dancer bending backwards

Hair styling. Nail painting. Clothes and accessories shopping. Laser treatments. Balancing on heels. Cosmetic surgery. Shaving. Tanning. Dermal fillers. Walking up stairs in a long skirt without tripping. Dieting. Make-up application. Botox. Walking down stairs in a short skirt without flashing anyone. The list of things people do for beauty goes on and on.

In the book Perfect Me, Heather Widdows argues that both women and men worldwide are experiencing increasing societal pressure to do more than ever for the sake of exterior appearance. She notes that women are expected to do more, more costly, and more time-consuming beauty tasks than men. But she also points out that the problem does not end with inequality:

“The problems with the increasing demands of beauty are not just that they are demanded more of one gender than another but the nature of the demands.”

In other words, keeping the beauty standards of women the same while ramping up the beauty standards of men will not result in a better world. The beauty standards are already troublingly high, Widdows says. She calculates that if a person spends 20 minutes a day on beauty between the ages of 15 and 75, that adds up to almost a solid year of beauty-related tasks over a lifetime. Furthermore, she notes, studies have shown that the average woman in the U.S. and U.K. spends about double that daily amount of time.

And then there is the monetary cost of all this beautifying, as well as the opportunity cost of all the things people could spend their time and money on instead. So we’re all on an accelerating roller coaster, unable to jump off without real-world consequences, but also struggling to hang on.

In what ways do you bend over backwards for beauty? Is it worth the time, money, and opportunity cost?

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