Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Are we "Generation Diva"?

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

How many haircuts do you get every year? And how much do you spend on makeup? Do you opt for a $5 mascara from the drugstore, or do you buy $40 eyeliners from Origins? Do you get your eyebrows waxed? What about your legs? Do you spend much time thinking about how much this all adds up to - how much money gets sunk, every year, into your personal upkeep?

Newsweek has a really fascinating (and disturbing) online feature dealing with these questions, which I would guess that most women don't ask themselves very often. I don't worry very much about makeup, and I get my hair cut fairly infrequently, considering that it's short, but when I stopped to think about how much I actually spend on beauty products, I was a little horrified - and I'm not a big spender. The average woman, Newsweek hazards, spends $449,127 on beauty products over the course of her lifetime, beginning with tween-dom, when girls first start shelling out for manicures, face creams, and lipsticks.

That number may seem insane. But broken down, it's entirely believable - and points out a horrifying truth about women's body image in America. It may be spaced out in small payments over a lifetime, but women still feel that to look attractive, we need to spend more than the cost of a house, or a college education.

Why do we feel this way? Just take a look at the gallery of vintage beauty ads that accompanies the "Generation Diva" graphic - even if we're not being told quite as blatantly to "buy this anti-aging cream or kiss your husband goodbye!", these messages have been subverted into the idea that female self-worth, even if it's masked behind a fake kind of independence, is still tied to the way our bodies look - which is thin, smooth, white, young, impeccably coiffed, and perfectly made up. It's terrible that this pressure is affecting younger and younger girls, and yet further proof that even if we've moved slightly past ads which asked us, "Can you compete with your daughter's 'Little girl look'?", we still have a long, long way to go. And this is a change that you can effect with your wallet - so before you invest in a $150 haircut or a $40 lipstick, just ask yourself, is this worth it? And why do I need to spend this much money to change the way I look?

Quick side note: congrats to Aku Ammah-Tagoe, who did the reporting for "The Beauty Breakdown." She's a Princeton sophomore who's taken the semester off to intern with Newsweek, and she's the source of many of the tips that I post about! So we're all proud of her.


At April 5, 2009 at 10:19 AM , Anonymous AC said...

Why do you think diva behavior is necessarily the influence of some malign social force, rather than women expressing their actual desires? Liberty means the liberty to be petty, and reveals some things about our nature that we might prefer to keep in the dark.


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