What does it take to get a job and keep it? You might say credentials, a degree, experience or the right personality, but there’s another requirement that doesn’t often get attention: appearance. Many workplaces have certain image demands – spoken or unspoken – and the corporate world is particularly harsh in this regard. From young bank tellers in very visible jobs to seasoned CEOs jotting to and from meetings, men and women often feel pressured to look a certain way.
So how much do we actually spend on appearance? That depends on who you ask. Five years ago in the United States, the average person spent $142 a month, but that number almost doubled to $263 in Washington DC – a city with a lot of professional vocations – according to Bundle, a consumer spending website. While Lebanon has no such statistics, our culture certainly places a lot of value on appearance.
Some may argue that looks are not important as long as you get the job done well, but there are those who would disagree. Men and women in some spheres of the business are taken much more seriously when they look “professional”. This means dressing a certain way but also looking well-groomed. What exactly is unprofessional about naturally unruly hair, unpainted fingernails, skin conditions or age? And yet it seems good skin and hair are almost part of the dress code and reflect badly on those who aren’t up to standard.
While both sexes must wear professional attire and look neat, grooming habits vary greatly among men and women. Where people work and how much money they earn affect how much they spend on appearance but for the most part women have a much higher price to pay to look the part.
Just how much of a discrepancy is there? Executive Life looks at the average annual costs for basic gender-specific appearance requirements in Beirut. For men, this amounts to haircuts and shaving. Habits obviously differ depending on how quickly hair and beard grow and personal preferences on products but we estimate an annual budget for biweekly haircuts and five shaves weekly with average market price razors and shaving cream. For women, we listed a few hair and beauty procedures as well as makeup. Of course prices vary (sometimes greatly) depending on what procedures one is getting done and where, but this is a selection of expenditures a lot of Lebanese women go through.
hair cut: $20 x 26 = $520
shaving cream: 10 x 4 = $40
razors: 3 x 52 = $156
hair cut: $40 x 4 = $160
hair color: $50 x 17 = $850
hair blowout: $10 x 104 = $1040
eyebrow plucking $7 x 26 = $182
manicure $15 x 52 = $780
- foundation $50
- under-eye concealer $30
- powder $30
- blush $35
- eyeliner $15
- mascara $20
- lipstick $20
- makeup remover $25
Both genders need professional wardrobes and may choose to invest in gym memberships and anti-aging procedures, all of which would cost roughly the same for both. But there’s an estimated $2521 difference between men and women’s grooming costs annually – that’s about 4.5 times more money spent by women, not to mention the hours of wasted time sitting for procedures that are often unpleasant, tedious or painful. Plus, time is money, and wasted time could be spent on other activities, getting rest or doing additional work to earn more money. While women could save time by doing some of the procedures at home themselves, professional beauticians take less time and produce better results so many busy working women opt to pay more money to save time – an expensive but often necessary trade-off.
Men, for the most part, get by with haircuts and shaves. But to be fair men in the corporate world also have their own set of expenses, for example, more pressure to invest in major purchases like watches — although, while these can cost thousands of dollars, they also last for years.
Still, many professional Lebanese women will tell you they spend a lot more than the figures above on other procedures including hair treatments, tanning booths, facials, body procedures and anti-aging products, all of which are expensive — all this because they feel pressured to look a certain way for their work and the rest of society. Not only that, women are often paid less than men for the same work. Since it costs the average woman more to be able to go to work looking professional, and her income is likely lower, the wage she earns, adjusted for personal upkeep expenses, would be significantly lower than those of a man in the exact same position.
Being a professional sadly does not mean only doing a good job, but also looking somewhere between groomed and attractive — a work requirement, not at all a luxury or expression of vanity.