And some would like to take it off
Tracey Spicer wears three inches of make up. She doesn’t literally wear that much, but she says that’s the way it feels.
“Let me take you through my schedule,” the television journalist told the Brisbane TEDxWomen conference in December.
“Get up, look in mirror, see old lady looking back, put on running gear designed to suck in wobbly bits, run to maintain professionally acceptable size 10, go to bathroom, scour skin with defoliant to get rid of those dreadful dead cells, hop in shower, lather hair with sodium laurilsulfate, rinse out, dollop on conditioner containing placenta extract, wait until it sinks in, rinse off, soap up, wash off, get out of shower, dry body, lather body in petroleum byproduct, otherwise known as body moisturiser, and wait until that sinks in, cleanse face, add toner containing alcohol, dab on eye cream, cover the rest of the body in bronzing cream, and wait until that soaks in, put straightening jell in hair, section of and apply searing heat until styled into shape, almost do back in lifting up makeup kit, foundation powder, concealer, blusher, eyeshadow, eyeliner, eyelash curler, mascara, eyebrow liner, eyebrow colour, lip liner, lipstick, lipgloss, put on shapewear to suck in mummy gut after two children, pop on dress perfectly pressed by a dry cleaner using known carcinogens, add liquid to nails containing chemicals linked to cancer after yesterday visiting the house of pain, the one with the hot wax which drips above my lip and below my eyebrows before large hairs are torn out of my face.”
"Why, why do we do this to ourselves?” she asked, before adding: “...because its bullshit.”
And then, in the video on the internet, Spicer began to he begins to “deconstruct” the problem, literally.
To whooping and laughter she removes her layers of makeup, sprays her hair to return the frizz, takes off her dress, removes her high heels, and remains on stage wearing nothing much at all.
“Imagine what we could achieve if we weren't beholden to society's unreasonable expectations about how we should look?” she asks.
“Over our lives on average women will take 3276 hours grooming...
For men it's 1092.”
“Do you know what we could do over those 3276 hours? We could complete a Master of Business Administration, become proficient at a musical instrument, learn another language...”
“I've got a seven year old daughter. Every time I get ready for my TV appearances she stands next to me in the bathroom, and she always asks the same question: Mummy, why do women wear makeup and men don't?”
“I can't say: ‘Because honey it makes me look better’, because that implies that women don't like the way they look naturally. I can't say: ‘It makes me feel better’, because that points to pathologically low self esteem.”
“What I do say to her is: Darling, I don't like it, it's not right, but it is what society expects of women.”
Is it wasted effort as Spicer suggests? If the aim of makeup, grooming, and what would would have once been unthinkable exfoliation is to help women get ahead (and good looks do help, even babies are attracted to beautiful faces) the the effort ultimately will be wasted, even though if though it works to start with.
Four decades ago the British economist Fred Hirsch summed up the folly of what he called positional goods like this: “If everyone stands on tiptoe no one sees better”.
A positional good is something that improves the position of someone who uses it, like buying a $500 suit to attend a job interview. It’ll work, and it’s far from stupid to try it. But as soon as everyone gets a suit, the expense is wasted. The job outcomes will be the same, yet everyone will have spent an extra $500. But by then there will be no way of escaping it. It will have become essential.
Charles Darwin was on to it earlier. He noted that large antlers gave male elk an advantage in fighting for females. But as they mated the entire species developed very large antlers and became vulnerable to attack. In his book The Darwin Economy economist Robert Frank sums up it up this way: What was good for the individual was bad for the species.
Think about dental work, or university degrees. We are drowning in them compared to earlier decades, and they help the people who get them. But does all the extra work advance the species?
Frank says in many areas of life we impose limits. Nations have arms reduction talks, ice hockey players wear helmets. We get together to help individuals in a way they can’t themselves.
No-one should accuse Spicer of hypocrisy for continuing to wear makeup when she presents the news. She is prepared to point to the problem and she is pleading for a way out.
In The Canberra Times, The Sun Herald
. Money can make you happier (if you don't spend it on positional goods)
. He's got the look. How beauty matters and plainness hurts
. Revenge of the Uglies