“Are you high-maintenance or low-maintenance?”
I remember being asked this once, and not being sure how to respond. It’s a fraught concept for women and one that leads to harsh judgements; we’re often ridiculed for the effort we put into our physical appearance, but castigated if we “let ourselves go.” (Again, that concept of sprezzatura or “effortless” style/chic/hair/whatever comes into play; we’re supposed to look “good” without having expended any effort to achieve it.)
I think of some of the guys I’ve known who spend all of their free time at the gym to achieve a certain physique, or hours each weekend detailing their cars, or who must have their shirts pressed just so by the laundry service. I’ve rarely heard men described as high-maintenance even when they spend a lot of time on various aspects of their appearances. As far as we’ve come, I think some subtle sexism is still at work here. Our culture to a degree still expects women to be other-focused, and aside from actors/musicians/celebrities, whose appearance is deemed an essential part of their job (and again, much more so for women than men, though this seems to be shifting) is suspicious of women who seem to spend “too much” time, effort, and/or money on themselves.
Women over a certain age certainly aren’t exempt from this scrutiny. At the same time we’re* gushing over this one who “looks great at [insert age here]” we’re harrumphing over another who’s “had a lot of work done” or “doesn’t look like herself anymore.” And though many of those “natural agers” in the public eye have had cosmetic procedures, they often feel the need to deny or downplay those efforts. According to Brian my Hair Guru, some of the “naturally” grey hair images we see on Pinterest still may require some chemical intervention to achieve that look, like lowlights for depth or periodic toning down of yellowness or keratin to smooth texture and add shine. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as there’s nothing wrong with letting nature take its course.
I’m not lobbying for one path or the other here, and I’m not saying that we have to think every intervention looks good. I’m advocating doing whatever level of maintenance feels right without guilt and without judging others who choose differently.
My own level of maintenance? I think it would depend on who you ask. 😉 On a day-to-day basis I don’t have a lot of time to spend putting myself together. So I invest chunks of time periodically to reduce the daily effort, and I certainly enjoy the results much more than the process. (I get fidgety just waiting for nail polish to dry.)
- Hair cut and color: approximately 2 hours every 5 weeks. I’ve opted for a very low-maintenance cut, and I only spend 2-5 minutes daily on my hair.
- IPL Laser to manage pigmented lesions, those large brown spots on my face (what Grandma used to call “liver spots” 😉 ) approximately 2 hours once per year. Because of this I can get by without heavy makeup or concealer. My daily makeup routine is pretty minimal, 10 minutes usually.
- Manicure/pedicure every 3 weeks or so. (Every 2 weeks during warmer seasons when I can manage it.)
One area where I want become more high-maintenance is health and fitness. It seems the older we get, the more important it is to take care or our health from the inside out. I’ve spent almost four decades working full-time at desk jobs, and while my eating habits aren’t terrible, there are far too many grab-and-go meals eaten at my desk or while I work. Preparing meals from fresh foods, getting enough fresh air and exercise, doing workouts that help maintain strength and flexibility…these are often difficult to do on a daily basis when work and family responsibilities can be so demanding of our time. We live in an era and a culture that values (and demands) ever more work and productivity, but tells us we “should” slow down, eat organic, maintain our weight, do yoga or meditate to relieve stress, and on and on. Just trying to be healthier can add to the stress!
Where do you focus your “maintenance” efforts? Do you ever feel guilty about the time, money and effort you spend on maintenance?
* “We” here is used as shorthand for our culture and media.
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