A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Modern 'Womanhood'

We know that in order to be female on this earth, we spend way more money than men to live because we live a few years longer, get paid less and spend more on healthcare, to the tune of $849,000 over a lifetime. But what about the softer costs of lady-ness? In order to just be considered feminine, there's a whole bunch a hooey you're supposed to do to beat back the hairy, rough-elbowed forces of nature and maintain a socially constructed definition of femininity. In other words, you gotta keep that shit clean, shaved, perfumed, pampered and coiffed. But have you ever wondered at what risk or personal cost you pursue these demanding standards? Even if you enjoy it? Let's get to calculatin'.

Grooming

We've been putting our faces on for as long as there has been something to put on them. This must mean that we have never been completely comfortable bare-faced. Bare-faced can mean innocent or vulnerable, transcendently beautiful, and naked. It could also mean ugly, given-up, asexual, not feminine.

And while everyone faces the existential weight of grooming to one degree or another, this burden falls more heavily on women, because there are more things to do with the stuff we have to groom, more artificial heights to achieve. It's not uncommon to spend close to an hour or more getting ready every morning, and come a Friday night, go ahead and double those minutes. The list of what you actually do to wrangle your body into public-facing shape is kind of insane if you start listing all the moisturizing, plucking, priming and scrubbing.

The Cost

It costs a ton of money, plus makeup and the makeup counter, can make you sick. Plus, shaving and waxing hair that needs to be there means you're at risk for more infections. Then there's the great money suck of grooming, which varies among women. Too much grooming can also cost you money. Then there's the time suck: By some counts, you spend an average of one hour and 12 minutes per day, or three whole years of your life getting ready. That's a full day-and-a-half per year. More conservative looks estimated 136 days out of a lifetime spent doing the lady dance.

Instead You Could

In the 136 days, or six months, of your life you spend getting ready you could fly to the moon and back 22 times. Back on planet earth, in six months you could get six pack abs, plan a wedding, become fluent in a language, almost gestate a human, or earn a medical coding certificate. And of course in three years you could do any damn well thing you wanted. Masters, anyone? World traveler? House builder?

Benefit

Of course, you'll need that six pack to get a job if you forgo all the grooming, because your natural good looks will do very little to open any employment doors without the costly, time-consuming grooming ritual that signals to everyone that you're female, conscientious and compliant. Women who do bother dialing it up get promoted more often.

No really, what's to hate about loads of attention, good jobs, career climbing, and the giant societal thumbs up of playing by the rules? It's difficult to calculate what that extra effort scores women in terms of potential dates, because though it's obvious that the opposite sex typically prefers grooming, or at least mistakes it for being hot on the reg, there are always exceptions.

And please, don't be fooled by those studies saying men prefer less makeup. What they prefer when they say that is makeup that looks natural. That's not necessarily less, nor does it mean anything less happens in a woman's daily ritual to create the fresh, sunkissed look as opposed to the clownin' around. Even if you wear no makeup, you'll still spend all that time grooming to look groomed.

Equally hard to calculate is whether by doing all this endless tweaking, you will merely appear and are/feel more confident to the outside world, indicating that it's not the grooming, but the grooming effect, that leads to more of the rewards.

Clothing Procurement, AKA, Ladies Be Shoppin'

Oh women, you and your shopping that we like to mock you for while simultaneously punishing you for refusing to participate. Does this catch-22 make my ass look big?

Cost

Literally, it's around $6,000 annually. But the thing is, it's not possible to look feminine, fashionable, current, trendy, interesting, without actually putting the work in. That means considered, varied looks. That means you'll need to buy a variety of outfits befitting seasons, feelings, times of day, weight fluctuations, business vs. casual, evening, and a whole host of events in between. This takes time, money, time, caring, thinking about it, trying it on, asking someone's opinion, more money, wearing it, taking it back, doing the whole thing over, and still caring. Constantly. I don't know a woman who isn't always somewhere in her mind on the lookout for some wardrobe staple or another to complete, replace or enhance her existing one. It can be a real-ass drag. Add any body image issues into this mix and you've got yourself a full-fledged phobia.

That phobia will run you nearly 100 hours a year over the course of 30 annual trips to the dressing room.

Instead You Could

With 100 hours or four whole days, you could attend a self-love seminar, complete a course in project management, watch all of Arrested Development, and spring clean your house.

The Benefit

But you wouldn't want to do that stuff naked, or feeling schlubby. Like it or not, clothing can make or break how we feel about ourselves, how we express ourselves. It is, much like makeup, our public armor, how we are judged. While some of us, such as myself, really do dream of a personal uniform in triplicate to take all the fuss out of the search, the art and individual expression of the stuff is fascinating. Could everyone spend less? Care less? Do other stuff? Certainly. But that would mean fewer good outfits.

OMG, Shoes

In order to pound the pavement of the world we inhabit, you'll need shoes. But for women these are called SHOES, and they have been elevated to fetish object, personal brand, statement wear, Thing of All Things. I like flats, so meh, but I can see a good shoe when it steps directly on my toe, and like clothing, shoes do offer infinitely interesting possibilities for personal representation.

Cost

They say you spend $25k in your lifetime on shoes. What a bargain that is to seriously fuck up your feet. Like, toe-and-knee-surgery fuck up your feet. Compared to clothing shopping, we supposedly spend just 40 hours or so a year, in 15 trips, to find the righ shoes.

Instead you Could

Take any number of 36-hour jaunts to exotic locales.

Benefit

But think of all the heads that will turn, ladies, while you jaunt, with the right shoes. And oh how the legs will elongate. And my how the ass will finally take priority. Shoes are an outfit-saver, a conversation starter, a silhouette maker, easy to love from afar, easy to imagine the wearer's entire personality on the basis of what thought has obviously gone into, or not gone into their shoes. And even those of us who don't think we are picky about shoes are picky about shoes - I may like flats, but I am dedicated to finding exactly the right ones with as little adornment as possible. And that's because they mean something. They do. Also, you can't pay too much for a good pair of shoes. (My god, your feet are what you walk on.)

Self-Help

You're a woman, which means you're a work in progress. It means you're eating, praying, and loving yourself to your best life, a better you, a more physically invisible but therefore more spiritually visible you. There's never a time you aren't wondering if you and your partner are communicating enough in the exact right way about the right things, or if ALL your needs are being met while you also raise urban chickens, or if you are developing spiritually while simultaneously working on boosting your immunity. The self-helpy woman gene sometimes feels inescapable, or does that mean I'm brainwashed?

We're good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like us. But this doesn't stop us from going all kale and meditation-juice in our journey to the wonderland of self improvement. It's kind of bullshit, though, to suggest that the path to frugality and simplicity is lined with consuming more. But that's what the wealthy priv lit tells us, and us womenfolk are eating it up.

The Cost

You're out the money but you're not any happier. The ultimate happiness you feel justified in finding in one man, one vacation, one cashmere scarf, isn't materializing. This creates the risk for even greater depression and dissatisfaction with your actual TJ Maxx life. Nor did going the opposite route and ditching makeup for a year or refusing to buy any new toilet paper proffer the spiritual enlightenment you hoped.

Instead You Could

Go to actual therapy? Help others? Work on yourself without having to spend $60k on a meditation retreat and wear the cashmere scarf?

The Benefit

There's nothing wrong with a little self-help, or a lot, if it works for you. Some women have great success with it. If you get even a little bit closer to the better you, the better life, the better outlook you were searching for, who's to say a $9 coconut juice is frivolity on your way to fabulousness?

Being Skinny

Culturally speaking, you're not supposed to eat all that much, or if you do, you're supposed to feel really bad about it. And this is because no matter what you eat or how you feel, you're supposed to want to be thin. Losing weight or maintaining a weight or hating the weight you're at, no matter what your body looks like, is all part and parcel of femininity, so understood to be wrapped up in the backgrounds and foregrounds of our minds, that it's as omnipresent as the chemicals in our eyeshadow. The quest for the perfect body involves a whole host of activities, from what we do or don't eat, to how we do or don't eat, to whether or not we exercise, to the kind of services we pursue to reduce our unwanted bits.

The Cost

Hard to say, money wise, but 85% of the people who use weight loss products and services are, no duh, ladies. This makes us feel bad. Feel stupid. Feel ashamed. Feel great. Feel empowered. Take your pick. Or it just makes you feel bad about food without making you actually skinny. Then there's the real physical cost of crash or yo-yo dieting and the oh-so-common tears and sprains of exercising incorrectly. And the fact that our minds are forever fixated on this issue, pretty much a lot, can't be making us super haps.

Instead You Could

Do literally anything else other than sweat this. Yes, focus on health, but do not make the weight issue the neon sign on the front door of your self-esteem apartment in your brain. (Everyone has this apartment, right? Mine is full of zinnias.)

The Benefit

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, so the saying goes. Good health and healthy weight loss (if needed) are good things. Being in shape gives you energy to stuff. It lifts the spirit. It gives you a happier outlook. It boosts self-esteem.

It's not, however, a cure-all that should be pursued as if it is. Because sometimes, feeling skinny does feel good, but all it does it put weight on the back burner for a minute so you can feel bad about other things. Like your ass not being high enough. Which is why, in the end, it's so great to have those shoes.