Would YOU hire this woman, OR this one?

BLOW-DRIES, MAN­I­CURES, EYE­BROW THREAD­ING… THESE USED TO BE LUXURIES, NOT THINGS WOMEN CON­SID­ERED ES­SEN­TIAL TO GET NO­TICED. A SELF-CON­FESSED EX­TREME GROOMER IN­VES­TI­GATES ‘PULCHRONOMICS’ AND TRIES GO­ING COLD TURKEY

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - SNEAK PEEK - WORDS ANNA MAGEE

as per­sonal mile­stones go, my first blow-dry is up there with grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity and get­ting mar­ried. It was 1983, I was 14 and my hair­dresser had just dis­cov­ered the pad­dle brush. Un­til then my black hair grew up and out in­stead of down. ‘Let me try some­thing new,’ she said and went on to blowdry my hair straight (al­beit with a few mid1980s flicks). Sud­denly in the mir­ror I saw a girl with hair that swished. Later that day, when a friend called me pretty, I was hooked. For the next 26 years I blow-dried it daily, spend­ing hours be­fore school, then later work, and even be­fore 6am flights.

Over the next two decades I dis­cov­ered more ways to ex­pend time and money on mak­ing my­self pretty, from con­cealer to Brazil­ians. Whether I was go­ing to work or meet­ing a friend in the park, the daily hour-and-a-quar­ter rit­ual was the same: blow-dry­ing my hair to silky straight­ness, then ap­ply­ing serum, mois­tur­izer, primer, con­cealer, foun­da­tion, pow­der, rouge, eye­liner, eye shadow, mas­cara, lip liner, lip­stick, high­lighter and more pow­der.

I must have been an early adopter, be­cause such ‘ex­treme groom­ing’ is now the norm for many pro­fes­sional women of my gen­er­a­tion and younger. One friend, who runs a med­i­cal­re­search com­pany, has her hair blow-dried

pro­fes­sion­ally be­fore ev­ery big meet­ing (two to three times a week). An­other is a property lawyer, who re­cently con­fessed to spend­ing £300 (over R5 400) on hair prod­ucts ev­ery two months. That’s on top of the £450 (over R8 000) she pays ev­ery four weeks for her colour, high­lights and cut, the £75 (over R1 300) per fort­night she spends on gel nails and the £60 (over R1 000) per week that goes on eye­brow thread­ing.

Why is it that in­creas­ing num­bers of women are spend­ing more time and money than ever be­fore on their ap­pear­ance? For our moth­ers – many of whom were ac­tive in the women’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment in the 1970s and are dyedin-the-wool fem­i­nists – this turn of events will be deeply shock­ing. Af­ter all, aren’t we sup­posed to have left be­hind the idea that a woman should be judged on her looks?

Ten years ago, the blow-dry sa­lons and nail bars on ev­ery street cor­ner in New York would have seemed alien to Bri­tish eyes. But now they are pop­ping up every­where in the UK. The

‘We’ve tested it over and over again and beauty is one of those re­ces­sion­proof mar­kets’

three years and is set to con­tinue grow­ing. Last year alone, we spent a record £1,3 bil­lion (over R235 bil­lion) on beauty in Bri­tain, ac­cord­ing to the mar­ket an­a­lysts Min­tel. So much for us all cut­ting back be­cause of aus­ter­ity!

Some people even claim the up­surge is an in­di­rect re­sult of the down­turn. ‘We’ve tested it over and over again and beauty is one of those re­ces­sion-proof mar­kets,’ says Kelly Ram­say, the head of mar­ket­ing at BABTAC. ‘People will find the money to buy them­selves a new lip­stick, to get them­selves a fa­cial. These aren’t seen as luxuries any more but ne­ces­si­ties, be­cause there is a real push for people to look a cer­tain way – pol­ished – to com­pete in a tough mar­ket, es­pe­cially in pro­fes­sional spheres.’ The big­gest in­creases, Ram­say says, are the ex­pen­sive pro­ce­dures – eye­lash ex­ten­sions, semi-per­ma­nent make-up for eye­brows and false nails.

Yet, as I have be­come older, my ex­treme beauty regime has ceased to feel like the de­li­cious self-trans­for­ma­tion it once did. It has Her­sh­esons chain of hair sa­lons has four blowdry bars in Lon­don, while Nick Robertson, the founder of ASOS, has just bankrolled Blow, a chain of ‘fast’ beauty bars, open from 7am to 9pm, where women can have a blow-dry and their make-up and nails done all in 30 min­utes. The num­ber of nail bars has grown by 20 per cent in the past year. No won­der, per­haps, when the aver­age woman aged be­tween 20 and 45 now spends £450 (over R8 000) a year just on her nails.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Beauty Ther­apy & Cos­me­tol­ogy (BABTAC), the beauty mar­ket has grown by 120 per cent in the past be­come ex­haust­ing. Ter­ri­fy­ing as the idea was, I de­cided to go bare-faced in the in­ter­ests of ‘re­search’. Would my choice to present my­self dif­fer­ently to the world af­fect how that world saw me – or how I saw my­self?

On the first day, as I sat on the tube with wet hair and a face free of make-up, with only a slather of serum and sun­screen be­tween me and the world, I be­came con­vinced a woman was star­ing at me, won­der­ing if I’d for­got­ten to fin­ish get­ting ready. As the week pro­gressed I no­ticed a sur­pris­ing num­ber of women star­ing at me on pub­lic trans­port or as I looked up in meet­ings.

The aims of my groom­ing have changed with each pass­ing decade.In my twen­ties, it was about bold lip­stick, big hair, hav­ing Brazil­ians and look­ing ‘hot’ for men, mostly. From my thir­ties, the in­ten­tion was to look pro­fes­sional, like some­one who should be paid a de­cent salary. Now I’m 44, I walk a fine line be­tween not want­ing to ‘look my age’ and pro­ject­ing the right im­age as an ac­com­plished ca­reer woman. For me, en­sur­ing I look glossy and groomed equals com­pe­tent, pro­fes­sional, to­gether. It is a look I trust on other women. This may sound shock­ing to some, but look­ing groomed gives me more con­fi­dence than any de­gree, pro­mo­tion or pay rise ever could.And this isn’t just my imag­i­na­tion work­ing over­time. A study by Bos­ton Univer­sity and Proc­ter & Gam­ble found that people per­ceive women to be more like­able, trust­wor­thy and, yes, com­pe­tent when they are wear­ing make-up (as long as it isn’t too much – then they are con­sid­ered less trust­wor­thy).

One morn­ing, while con­duct­ing this barefaced ex­per­i­ment, I sur­veyed my­self in a ful­l­length mir­ror. My grey, blotchy skin and frizzy hair seemed to mock the smart pussy-bow blouse, cig­a­rette pants and wedges I was wear­ing. I was mis­matched. Later that day, in a meet­ing, my busi­ness part­ner looked wor­riedly at my face and asked, ‘Are you okay?’ (A re­cent study by the on­line beauty shop Es­cen­tual.com found that more than two-thirds of bosses would take a dim view of women not wear­ing make-up to key meet­ings, al­though they would say that!)

Ac­cord­ing to the so­ci­ol­o­gist and au­thor Dr Cather­ine Hakim, women who in­vest in the right make-up, clothes, fit­ness regime and hair­style put them­selves at an ad­van­tage at home, in so­cial re­la­tions and in the workplace by in­creas­ing what she terms their ‘erotic cap­i­tal’, even if they’re not nec­es­sar­ily nat­u­ral beau­ties. In her book, Honey Money: Why At­trac­tive­ness is the Key to Suc­cess, Hakim cites stud­ies that show this bias is present in six-month-old ba­bies, who pre­fer to look at the same rel­a­tively at­trac­tive faces that adults do. An­other rea­son, then, to max­i­mize your vis­ual ap­peal. ‘People who don’t make ef­forts to look well and groomed are ig­nored,’ says Hakim. ‘It’s noth­ing to do with fair­ness – it’s the real world and most of the be­hav­iour is un­con­scious. There have even been lab­o­ra­tory stud­ies that show people, such as trained psy­chol­o­gists, who are ab­so­lutely clear in their own minds that they never pay at­ten­tion to other people’s ap­pear­ance, be­have the same way as ev­ery­one else and fo­cus more on at­trac­tive people. Looks mat­ter.’

Groom­ing af­fects not only per­cep­tions of women but their earn­ing power, too, says Pro­fes­sor Daniel S. Hamer­mesh, an econ­o­mist at the Univer­sity of Texas. In his re­cent book, Beauty Pays: Why At­trac­tive People Are More Suc­cess­ful, he coins the phrase ‘pulchronomics’ to de­scribe the link be­tween salary and beauty, and points to com­pelling ev­i­dence show­ing that at­trac­tive, well-turned-out people earn sig­nif­i­cantly more than their homely col­leagues.

As my week with­out groom­ing wore on, I found my­self mes­mer­ized by other women and their make-up. One morn­ing, I watched as a woman, al­ready sport­ing false eye­lashes, ap­plied three dif­fer­ent foun­da­tions, two con­ceal­ers, two blush­ers, two eye shad­ows and two lip prod­ucts, and then sten­cilled in her brows us­ing pen­cil and pow­der. All this on the tube. In my mother’s day, this level of groom­ing would have been ex­pected only of beauty queens.

Dr De­bra Ferre­day, a se­nior lec­turer at the Cen­tre for Gen­der and Women’s Stud­ies at Lan­caster Univer­sity, says that ‘hy­per-fem­i­nine iden­tity per­for­mance’ – look­ing like the most tra­di­tion­ally fem­i­nine ver­sion of our­selves pos­si­ble – is now key to com­pet­ing at work, and points to fe­male con­tes­tants on The Ap­pren­tice to ar­gue her case.‘ The Ap­pren­tice win­ner was not only the most su­per-groomed of all, but some­one who set out to cre­ate a set of clin­ics in which you can have Bo­tox in your lunch hour, ’Ferre­day says. ‘That’s in­dica­tive of a ris­ing theme in which wear­ing very,very high heels and lots of make-up and be­ing per­fectly groomed has be­come the pro­fes­sional im­age ex­pected in the workplace.’

In an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive job mar­ket, our bod­ies and faces have be­come our brands, she adds. ‘Work is more un­cer­tain and the re­al­ity for many women is short-term con­tracts, free­lance work and pre­car­i­ous labour.We have to com­pete more ag­gres­sively with one an­other, and one way we do this is through ex­treme per­sonal groom­ing.’

Wor­ry­ingly, this is not only the pre­serve of adults, it seems. Wit­ness the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of fe­male ‘pam­per par­ties’, fea­tur­ing pro­fes­sional man­i­cures, pedi­cures and make-up to cel­e­brate our friends’ birth­days and other such oc­ca­sions.

The Dis­ney Bib­bidi Bob­bidi Bou­tique re­cently opened in Har­rods, where you can spend up to £1 000 (over R18 000) on a full Princess makeover, which in­cludes make-up, a ‘Princess hair­style’, nail paint­ing, a ball gown and a tiara. A Min­tel sur­vey of 6 000 chil­dren found that six out of 10 girls, aged seven, wore lip­stick and two in five wore eye shadow. ‘Ther­a­pists phone us up wor­ried that they have been asked to per­form beauty treat­ments such as wax­ing, elec­trol­y­sis and eye­brow pluck­ing on 10-year-olds, ’says Kelly Ram­say. ‘Per­son­ally, I have a big is­sue with lit­tle girls hav­ing beauty treat­ments. I have a daugh­ter who is three, and I wouldn’t want her, at the age of 10 or 11,made to feel she has to look a cer­tain way – it’s too young.’

Per­haps the clear­est il­lus­tra­tion of the pres­sure grown women face is the hys­te­ria Hil­lary Clin­ton en­coun­tered when she dared turn up to press events in In­dia in 2012 wear­ing barely any make-up, save for a slick of lip­stick – a cur­sory Google search throws up 25 mil­lion hits on the topic. Clin­ton’s ri­poste to her crit­ics? ‘I don’t have time to worry about make-up. If oth­ers want to worry about it, let them do the wor­ry­ing for a change.’

She’s not wrong about the time thing. By not do­ing my hair or make-up in the morn­ing I find I have an ex­tra hour and 15 min­utes on my hands. I feel lighter and breezier about life, not hav­ing to worry about whether my lip­stick is flak­ing or if my hair is go­ing frizzy in the rain.The ex­tra en­ergy, not to men­tion time spared, makes me more pro­duc­tive. And yet the irony – as be­came clear from a num­ber of com­ments that week – is that the world saw me as some­one who wasn’t com­pe­tent sim­ply be­cause I didn’t look it. No mat­ter how much bet­ter I felt in­side, I still cared about not look­ing right on the out­side.

In the end, it was a meet­ing with a group of fe­male col­leagues that ended my ex­per­i­ment. ‘You look… dif­fer­ent,’ said one, in a way that sug­gested she meant ‘tired’ or ‘di­shev­elled’. Their in­credulity, when I told them I was de­lib­er­ately go­ing with­out make-up, said it all. ‘But don’t you feel un­fin­ished?’ asked one.That’s when I de­cided to head straight to the near­est mir­ror to put on some slap.

‘Groom­ing af­fects not only per­cep­tions of women, but their earn­ing power, too’

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