A few weeks ago, I opened the newspaper and came across an interview with a well-known designer I admired. She wasn’t talking about how she launched her business, or how she enlists independent artisans in her work. Instead, this highly accomplished woman broke down her very detailed, very expensive self-care routine, running through a list of products that, combined, equaled a monthly mortgage payment. There was the $110 body oil, the $215 face cream derived from human blood protein (yep) and monthly microcurrent facials that cost $300 a pop. “The products I use are expensive,” she claimed. “But it’s about how you value and take care of yourself.” When I finished reading, I didn’t feel inspired to upgrade the contents of my medicine cabinet. I felt cheated. I’m not sure what bothered me more: That nothing in this woman’s roster cost under $100 or that the publication assumed readers (i.e., females) would rather know more about her skin-care routine than how she runs her company.
Women live in a world in which self-care equals extravagance. It’s estimated that the beauty industry generates $445 billion in sales annually, the bulk of which is engineered for self-improvement but marketed as self-care. It’s no coincidence that we’re encouraged to “indulge” in a face mask that also promises to take ten years off our foreheads, or that we should use a “soothing” cleanser that’s simultaneously anti-aging. It’s pretty obvious that the industry is exploiting us. Let me be clear: I don’t mind spending $40 on a face cleanser (I actually use this one, by Tatcha, and to me it’s worth every penny). I mind being told that I have to, that the soap I use is a signifier of my self-esteem.