Women investing in the quest for youth and beauty is nothing new. But now, thanks to Instagram and the commodification of “in-chair” beauty services, the cost of "basic" beauty routines is out of control.
Regular beauty services – and I asked a bunch of women in their twenties and early thirties what "basic" maintenance means – are costing young women the equivalent of a house deposit.
Fuelled by social media and the beauty industry, young women are spending approximately $14000 per year on “basic” beauty services.Credit:@kimkardashian
"Standard" treatments, according to those I spoke with, include six to eight-weekly haircuts and colour, regular blow waves, (preventive) Botox, non-fat fillers, professional teeth whitening, eyelash extensions and refills, microdermabrasion, SNS nails, pedicures and laser hair removal.
All up, according to finance expert, Pete Wargent , who I asked to crunch the numbers, this can easily equate to $14,000 a year. In effect, adhering to contemporary beauty mores could be said to be keeping young women poor, or at the very least throwing serious roadblocks into their path towards long term financial security.
“Let’s say you invested that money in the stock market and achieved net returns of about seven to eight per cent over time,” says Wargent who is the author of Wealth Ways for the Young: what the rich are teaching their kids about money today. “That could see you with a balance rapidly swelling towards $250,000 over about a decade, as the awesome power of compound growth begins to work its magic.”
“Even simply saving around $14,000 per annum and putting it in a term deposit could see you with a six-figure nest egg in about six years.”
And the $14,000 figure is a conservative estimate of what some young women are spending on beauty. It doesn’t include other products and services that women regularly consume, such as waxing, spray tans, facials, at-home skin care and make-up.
Nor does it include money spent on beauty for special events such as weddings, birthdays, the spring racing carnival or the Christmas party season.
Add these expenses into the mix and we are looking at several thousands of dollars extra each year, and, if invested instead, hundreds of thousands over the course of a woman’s life.
Thirty-three year old Amanda* who works in marketing, says she’s horrified by these figures.
“That would explain me not being able to afford a house. I have either eaten most of my earnings or put them on my face,” says Amanda.
Even armed with this knowledge, Amanda says she’s unsure if her younger self would have acted differently.
“I would hope so. But I'm reluctant to say yes,” she says. “I think I would have maybe shopped around a little bit more. And maybe done a lot more research rather than just reacting to what my friends were doing or things I’d seen on Instagram.”
“(But) this really puts it into perspective. I was sucked in by the up-selling and add-ons sold to me at the beauty clinics. A lot of the treatments are wants, not needs.”
Of course, not all young women outlay such an enormous sum on beauty, but given that in 2016 Australian women spent $15 billion on personal grooming services and that demand for beauty services is growing each year, we can only assume that many women do.
Given the often dire state of women’s superannuation, this kind of cost could also mean the difference between retiring into poverty, or not.
This is not an old fart moment where I tut tut about irresponsible young people and smashed avocado. I’m also not passing any judgement over whether these beauty services are beneficial or aesthetically pleasing.
Young women’s worth is so often reduced, externally, to their appearance, and the penalty in terms of social acceptability for non-compliance can be high, the willingness to spend on products is hardly surprising.
I’m not passing any judgement over whether these beauty services are beneficial or aesthetically pleasing.
Another pressure has come in the form of the dramatic change in the beauty landscape. Basic beauty maintenance used to amount to a bottle of Oil of Ulay (or Mary Kay if your mum was friends with a consultant), a bottle of nail polish, and a home hair dye kit from the chemist. Botox, injectables, and microdermabrasion and other clinic-based procedures were confined to celebrities and often required a quick trip to hospital.
Now, these services are available on every second street and appointments are scheduled into lunch breaks. Beauty self-care as a hobby has also grown exponentially as trends like K-beauty, with its large number of "daily" applications, have taken off.
Fun aside, as products and services considered to be part of every-day beauty proliferate, it's worth pausing to consider the consequence would be disastrous for women’s financial wellbeing and security.
It seems that any gains that have been made to women’s earning potential and financial independence have been offset by the exponential and crippling cost of beauty.
*Surname withheld for privacy
Kasey Edwards is the author of The Chess Raven Chronicles under the pen name Violet Grace.
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