The Burden of Beautiful

Last Saturday, I couldn’t take it anymore. My manicure was three weeks old. My nails were cracked, and the old nail polish was chipped down to a small semi circles on each nail. On a super busy weekend, I ran to the nail place for a mani-pedi.

Getting a regular manicure is a new thing for me. I never had the time or the money for lots of self-maintenance in the past. And I kinda hate it. Sitting under the nail blower for fifteen minutes waiting for the polish to dry is torture. I’m way too ADD to just chill out and enjoy the whole process. Half the time, I bolt out of the place with tacky nails that inevitably gets dinged, when I get to the car and fish around for a seatbelt.

But now I’m hooked. I’ve gotten used to having nicely filed nails. When I let them go, I feel positively itchy. Likewise with other maintenance chores that have now become part of my routine. I have to get my eyebrows threaded and shaped every two weeks. Every two months, Lauren the hairdresser spends 2-1/2 hours making my red hair a uniform color and then cutting and blow drying straight. At the moment, my natural color is auburn on the side and back, white at the temples, and blond on top; red hair ages oddly.

I have never spent so much time or money on my personal appearance before. And I’m uncomfortable with the whole business. Every hour in the salon is time that I could be doing something more productive.

And I do a whole lot less on my appearance than other professional women. Whenever a group of young women journalists and other professional commentators appears on CNN talking super important stuff about impeachment or corruption in the government, I’m forever distracted by checking out the perfection of their hair and makeup.

They must spend hours in a chair getting beautiful before sitting in front of the camera. There’s not a hair out of place. No natural curls there. They have glued on fake eyelashes and an inch of make up. And before that, there were probably tons of visits to dermatologists and spas to keep that chin from sagging and to close up that dent between the eyebrows.

Looking beautiful means less time reading, researching, reading, interviewing, and just getting smarter. It gives the dudes who just need a haircut and a suit such a huge edge. And I feel like the standards keep getting higher and higher.

Looking pretty is fine. Like I said, I like that my nails are trimmed and my hair is tamed, but there’s a point when it interferes with work. And life! I would like a bit of a return of old school 70s feminism that understood that trade-off.

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35 thoughts on “The Burden of Beautiful

    1. I know someone, who shall remain unnamed, who trims his nails, including toenails, with his teeth. And you’d never suspect, looking at him (6+ feet, 200+ pounds) that the feat was even possible. (haha, pun unintended, but pretty, good, right?).

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  1. Laura wrote, “At the moment, my natural color is auburn on the side and back, white at the temples, and blond on top; red hair ages oddly.”

    Oh, man!

    I’m kind of holding on to the moment where I can tell myself that my hair looks “blonder” when it’s actually just getting more white. But you can kind of do that with light brown hair, at least for a while…

    I’m such a beauty noob that when our oldest somehow got a prom date this past spring, I had to take her to Ulta and just do what they told me to, i.e. buy $200 worth of makeup.

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    1. bj wrote,

      “That can’t possibly be right. Did she actually look better w/ $200 of makeup? I note that the Bobby Brown teen makeup book is a good one.”

      I think she did. Our senior is normally pretty negative about makeup (WEIRD GOOP ON YOUR FACE!), so neither of us knew what we were doing.

      Fortunately, one of her school friends volunteered to do her hair and makeup for prom, and that went fine.

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  2. E. Warren with her cardigans or jackets and black everything else; A. Merkel doing her Pantone jacket thing. They are doing what they can in the direction of keeping it simple.

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  3. “Looking beautiful means less time reading, researching, reading, interviewing, and just getting smarter.”

    This was the ethic in my undergrad institution. When a movie was filmed on campus, folks apocryphally report that the costume director said that it looked like the students got dressed in the dark (most were men, but, it was true for the women, too). We used to seriously look down on the girls who would come to campus for dances with makeup on.

    So, my formative years were spent in a seriously anti-upkeep world (and, I married young, and, in the old days, without the internet, the expectations of “beauty” in the crowd around me did not require high upkeep).

    I still live my ethic, but am starting to worry about my hair. I’m looking at my nails, and they look beautiful as far as I’m concerned.

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  4. I’ve thought significantly less of Debora Spar (former Barnard president) since reading about her “upkeep” (which involves surgery and botox).

    I do believe that “upkeep” (by whatever means we define it, and the person doing the upkeep gets to). But, I also believe that as norms change compliance becomes harder to avoid. I, too, have noted the physical characteristics of the congresswoman (yes, the young ones, like the Squad, who are, notably, beautiful), but also older congresswoman, whose faces seem to get better sculpted, their hair straighter, . . . as they move up the political ladder.

    I’ve started to note a trend among the men as well, a trend towards men who look like HIckenlooper or Inslee (who look alike to me) rather than McConnell.

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    1. bj said,

      “I’ve started to note a trend among the men as well, a trend towards men who look like HIckenlooper or Inslee (who look alike to me) rather than McConnell.”

      Biden famously got hair implants. And quite a good investment, too–he’s much better looking now than he was in the 1980s.

      https://www.businessinsider.com/plagiarism-scandal-joe-biden-first-presidential-run-1988-2019-3

      There is some chatter that it looks like he’s had a face lift.

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  5. I feel like there has been upkeep inflation going on for a while, and I’m just not dealing. Take fake eyelashes. In the past, fake eyelashes were just for strippers and Dolly Parton. Now, everybody’s had a fake set. There are whole salons in my area just for gluing on fake eyelashes. CNN reporters have fake eyelashes. Come on, people! Just stop it! Here I’m feeling fancy for getting a manicure and everybody else is upgrading to $100 eyelashes.
    Just say no.

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    1. Laura said, ” Here I’m feeling fancy for getting a manicure and everybody else is upgrading to $100 eyelashes.”

      I bet there’s almost nobody commenting here who owns $100 fake eyelashes.

      I get why TV people do it, though. A friend of mine did a TV interview once, and she wound up with fake eyelashes as part of the official primping process. Being on TV is so uglifying that most of us are going to need all of the help we can get.

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    2. Yup on the upkeep inflation. Pro blow-outs, regularly, false eyelashes (honestly, I found mascara to be too annoying to wear), botox, surgery, . . .

      Except for the surgery, which bugs me, I think the other stuff is a choice, and don’t begrudge anyone for whom it gives them joy. There’s a well known author and activist who tweets her eye makeup in her otherwise strident twitter feed. It’s art on her face, and if it gives her joy, I enjoy the pictures.

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  6. I invest in the hair color, but just can’t manage to find time/energy/desire/money for the nails/eyebrows/facials/botox. (One benefit of living in the MidWest is that I’m not alone in this.)

    What I really want to find a way to invest in is lower back massages. I keep meaning to, but just don’t get to it. I feel the happiness glow I’d get from a pain-free lower back would far outweigh any beauty treatment I may get!

    Going all-out natural grey has been tempting, lately, too. Maybe in my next decade…

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  7. There was an article I saw recently that talked about the weight of the “everyone is beautiful” sentiment that spoke to me. I really did hang around a lot of people (including women) who just didn’t define themselves by their looks. If asked, they would not have said they were beautiful, and that was OK with them.

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  8. BTW, the style & picture in your photo is cute. It inspired me to look through my photos to find one that I liked to share with my family. I’m always behind the camera, so there aren’t many pictures of me.

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  9. I think about this a lot when I see my former students posting about their eyebrows being “on fleek.” What now our eyebrows have to be perfect too? Makes me somewhat happy that I am old and married and don’t have to deal with this shit. On the other hand, maybe I should as I’ve been on TV a few times, and watching myself standing next to the younger female co-host was NOT a good moment for my self esteem.

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    1. One of the comics had a line about the then new romance between Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson. “She knew he was different when he looked into her eyes and … well, when he looked into her eyes”

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  10. The extent of my upkeep is haircuts, eyebrow tweezing, and toenail polish in the summer. If I were going grey, I’d probably use hair dye, but I’ve got good genes. Thank God I don’t have a job where it matters or a partner who cares. (I’ve bought or encouraged the purchase of most of his current shirts and occasionally remind him that maybe the unshaved “mountain man” look is not the best for getting gigs; he’s a professional musician.) The main downside is that if I want to take a selfie, I often have to take a lot of them before getting an acceptable one.

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  11. It’s interesting how regional it is. In San Francisco I definitely felt compelled to make an effort and wore foundation, mascara and blush every day to the office. At least wearing glasses hides eyebrow issues so I don’t bother doing anything with them. Now that I’m in Denver I’m much more relaxed. With the exception of high level managers and sales folks everyone in my office dresses casually. And it’s even ok to be a bit scruffy at the local coffee shop in the morning. (Maybe you give off a just went camping vibe in this outdoorsy city?)

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      1. Marianne said, “Also holding the phone above your head and looking up into it gives you a faux facelift for those of us above 50 when taking selfies.”

        This is news I can use!

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      2. I just tried this. Better, but still goofy looking. Though I suppose I had that problem even in my 20s.

        My favorite quote from the movie Arthur: “You know, in a certain light she’s really quite beautiful. Of course, you can’t depend on that light.”

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  12. af184793 said,

    “My favorite quote from the movie Arthur: “You know, in a certain light she’s really quite beautiful. Of course, you can’t depend on that light.””

    Nice.

    Speaking of light, there are certain fluorescents (?) that are the worst.

    I don’t know what causes this, but there’s one particular campus restroom that has lights that somehow make every white hair on my head light up.

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  13. I make time for haircuts. That’s about it. My hair’s too fine to take chemical treatments; my aunt is nearly bald from years of coloring her hair. Allergies make most makeup a non-starter.

    Fortunately, my family runs to going white-haired, not gray-haired, with age. At present, it looks like I’ve had really expensive highlights applied in a salon.

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  14. Cranberry said,

    “I make time for haircuts. That’s about it. My hair’s too fine to take chemical treatments; my aunt is nearly bald from years of coloring her hair. Allergies make most makeup a non-starter.
    Fortunately, my family runs to going white-haired, not gray-haired, with age. At present, it looks like I’ve had really expensive highlights applied in a salon.”

    Hee! This is about where I am.

    After doing about a decade of 80s perms that made my fine hair go literally crunchy (not kidding!) and some regrettably matronly short haircuts later on (I have no idea what I was thinking in 2001/2002), it’s nice to have soft shoulder-length hair, even if it’s a little grey in spots. If/when I get a “real” job, I will probably put a bit more money in my appearance, but the priority would probably be fitness.

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    1. Wendy said, “These days I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair in the morning.”

      I’d say that another obstacle is having a teenage daughter and needing to be her stylist.

      I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I need to keep her looking presentable, make sure she has a dress and an appointment at Ulta before the next school dance, etc.

      I have NO idea what I’m doing (hence the $200 Ulta bill for prom). It’s like having to take an exam for a course I’ve never attended.

      The next kid in line is a boy (freshman this year), so I hope that means getting to take a little bit of a break starting next year. I have a set of twisty curlers that I bought a year or so ago that have never been taken out of the box, and maybe I’ll get around to trying them out.

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