Pretty Privilege and The Financial Cost of Beauty

Pretty Privilege and The Financial Cost of Beauty

I have to ask: am I the only mid-30s girl left on the planet who hasn’t gotten Botox? Because I’m beginning to feel like I am.

Now I want to be clear right from the beginning. I’m going to talk about beauty standards and Botox and fillers and makeup, but I am not judging anyone. If you want to wear makeup, if you want to get Botox, go forth! I’m not here to judge you for that.

Instead, the post is really about marveling at the fact that a lot of beauty routines that were once very inaccessible have become not just accessible, but very routine for a lot of people in a lot of different socio-economic classes.

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So that’s what we’re going to talk about today: the access, the cost, and the impact of beauty and financial power.

In rich nations like the United States, certain cosmetic procedures have become very routine over the last couple of years in the last decade. I’m talking about things like Botox, lip filler, cheek filler, and eyebrow threading.

All of these were once on the fringes of our beauty standards, and they have now become normal everyday routines for a lot of people.

Women who routinely spend money on their appearance will shell out almost a quarter of a million dollars, $1,756 a year, or $313 a month throughout their lifetime.

Versus men who shell out $175,680, about $2,928 a year or $244 a month. While that number of nearly a quarter million dollars blows my mind a little bit, I also completely understand.

Beauty is a form of power

We have to remember that beauty is a form of power that women have. It is one of the very few forms of power and one that translates very nicely into financial power.

We know that pretty privilege exists and can mean getting paid more. It can also mean getting hired faster and can mean getting promoted faster within a company.

Anecdotally, when I run through the list of the women in my life, I can’t think of a single one who is not paying to get at least one beauty treatment done every single month. I’m talking about things from Botox to getting their nails done, to getting their hair dyed.

All of this counts as beauty treatments and nobody in my life is not doing at least one of these things every single month.

Mid-30s is NOT old!

Now, not to sound like a little bit of an egomaniac, but I semi-frequently get the comment, “Wow, you don’t look like you’re 35. You look so much younger,” and I’m never quite sure how to take it.

Honestly, there’s a part of me that is flattered because I do want to look younger because we live in a society that praises people the younger they look.

I’m also a little bit annoyed by this kind of comment because 35 is old, either by lifetime standards or by wrinkles standards. Mid-30s is still a time in your life when your skin is still making plenty of the things that don’t wrinkle.

I’m someone who spends a ton of time online, both filming content on Youtube and for our Instagram and Tiktok. I also just hang out on Instagram and TikTok and I see a lot of other people’s faces.

Sometimes my relationship with my own face gets a little weird.

I’m constantly consuming content from other people who have undergone cosmetic procedures or who are using filters that blur out any imperfections in their skin, or that make their eyes sparkle, or that fix their eyebrows so perfectly.

I’ve noticed that the more time that I spend on social media, the quicker I am to identify flaws in my own face. And then the next thought that I have is: “What product should I buy to fix that?”

Beauty standards rely on selling us things

Now we come to the crux of it: beauty standards are reliant on selling us more things.

They’re reliant on pointing out our flaws and then saying: “Don’t worry, this cream or this filler or product will fix that for you. Just make sure you keep buying it month after month after month until you literally die and then no one cares what you look like.”

We see this reflected back to us in a lot of different spaces.

I semi-recently went to a Dermatologist because I was having breakouts and I was like, “Look, I’m in my mid-30s. I am not doing this again. I had really bad acne as a teen and well into my 20s. And I can’t go back!”

And after I told my doctor that I was 34, he said to me, “In mid-30s, anti-aging becomes very important.”

He didn’t say to me, “Are you interested in any anti-aging routines or procedures? Are you interested in trying to look younger or trying to preserve the way your face looks now?” He just said it as a fact like as a given that, of course, I would want to have a conversation about anti-aging stuff.

When I said that I didn’t want Botox, he just said, “Okay, why is that?” Again, just the kind of assumption that I would want to get Botox or that Botox is the default for someone in their mid-30s.

And it just made me wonder how many conversations does he have with women about not wanting Botox? I’m willing to bet, not that many.

The Rise of Botox

So what is Botox? Botox is short for botulinum toxin, which is a drug made from botulism, and we use it to weaken or paralyze muscles or block certain nerves.

If you are using Botox to prevent wrinkles or to slow down wrinkles, the way it works is that you essentially paralyzed the muscle, so that you can’t use it. You can’t wiggle your forehead or smile or whatever it is.

Therefore, the muscle won’t get weaker and cause that wrinkle. You can also use Botox in a couple of other ways. For example, some people use it for excessive sweating or headaches, but it’s become very popular for beauty.

Botox is charged per unit, with each unit costing about $20. That’s not so bad, right? 20 bucks is really not that much money.

In the United States, a single treatment might use anywhere between 20 and 60 units in a single area. So you can expect to pay between $400-$1,200 per Botox session.

Botox wears off in about four months, so you have to come back to preserve the way you look. Depending on your beauty goals, you could be getting Botox anywhere between once a month to once a year.

So you can be spending $4,800 bucks a year on Botox, and that’s something that you have to keep doing to get the same results.

Could I afford a house if I didn’t get Botox?

So let’s say you start at age 30, you spend $4,800 a year and you do it for 40 years until age 70. That’s $192,000 spent on Botox. That’s a house, that’s a college education!

That could be whatever you want it to be. This is the literal cost of the power of beauty. Because fitting into beauty standards does come with financial and lifestyle power.

A study published in 2018 found that well-groomed women aka women who wore makeup and nice clothing are paid an average of $4,500 more per year than their less attractive coworkers.

“Pretty privilege” is the term that we use to describe this phenomenon because pretty people are thought to be funnier, smarter, more successful, and generally more pleasant than those that we think are unattractive.

And as one of my friends once said to me, “Everyone’s nicer to pretty people.”

What is pretty privilege?

We see this most clearly in my opinion in the case of Jeremy Meeks, aka the hot felon, who was arrested on felony weapons charges. After his arrest, his mug shot went viral and he became known as the hot felon.

He’s now signed with a modeling agency and works as a professional model. He got an entirely new career and new life thanks to this one photo.

This is why I said at the beginning, I’m not judging anybody who pays for cosmetic procedures. I will never criticize anyone who is paying for Botox or to look better because there are very real bonuses and repercussions that come from looking our best.

But what I do want to ask is: Who defines pretty? And who benefits from our current definition of pretty?

What does all of us rushing to get 30 units of Botox or to drop those last 15 pounds really due for our collective liberation? Nothing really.

Like buying that lipgloss from Sephora doesn’t do anything to give you more social power on a systemic level.

By buying to beauty standards, we uphold them

By buying into these beauty standards, both literally and figuratively, we uphold them. Beauty standards are largely based on European features meaning white, blonde, blue eyes, smaller noses, and smaller lips.

This is to the exclusion of women of size and women of color. And we see those real-world negative ramifications frequently.

For example, when black women who wear their hair naturally get penalized at work instead of when white women who wear their hair naturally get rewarded at work.

Now I get it it’s hard to be the only person walking around, not wearing makeup, not getting your hair done, not getting your nails done, and like I’ve mentioned, those can come with negative implications as well.

It’s hard to fight an entire system on your own and I’m not asking you to do that.

Beauty standards are lifestyle inflation

But beauty standards are lifestyle inflation and they are spending creep and they do come with a literal price. Let’s say you get your nails done monthly and you get Botox every three months.

Getting your nails done is 50 bucks a month and Botox is $500 every three months. Add in a haircut every three months at 100 bucks a pop, that’s $3,000 a year that’s not going to pay off your student loans.

That’s not going to your investments to build wealth for future you. That’s not going to saving for that trip to Thailand you want to take with your partner.

This is a $3,000 annual fee that women pay simply for existing.

How much does beauty cost?

To play devil’s advocate here, if you did invest that $3,000 a year starting at age 32, and you got a 7% interest rate year after year, by the time you turn 65, you’d have $356,800. I just wanted to put that out there because I’m a money nerd.

I like to play around with these numbers and understand that we can invest in one area of our lives, but it can come at a cost in another area of our lives.

Now where are beauty standards going from here? I’m just going to tell you my opinion, as one of my friends from Texas says, “This is just one guy talking,” but I think that we’re beginning to see a bit of a pushback against the easily replicable, Instagram face.

We’re seeing a lot of women in particular transform their features to look just like carbon copies of each other. They have the same eyebrows, the same veneers, the same lip fillers, cheek fillers, and they’re all wearing the same makeup.

I think we are going to see a pushback for more natural features or more unique features. It’s my opinion that beauty standards are really about exclusion.

They are about uniqueness. What can I have that other people can’t have? The more a person can conform to a beauty standard, the less power that beauty standard begins to have because now it’s accessible to everyone.

The future of beauty

Beauty standards rely on exclusivity, the harder it is to reach a beauty standard, the more valuable someone who has that standard is seen as. So what I think will come to the forefront of our beauty standards over the next couple of years or couple of decades are features that are harder to replicate.

We’ve already seen beauty standards change with the Kardashians taking out their BBLs and a pushback to extreme thinness. I think that these kinds of transformations will continue to happen.

Specifically, I think we’re going to see a pushback against things like lip and cheek fillers and to an extent certain types of Botox. Now while I do think we’ll see a pushback against these procedures, I don’t think they’re going anywhere.

This is now part of the beauty standard. Botox, especially, because it helps prevent these wrinkles, which have really never been in style.

I want to hear from you!

I just think we’re going to see more subtle cosmetic procedures and possibly return to a time when people were lying about them. Right now we are living in an age of intense transparency around cosmetic procedures.

And I do think that’s generally very helpful.

Let me know in the comments. What are your thoughts on beauty standards and how much we’re paying for them? Do you get things like Botox and fillers?

I’m curious. And you know, I just want to say again, I’m not judging anyone who gets these things and I am in my mid-30s and I haven’t yet gotten any, but I think about getting Botox all the time.

I don’t consider myself like, better than anyone because I haven’t gotten it yet. I may very well and if I do, I’ll probably make a video about it!

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