Opting out. Leaning in. Having it all. Women have so many choices for buzzwords these days!
But what’s a lady to do when faced with making an actual choice? Well, there’s good news and bad news, and here they are simultaneously: it doesn’t much matter what you do as long as you look good doing it.
At least, that’s the message in the September issue of Glamour. It excerpts the forthcoming book by Barnard College president Debora L. Spar, Wonder Women, which posits that one thing keeping women from achieving parity is all the time we spend grooming ourselves.
Every year I spend 282 hours on beauty. Like the men against whom I compete for jobs, publications, and research funds, my husband will spend about 30 hours. So I’m running a beauty-counter deficit of 252 hours annually. In fact, over a 40-year career, I will spend 10,080 hours—nearly five working years—trying to look as presentable as the average guy sitting next to me.
So it’d be cool to pare back on the bikini waxes and maybe skip ironing forever, because ironing is the worst? Spar points out there’s more to the beauty standard than looking good under fluorescent lights.
...Oddly, as women have gotten more culturally liberated, we’ve also gotten crazier about our bodies. Americans, mostly women, spent more than $13 million on plastic surgery in 2007; 10 million U.S. girls a year have eating disorders; and any magazine rack confirms our obsession with one scantily clad celebrity after another.
Did she just call out magazines...in a magazine? This is one hell of a contradictory message to drop into the middle of 400 pages of fashion and beauty ads and editorial. Spar:
I’m not saying we should all give this stuff up...So let’s vow to comment on our friends’ successes as often as their looks.
Well, that seems reasonable. Can we get a supportive second from the fashion industry? Surely a designer like Giorgio Armani, routinely lauded for his understanding of the female body, acknowledges the burden fashion places on women. Here he is on page 162:
I see too many women forced into the wrong clothes because they’re on-trend. In fashion, as in any other field, there’s nothing worse than playing a field that isn’t yours.
Not helping with that whole burden thing, dude.
But maybe Glee star Dianna Agron can. In "My Epic Fashion Adventure," Louis Vuitton ferries her to Italy, where she’s, like, draped in silk by maidens and magical cobblers cradle her feet in handmade shoes, and that luxurious experience in no way whatsoever influences her views on the importance of high-end clothing and accessories!
The pieces I wore in Venice were exquisite—each its own work of art... When I wore those gorgeous dresses and heels, I was reminded that, as an actress, the style choices I make influence how directors think of me. There’s power in fashion.
Oh. We’re way off Spar’s pragmatic “presentable” standard by now. Back to her:
On an average day...I spend 15 minutes on my hair.
Safe to say she’s not following the guidelines in “Get Hollywood’s Best Hair,” which recommends two different hair products and four different styling tools, including a $300 hair dryer, to emulate January Jones’ follicles.
And what about those “five working years” Spar cited? How does that play out?
For years, as a professor at Harvard Business School, I was the only woman in a room of alpha men and still I always felt equal ...Then five years ago I was offered the chance to become president of Barnard College.
So Glamour honors hard work and persistence, except in the case of The To Do List writer-director Maggie Carey, who at 37, was deemed two years too old to be included in “Look Who’s Running Hollywood!” (“They’re very strict about checking IDs,” she said in the introduction she was relegated to writing.) And then there’s16-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz in “Superstar Beauty”:
I’m lucky brands dress me... But there are brands that say, “We can’t dress you until you’re 20.” People who buy their clothes don’t want to see a $50,000 dress on a 16-year-old.
Spar’s excerpt doesn’t address the financial costs of maintaining our appearances—lucky Moretz with those free clothes!—but Glamour goes all-in to demonstrate just how pricey it is to be well-groomed. $1000 designer shoes? “Worth the price tag.” A page subtitled “Just pick your style, boss lady” features a $932 skirt suit. Cover model Jennifer Aniston, billed as “Your Personal Shopper,” hawks $44 lip glosses and $2,850 purses, as if we all make bank prancing about in our underwear in mediocre summer comedies.
So it’s expensive and time-consuming to be beautiful and stylish, but opting out of fashion exacts a sum, too. If, as Spar says, magazines are partly to blame for this culture, are we magazine readers at fault for accepting it and perpetuating it? While Glamour says women are leaning in—”to the bathroom mirror”—an ad that appears opposite Spar’s excerpt illustrates this dilemma far more bluntly: A pink headline reads, “I could see it in their faces—it was my acne they saw, not me.” And the accompanying photo shows a woman wearing in a work dress, standing alone at the head of a table, with four people waiting to hear her speak.
Image by Jim Cooke/Shutterstock.