From the tops of the corporate world to our very own darling BBC, you’d have to be under a rock or inside a meninist chat room to not understand the widespread inequality issue that is the gender pay gap. I could point you to a hundred valid articles that shout out facts and figures and prove how women are earning less than men but few of them tackle the other issues within the gender pay gap – the ones that we’re not really talking about.
Ahmed and Hannah work in the exact same company, in the exact same position in Central London. The company that they work for prides themselves on having no gender pay gap and boasts about the fact they have women working in the company all the way up to the top. At first sight this seems like the ideal. But when Hannah and her male counterpart take home their wages at the end of every month, Hannah is at an immediate disadvantage.
Like many other young women in their twenties, I am a sucker for a beauty product, treatment or trip to the salon. And while I understand that not everyone is this way inclined, Hannah and her coworkers and hundreds of thousands of women in professional roles around the world feel pressured to maintain a standard of professional beauty. Because let’s face it, despite how far we have come as a gender, so much still rests on if we are deemed physically attractive – or at least what is socially considered as presentable. In her 90’s book, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf describes this as the Professional Beauty Qualification (PBQ). It’s an addition to your CV that makes you more qualified for a given role.
Needless to say while a shave and a smart suit goes a long way, a PBQ is completely unnecessary for a man at interview. And if you have ever had a set of semi-permanent eyelashes applied, a bikini wax or a set of acrylics, you will know the expense, time and pain that goes into these procedures. If Hannah were to take her pay packet and book in a monthly set of treatments (let’s ignore the fact that they are usually required fortnightly/three weekly) and went for a wax, had her nails done, had her lashes done and bought herself a few bits of makeup she could easily spend £200. That is at least £200 extra that Ahmed has in his account every month. Every year, that is a £2400 bonus for male workers throughout the company.
A new study by Groupon says that women in the UK spend an average of £70,000 on beauty in a lifetime. My guess would be that for a woman under pressure in a professional role, that number could be significantly higher. And is it any wonder they fork out? Despite the trope that men prefer women without makeup on (because the male gaze is all that matters, duh) multiple studies have shown that both women and men judge a woman to be more beautiful when she does wear makeup. While maintaining a beautiful face and keeping it young is a huge area of expense for professional women (botox ain’t cheap), hair is another area that causes a huge pay disparity.
The expense is particularly large for women of colour, specifically women with Afro-Caribbean hair who may feel pressure to spend huge amounts of money on chemical treatments and weaves. The rule is unspoken and perhaps not as pervasive as it once was in the face of the recent natural hair movement but there is still an underlying feeling that straight, blow-dried hair is more acceptable in the workplace. On the back of the curly hair movement women are starting to embrace their natural waves and I hope that this acceptance stretches across the sphere of beauty.
I understand that this rule varies from industry to industry but it certainly exists in a number of professional capacities. As time goes on, perhaps the standards of beauty will change and we won’t have to spend as much hard-earned cash on prettying ourselves up for employers, clients and coworkers. The answer is probably to refuse to play into the rules of the beauty game, to boss it and get to the top anyway. But it’s hard to stray from the norm and I really love looking down at my bright yellow shellac as I type this. We’re taking baby steps but we’re on the way. In the mean time, maybe we can encourage men to get lash extensions or something?