptable or worthy of happiness, love or success. At the end of the day, how you look is the least interesting thing about you, and the more neutral you can be about how you look, the better your overall body image will be.
- Shift the intention. It’s possible to appreciate your appearance and body without needing validation or constantly judging yourself by shifting your intention and focusing on how you want to feel. It may take some time and doing some body image work, but asking what will help support your intention is a great place to start. Maybe comfortable clothes that fit your body well, or determining what YOU find attractive (vs. what others do), or asking yourself what you need to feel how you want to feel. Real self-care, which can encompass things like therapy, or crying, or calling a friend, doesn’t typically look like the commodified beauty industry version of self-care. Though a spa day kinda sounds great right now.
- Check your self-talk. How are you speaking to yourself about your appearance? If you’re regularly being an asshole and starting each day with a mirror-front smackdown, it makes sense that you might be on the lookout for any beauty product or service that’s going to “fix” your appearance. So you have to reign in that inner critic in order to reserve your resources. Next time you notice the harsh self-talk, try to shift to more observational thoughts (“The woman is wearing pink lipstick”), or perhaps even something compassionate (“What would I say to my friend right now if she were being mean to herself about her appearance?”). This takes some practice, but is truly the crux of body image work.
- Practice cultural criticism. A key part of improving your body image so that it doesn’t completely hinge on how you look is building awareness around the messages you’re getting. If the only information you’re consuming about how you’re supposed to look is coming from say, The Kardashians for example, it makes sense that you’re going to place a high value on your appearance and equate that with your worth and success. It’s so helpful to check your social media feed and potentially detox any accounts that make you feel inadequate or lacking because of your looks, and notice how media or advertising in general is negatively impacting you.
- Shift your focus. Finally, think about just how much of your time, energy and money is going toward your appearance (time to get really honest with yourself), and ask how else could you utilize these resources that you’re currently spending? What else might you want to think about? What have you been putting off until you look differently or lose weight? We don’t build confidence and create lives that feel good by changing our bodies. Living the lives we want becomes possible when we give up the battle with our bodies, embrace more neutrality about our appearance, and decide to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards.
So there you have it: our answer to the question around where to draw the line when it comes to beauty culture. At the core of this question, of course, is a question of body image. How much of your overall body image hinges on your appearance and how other people perceive it? How much of your self-worth is dictated by your looks? Is this something that is taking up a lot of your resources, or something that really doesn’t bother you all that much?
Body image is a big focus in our personalized coaching program, because it’s hard to live a confident, fulfilling, healthy life when you’re bogged down with negative body image and a faulty relationship with food. If you’re ready to relate to your body in a different, more positive way, set up a free Breakthrough Session to chat with one of us about where you’re at and where you want to be. Maybe you’re not sure where the line is in your own life between enjoying beauty products and using beauty as a tool for self-objectification.
And if you’re not quite ready for voice-on-voice contact, our free video series about how to stop hating your body is a great place to start. You can access that right this way.