The Grooming Gap: Why Does it Cost More to be a Woman?

“Even if they’ve been separated
they’ll end up together
you can’t keep lovers apart
no matter how much
I pluck and pull them
my eyebrows always
find their way 
back to each other.”

– ‘Unibrow’, Rupi Kaur

As a little girl growing up in North India, my childhood was defined by the aroma of spices, multi-layered paranthas and most of all, the silver screen.

Cinema has been one of the greatest influences in my life. I have a strong memory of 10-year-old me glued to the TV, watching Kajol dance to a song from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. A shiver would run down my spine every time I would see her flaunt her unibrow.

In a way, Kajol’s unibrow introduced me to feminism for the very first time. At a time when Bollywood heroines were sporting sharp brows, Kajol seemed to have no qualms about her unibrow. I started realising how the whole idea of beauty is nothing but a social construct. Women’s bodies are often scrutinised for not being what society wants them to be and so their life ends up being stuck between mending eyebrows and hairlines.

As for me, I never questioned my features and embraced my facial hair. In high school, when we received an invite for a farewell party, my friends went gaga over wearing make up and getting dressed for the occasion. For me, it was a matter of putting on some lip gloss and some eyeliner at most.

But, as I got older, I noticed how grooming has been intertwined with womanhood and beauty. I grew up watching my working mother and elder sister spend almost an hour on grooming before leaving for work. My mother would wake up as early in the morning as she possible to get ready, and time she would have otherwise utilised to meditate or relax was taken up by ‘the grooming hour’.

Initially, I assumed that she did it out of choice. But one time, she yelled “this is a part of my job” while searching for the right shade of lipstick to match with her outfit. I remember squirming and thinking about the false standards of beauty and social constructs.

The grooming gap looked me right in the eye when I joined the public relations department of a company. On the very first day, I was handed an employee handbook which said  ​“make­up should be well main­tained” and ​“hands and nails must be well man­i­cured”. I noticed that the men I work worked with (and still do) didn’t seem to pay attention to the guidelines because apparently, those weren’t (and aren’t) written for them. Depending on the field you’re in, the grooming necessities range from an unspoken set of rules to an explicit set of guidelines.

When women do not conform to these beauty standards, they are looked down upon.

Also read: Why Do Women Wear Makeup Despite Knowing It’s a Scam? Game Theory Has an Answer

“Chipped nails and unkempt hair are big no-nos,” my team lead clarified.

I felt trapped. The graph of expectations kept demanding more and more beauty.

The difference between what women and men have to spend on grooming, often for the same work profile, is wide. Grooming for women extends into expansive mani-pedis, waxing, body messages, facials and what not. In addition, it is almost mandatory to visit a salon once every week or two on an average. On the contrary, for men, it’s perhaps just about a quick haircut, a pedicure or an express facial once a month.

The global beauty industry woos women through advertising to push them into buying all sorts of beauty products. Women pay what is called ‘the pink tax‘ – an invisible cost that women have to pay for products designed and marketed specifically to them. The insidious practice applies to cosmetics, shampoo, clothes, shoes, razors, drycleaning and so much more. However, a lot of us are not aware of the pink tax or the gender tax.

Essentially, women are forced by the system to pay more for products which have only cosmetic differences (most products marketed for women come in shades of pink, gold and ‘feminine’ colours) from comparable products intended for men.

Closing the grooming gap is not easy but when has the fight to create a better world ever been easy?

Tanisha Saxena is a renaissance girl stuck in the age of Netflix. A writer by day and reader by night, she carries her unsubmitted magnum opus in a canvas bag. 

Featured image credit: Annalise Batista/Pixabay