Wandering through the personal grooming aisle of the CVS down the street makes me really depressed. There’s the pink half of the aisle, the “discreet,” “fresh-scent,” “for her” side, right across from the “bold,” “strong,” “after-party” scented side, which makes me both cringe and want to cry because all I want is for my armpits not to smell like asshole. F**k it. F**k discreet packaging and vagina sprays and invisible dryness protection. I hate this. Sorting through the elaborate gendered packaging just to pick out a deodorant is enough of a mindf**k as it is without adding up how much keeping my armpits from smelling like asshole actually costs. SPOILER ALERT: Being a woman is really f**king expensive. Not only do personal grooming products geared toward women generally cost more, the price of products like hair styling and hair removal products for women adds up over time because grooming standards for women require more frequent upkeep than they do for men.
In a blog post for Cafe.com, Leigh Anderson writes that, according to a 2011 study coauthored by by economists Stephen Deloach and Tina Das at Elon University, “women generally groom about 15 more minutes a day than do men — about 45 minutes to men’s 30. But […] women who groomed for 45 more minutes a day, for a total of an hour of a half, made 3% less money than the ‘average’ female groomers.” DeLoach explains that over a 30-year working-life, 3% can add up to $1.4 million. The financial and economic stats on grooming are depressing, but so is the day-to-day reality of the elaborate grooming routine women are sold. Anderson continues, “In my family, my two sons and husband are out the door in 15 minutes flat compared to my 30 or 40 — those asymmetrical blouses need to be ironed, and my hair requires some minimal attention to not look like a meth addict’s. My husband uses the time he spends waiting for me to work or play the guitar.” Women already earn less than men, a phenomenon which Anderson attributes, at least in part, to grooming habits. “In a financial smackdown between the plucker and the coder,” Anderson writes, “the coder is going to win. In a political smackdown between a man and a woman […] the man is going to win — he gets an extra 15 or 20 minutes a day to bone up on unemployment statistics or farm subsidies.”
Anderson proposes that the solution to grooming inequality, and by extension pay inequity, is to “opt out” of traditional beauty routines: shaving, makeup, haircuts, waxing — all of it. Even for someone who considers slathering on some BB cream and chapstick to be really going all out, I understand the appeal of Anderson’s razor-less utopia: “Imagine if you could reclaim all the minutes you spent examining yourself for something to tweeze […] What if, instead, you were doing something that directly or indirectly boosted your skills — playing the guitar, fooling around with some computer code, learning a language?” Zebbie Watson of xoJane agrees that women should let that sh*t grow out as part of a “No Shame November:” “To every woman who says she chooses to shave because she prefers it, I have one question: Do you even know what your body hair looks like? As women, we are raised in a culture that fears and shames our natural state.” Shaving sucks — unless you like it, in which case I guess it doesn’t — but being expected to shave and be hairless sucks. To answer Watson’s question — YES. I do know what my body hair looks like, and it is NOT GOOD. If I didn’t wax that sh*t off, I would have a mustache like a guy who might try tie you to the train tracks. Which is fine, but “Silent Movie Villain” just isn’t the aesthetic I go for, and even if it were, as appealing as “opting out” of grooming is, it might not be as easy as it sounds. Anderson points out that a more “masculine” grooming style for women “would come off as not really taking care of herself, or letting herself go […] Women who show up for work un-primped will pay a professional price, even if it’s just snarky comments.”
The problem with Anderson’s suggestion that women opt-out is that women shouldn’t have to be the ones to change. It isn’t womens’ fault that men make more money, and it isn’t because we spend too much time in the mirror, which is kind of a slippery point to try to make anyway. I know what my body hair looks like because most of the time I’m too lazy to form any kind of opinion about it, but even if I didn’t know what it looked like, that would be my choice. The decision to shave/groom/pluck/wax or not is extremely personal, and no matter how you choose to address it or not, someone is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Letting our leg-hair grow out won’t necessarily fix sexism, because it isn’t women’s job to fix it.
Shave or don’t shave. Either way, we’re talking about pubes and leg hair. Wax it off or shave your name into it. At the end of the day, it’s just hair.