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The Feminist Blog: Beauty Work

Posted May 3 2011 - 10:46pm

Have you ever felt like beauty is a part time job? You’re not alone. Naomi Wolf, in her bestseller The Beauty Myth refers to beauty maintenance as “the third shift.” The first shift is obviously paid work, while domestic work and household chores are quite commonly referred to as “the second shift.” Most people these days can probably relate to the first two shifts. You have your day job and/or classes, and then you deal with cooking, cleaning, and running errands (although maybe not all of us earn A’s in these subjects.) In any case, it is easy to relate to the second shift of domestic work, but what about the beauty shift? 

I have to admit that when it comes to beauty, I’m fairly lazy compared to many others.  I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, but I still feel as though the time I do devote to beauty is like a part time job. I might wear gym shorts and Ugg boots to the grocery store (and receive a few glares of disgust), but I would never head to the Iron Horse without a style that is at least somewhat accepted by society. To a certain degree, I actually enjoy the process of fixing my hair and putting on stylish clothing, but I don’t often think about how much time it takes for me to put together a socially acceptable ensemble, especially if I go all out. 

Let’s say I have big plans this Friday and want to look and feel extra spicy for a big night out. I will probably take a shower after school, but not my ordinary 8 minute shower. I will make sure I take time shaving my legs (a good 10 minutes in itself), exfoliating my face, and conditioning my hair. I will then moisturize my face, legs, and sometimes my arms to make sure my skin is hydrated. I might try on three or four shirts before I sort of like what I see, and then I have to pick out jewelry and shoes. My usual two minute makeup routine will probably be extended to 15 minutes, and I might spend an extra 10 minutes on my hair. I know that getting ready can be fun, but it is also exhausting and I am almost never fully satisfied with the final product, especially after I’ve been looking in the mirror for nearly an hour. Sometimes I spend up to an hour getting ready, and I know many women who spend much longer. How long does it take my boyfriend to get ready for a night out? Probably as much time as it takes him to shower and put on clothing, which is somewhere around ten to fifteen minutes.

Nobody specifically asks me to shave my legs or brush my hair. There is no one looking over my shoulder when I fret over what shirt to wear and with what pants (except maybe my roommate, who is trying to be of assistance.) In addition, most people downtown could probably care less what I look like. Why do I feel so much pressure to do this “beauty work” while my boyfriend and male friends do not? Maybe men feel pressure to put on cologne or they may worry about how their muscles look in different shifts, but if they do have any sort of “beauty shift,” it isn’t even comparable to that of women. 

What’s the explanation? You might say “it’s just the way it is,” or “girls just care more.” I personally think those are lazy excuses. The third shift is women’s problem, and even though no one really forces us to partake in this “work,” we are undoubtedly judged harshly on our appearance by many men and women alike! Whether you like the beauty shift or hate it, I encourage you to think about just a few things.

 If you dress up, think about who you are dressing for. Dress for yourself! If you like to wear a sleeveless shirt to show off those shoulders or a cute skirt with your freshly shaven legs, go for it! Try to be happy with the way you look and make your appearance mostly for you instead of mostly for other people who may or may not care. It sounds cliche, but don’t worry so much about what other people think and try to be comfortable in your own body and your own skin! Also, don’t be hard on other women for their appearance! If they like their hair, makeup, or clothing, it isn’t your place to say whether it looks good or not. Let people dress for themselves and worry about their own look and do as you wish with your own appearance. Your style is your freedom!

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