So, it’s 2018 and here in the UK, some women have had the right to vote for 100 years. All women have had the right to vote for 90 years. We’ve acknowledged that women work, and equal pay legislation has been passed for years – albeit this year’s gender pay gap reports show that companies are getting more and more creative about avoiding it. Did you know the Dagenham machinists went on strike for equal pay to men for a similarly skilled – but not identical jobs. Yet we still routinely classify some skilled jobs as women’s jobs and pay them less.
Yes, it’s really a still a patriarchy
We live in a patriarchy, when men hold more power and money than women, in every single country despite the improvements we have seen in the last few centuries. And this capitalist patriarchy has created the society we live in, with the voices of women being heard less than those of men and males controlling the majority of resources. Men still typically have leadership roles, and women are caregivers. In the UK, we now have the lowest male representation in the House of Commons, down at 68% males governing the country. On the private side, 94% of FTSE CEO’s are male – there are more Daves at 8% than there are women of any name. There are also more Steves at 7% than women of any name also. So men still firmly grasp the reins of power.
What is the Beauty Tax
The beauty tax is the notion that in order to keep to societies accepted norms, women have to spend time and money on beauty products that men do not. In order to flesh out these points, I have quickly mashed together an essential beauty tax list; I propose that in developed countries this is what we generally expect of women to meet the expected social conventions and be accepted in society.
Beauty Tax Essential List
- Have long hair
- Brush and Style Hair each and every day
- unruly hair must be tamed
- curly hair must be straightened or styled into perfect curls
- All grey hairs need to be removed/coloured, especially if under 40
- Remove all facial hair
- Underarm hair to be removed
- All leg hair must be removed
- Bikini line hair must be removed
- Apply makeup to cover up eye circles/blemishes/paleness/lack of colour
- Add mascara to cover natural eyelashes
- Pluck and add colour to get natural eyebrows
Beyond these essentials, women can earn bonuses by going over and above and improving her appearance. Each additional step a woman takes will increase her social capital and allow her to integrate with society.
Beauty Tax Bonus Point List
- Makeup to emphasise your features
- Reapply makeup and touched up throughout the day
- Modifying your look to the occasion
- More and more complex hairstyles
- Getting filler on wrinkles as you age
Why does this matter?
So what I hear you so, that’s just the way it is. Why are you complaining? Don’t you know women in Saudi have it much worse? Indeed they do, but that does not stop me from doing what I can to raise issues here, that impact women. For example, when it comes to daily hair care, let’s compare a man’s to a woman’s daily chores.
- Daily Chores
- Wash and go
- Minimal styling
- Time taken: a few minutes
- A quick nip into the barbers every 8 weeks
- Daily Chores
- Blow dry with a special brush
- Style with product(s)
- Take supplies with you to sort hair when out of the house.
- Time taken: anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour.
- Grey hair growth needs to be touched up and dyed
- Cut and Style hair to make sure it is not natural or unruly in any way
When your natural is not acceptable in public
People can fall many places on the hair maintenance scale – some women are my role models and have gone short and get the male advantages – although this sorts out the day to day chores, the grey becomes a bigger problem with short styles. Some women have hit the hair jackpot, and have hair that washes and air drys into an acceptable style with minimal intervention needed.
Others like me have naturally unacceptable hair. My natural hair is so unacceptable, you never see hair like mine in public. Or on the internet. Hair that naturally looks wild and takes significant effort and products to tame. I can only speak for my own experiences, and people with Afro-Caribbean hair have it much worse – with more complex and time-consuming hair care needs.
And not forgetting, of course, that #notallmen have short hair. Some choose to grow it long and spend hours styling their hair. I would argue that in 2018 this is a choice for men, and not something society has imposed on them as a condition of acceptance. Hence these men are volunteering to pay the beauty tax, they would be accepted into society if they did not.
Policing Adherence to the Beauty Tax
The beauty tax is real and impacts women time-wise and financially. Women are hence in a Catch 22 situation:
If a woman does not adhere to every item in the Beauty Tax essential list, she will be judged and questioned on it. The Daily Mail sidebar is the perfect illustration of this.
Yet if a woman chooses to adhere to everything in the list, this will cost her in time and money.
Do we not want to compete on the same terms as men and say no to the beauty tax?
No matter what your personal opinions about her politics or her treatment of the other woman, Hillary and her scrunchy are a perfect example of this bias – women are judged in ways men are not based on their hair.
And I’ve not even going to touch on clothing and fashion, which is another can of very similar worms. As one Australian newsreader found out, no-one noticed he wore the same suit every day for a year, but when his co-host re-wore a blouse four months apart people complained.
Solidarity – no judging of other women
Everyone is in their own place in their journey, and a key tenet of feminism is solidarity. If a woman chooses to subscribe to the beauty tax, that’s her choice. It’s a complex societal problem that we all have been born into, and there is no place for judging others – you don’t understand their position or their motivations.
Why target women?
Anyhow, in this article I wanted to highlight the construct of the beauty tax. How did we end up in so screwed a society that we impose a beauty tax on one sex? How did we end up reinforcing these double standards in 2018? If capitalism’s aim is to maximise shareholder value and make as much money as possible, why don’t we double the market and sell beauty as an essential to men? Seems a no brainer right, a large market ready to be conquered?
Why do we sell to women only? The truth is we live under patriarchal capitalism, which thrives on these social standards and will happily tell women their natural is not good enough, but would never ever do that to men. I would say that male representation is a key reason for this. Over the years men have had agency and power to make these decisions, and reject any standard they don’t like being imposed on them. Women have not had this agency, hence we are now subject to the beauty tax.
Like DeBeers inventing the need for diamonds as engagement rings, beauty companies have invented the need for these products to make women’s natural states unacceptable. But natural men are still to be encouraged. And patriarchal capitalism has allowed them to make natural women unacceptable.
I am personally trying to resist the beauty tax as much as possible. I believe the tax is unfair and impacts women both time-wise and financially. Moreover, the outdated idea that women have value as pretty objects, rather than, you know as actual people is reinforced by the beauty tax. And this matters a lot. I firmly believe we need to value females for more than their bodies.
So I abandoned makeup a few years ago, which I thought would be hard but the time saved alone makes it so worthwhile. At the moment I’m on team scrunchie and tie my hair back, but I am very close to cutting it all off – it’s only the grey that’s stopping me. On depilation, in the UK this is only a summertime activity. However, as I complete this unnecessary activity that men are not required to do I feel equal parts guilty and angry. Another one that’s on my list to give up.
- If you want to learn more, a fabulous long read is The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf – this book really lays out the situation and will get you thinking.
- And the Atlantic is spot on with The Makeup Tax.
- Zadie-Smith’s thoughts in the Guardian on the Hair and Makeup Tax.
- Bitches get Riches have a cool article on The Pink Tax.
- Dumpster Doggy has a great piece on The Financial Harm of Beauty Standards.
Over to you
- What are your thoughts on the beauty tax?
- Do you happily or reluctantly subscribe?
Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas – all are welcome.