The Cost of “Maintenance”

My look, such as it is, is pretty low-maintenance. It was low-maintenance even when I dressed professionally, but I’ve cut back further. Based on this description, it sounds like I must look like a wild animal.

I woke up like this…

However, I realized just how much I spent for my so-called low-maintenance look. (All of my estimates include tip when applicable because beauticians, cosmetologists, hair stylists, etc. can’t pay for groceries and rent with gratitude alone.)

Eyebrow & upper lip threading – $20
Salon haircut* – $15
Salon shampoo & conditioner* – $20
Facial* – $14
Clarisonic brush replacement* – $9
Pore strips – $14
Razor refills & shaving cream (used within an inch of their lives)* – $7

* I didn’t actually purchase these items every month, so the monthly cost is calculated based on yearly expenditure.

My low-maintenance look was costing about $100 a month, which was more than I expected. I’ve since cut down on skincare paranoia items and switched to cheaper alternatives. The thing is, even before cutting back, this list is actually low-maintenance. There are women who spend significantly more, and feel it is necessary for their day-to-day lives.  These are some common “maintenance” items that I did not spend money on:

  • Salon coloring/highlights (even maintaining box color isn’t cheap)
  • Braiding, perming, weaves, or wigs (Here’s a brief glimpse regarding time, cost, and more as I have no authority or personal experience to draw from.)
  • Manicures and/or pedicures
  • Salon body hair removal
  • Teeth whitening
  • Make-up (It lasts a while, but just look here, here, or here for an idea of the expense.)
  • Wrinkle creams (Many are well over $100.)
  • Tanning or “fake bake” cosmetics
  • Acne medications and/or dermatologist visits

All of the list above doesn’t even get into special diets, workout paraphernalia, and procedures like botox or fillers. It doesn’t even get into the time and cost of maintaining a trendy wardrobe. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a look before even getting dressed.

Now, I work from home and don’t move in circles where I need to look “polished.” I seriously think that I could live my life bare faced in jeans and T-shirts and only dress up when I want to. This is a luxury. There are women who spend tons of money in order to move through the world and be taken seriously, to be seen as “normal” or “respectable.” Let’s be completely honest, some spend a lot in order to be seen at all.

There’s this idea that women who spend a lot of time and effort on their looks are trivial and concerned with trivial matters. As if they could drop all the effort it takes to look feminine and see a world of possibilities for how else they could spend their time and money. This is often said by either old school feminists or young men who don’t actually know what women look like first thing in the morning. (Or people of certain religious affiliations, but that’s way beyond the scope of this post.)

Regarding the old school feminist perspective, there is a certain freedom in letting go of all that effort. However, it’s a lot easier to do if you’re upper middle class and white, which helps in being taken seriously in general. Regarding those dudes who say, “Women don’t need make-up! I think they’re all so beautiful! Blah, blah, blah.” Shut-up. You’re the reason why there’s a wikihow for a no-make-up make-up look with 13 steps. You’re like the dudes who want a girlfriend who can eat whatever she wants but remain effortlessly thin and never mention dieting around you.

I’ve rejected beauty norms before (short, spiky hair, unisex clothes, etc.) and no one let me forget it. Peers, family members, and even strangers felt the need to remind me that I didn’t look right to them. Me not being beautiful enough was apparently a community wide problem. When I followed the norms more in college (on the thinner side, make-up, tighter/more revealing clothes) the social rewards were obvious, especially from people who previously weren’t so friendly.

Now there are people who really enjoy fashion and make-up, which is totally legitimate. The problem comes when time, money, and effort are required, sometimes even explicitly: Title VII covers the characteristics of various protected groups, which does not include the level of attractiveness and maintenance effort expected from employees, including weight, manicured nails, and “done” hair. (There is some nuance to how Title VII has been applied regarding employee grooming; you can read more here.) While it makes sense to have well-groomed employees who interact with customers, “well-groomed” is pretty subjective. Does it mean clean and covered or made-up and wearing heels? Also, it almost goes without saying that the time, effort, and money it takes to achieve a “well-groomed” appearance can be vastly different for men and women depending upon whose standards you follow. (By the way, you can also be legally fired for being too attractive.)

So while I’ve been able to cut my “maintenance” way down, I certainly don’t judge the women who do feel like they need to cut into their paychecks to achieve a certain appearance. I don’t judge women who take great joy in having a vanity overflowing with make-up and love their monthly spa treatments. However, I look forward to a time when a woman is judged by her character/work ethic/taste in movies/beat boxing, instead of how decorative she is. To paraphrase Erin McKean from A Dress A Day: Prettiness shouldn’t be a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

(Featured image from

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