Editor's note: “Watch Your (Body) Language” is a multipart series exploring issues of body image and the harmful messages we internalize from the world around us.
This series has explored the various ways in which women’s appearances are scrutinized, but in order to drive the message home, we need to investigate the issue from a wider lens: Why aren’t men held up to the same standards as women, and how does the patriarchy hold up these imbalances?
It’s common knowledge that women spend more time and effort presenting ourselves than men. Over their lifetime, women spend about $225,360 more on our appearances than men, including everything from shampoo to moisturizer. Women on average spend an hour on our physical appearances on a daily basis. And at any given time, a higher percentage of women are on a diet than men.
For instance, human centered design and engineering (HCDE) undergraduate Tori Teng’s daily routine includes picking what to wear and applying basic makeup. She doesn’t feel good about herself if she leaves the house without that makeup.
Teng’s view of her male friends is that they just roll out of bed, get up, and go. When she encounters any of them putting any extra effort into their appearance, like wearing a collared shirt or gelling their hair, they get compliments, but it takes a girl much more to get that sort of response, unless they naturally fit Eurocentric beauty standards.
What isn’t talked about enough, though, is why women put more time and effort into the way they look. Men will often dismiss the issue by saying that women should spend less time on their appearance, that they look better dressed down or without makeup. More often than not, this is a case of men simply not knowing what “no makeup” actually looks like. For women, we are judged based on our whole image, not only our abilities like men are. We would be looked down upon for constantly wearing sweats or the same outfit every day, like we’ve seen guys on campus wear.
If you were to insist that a man should wear makeup to look attractive, most people would laugh in your face. But when female celebrities don’t wear makeup, it’s considered so noteworthy that news outlets have to announce the shocking occurrence.
The reality is, women are valued more for their appearance than men are. A 2017 study by the Pew Research Center indicated that the No. 1 most valued trait in women is physical attractiveness; it’s No. 6 for men, valued less than a third as much as in women.
Take advertising, for example, which has been well documented to cause body image issues and trigger eating disorders. Some men argue that ad images of bulky, muscular men are just as harmful to men as images of thinness are to women’s self-esteem.
While there certainly is some harm, the fact remains that because the expectation of attractiveness is higher in women than it is in men, there’s more at stake for us if we fail to reach these often unattainable goals.
In addition, advertising hypersexualizes women much more than men. In 2017, women in advertisements were five times more likely than men to wear sexually revealing clothing. In other words, while men are told by advertisements that they need to look “masculine” or “powerful,” women are told we need to look good solely to please men.
The unequal pressure of attractiveness impacts us economically as well. A study carried out by British beauty company Escentual indicated that over two-thirds of employers wouldn’t like to hire a woman who didn’t wear makeup to a job interview. Women who wear makeup also earn $6,000 more annually than their non-made-up counterparts.
Teng says that everyone should try to take pride in their appearance and look presentable, even though the idea of “presentable” is a societal construct. But she also wants it to be such that nobody bats an eye if we don’t wear makeup to work. We should not be judged on our professional capabilities based on our appearance.
Before university, Teng grew up going to schools with uniforms and no-makeup policies in Singapore, which she thinks is a great idea because it takes away from the thought of one’s appearance. She got to meet people on a deeper basis without making judgments on their external presentations.
Although Teng doesn’t believe in a “uniform” society, she thinks that there has to be more balance between women dressing up for creative expression and women dressing up because they feel that they are obligated to.
Every aspect of a women’s appearance is constantly policed. We are expected to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money on the way we look, which would be better spent developing our skills.
Reach writers Tiasha Datta and Natalie Rand at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @n_rand_, @TiashaDatta2
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