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The price of being a woman

Beauty tax

You may know me as an artist but I'm also an accountant (yes, strange I know) and nothing upsets me more than monetary gender inequality. Monetary gender inequality comes in many guises including the Gender Pay Gap and the Pink Tax. My particular favourite is the Beauty Tax which is the additional cost that women must bear in order to be taken seriously at work. And I’m not talking about childcare. Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth refers to it as Professional Beauty Qualification whereby beauty is considered a prerequisite for a legitimate women’s rise in power. I think of it as the extra time and dollars we are expected to spend on grooming in order to be considered credible in any given career.

Whilst female beauty rituals are often trivialised as frivolous and optional, research from Wong and Penner in the USA suggests otherwise. They found that grooming practices, such as applying makeup, clothes and hair styling, accounted for nearly all of the salary differences between women. For men, grooming didn't have the same impact. In other words, whilst grooming is important for both sexes, it’s particularly important for women in the workforce. In fact, the study found that, “less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who weren't considered well-groomed.”

So, beauty rituals are not trivial after all. It’s no wonder women spend so much time and money on their looks. A study by Invisalign found that Australian women spend over $3,600 per year on beauty and grooming. That equates to 5% of average ‘household income'. Presuming that most households have dual incomes, women must be spending a minimum of 10% of their own income on beauty maintenance, which is in-line with the UK estimates. Of course this does not include more onerous procedures such as teeth straightening, permanent hair removal, skin & hair treatments, Botox and of course, plastic surgery.

Figures released by the Cosmetics Physicians College of Australasia this year indicate that spending dermal fillers and anti-wrinkle injections are up more than 14% in the last year alone. But wait, there’s more! There are the clothes, handbags, shoes and jewellery that are not included in the above expenditure figures. Apparently Australians spend more money on clothes per capita than anyone else, coming in at over $1,000 US dollars per person per year.

And the more you earn, the more you spend. Wolf estimates that women are “spending up to a third of their income … and considering it a necessary investment.” Based on the results of Wong and Penners study, Wolf is not far wrong.

Whilst the Beauty Tax is a heavy burden to bear in light of the fact that women earn less on average, it is even more infuriating when one considers the Pink Tax. The Pink Tax is the mark-up on everyday products aimed at women. And I don’t mean cosmetics. We’re talking standard products such as razors and deodorant. A study from Toronto-based ParseHub on over 3,000 personal care products, found that the price tags for women were substantially higher than the corresponding products for men: up to 43% higher. And don’t even get me started on sanitary products that attract GST.

But I digress. To understand the full cost of the Beauty Tax to women, we must also consider the time factor. Substantial cash savings can be made by employing do-it-yourself techniques at home. All you need is a little extra time. From eye lash extensions, to hair colouring and face peels, there is an endless array of self-improvement procedures that can be applied in the privacy of your own bathroom. Between showering, fixing hair and applying cosmetics, women can spend up to two hours a day getting ready. A recent UK study found more than a third (39%) of women spent up to 40 minutes a day getting ready. This increases by 40% when it comes to the weekend. All this time adds up to 722 days of our life spent on perfecting our beauty routines. How fortunate that we are expected live longer than men, or else we would not have enough time!

There is little doubt that personal grooming expectations for both men and women have increased dramatically in recent decades. However, the expectations are far greater for women, and so is the cost. And women are tired. After working equal time for 15% less pay, women must spend further hours and dollars for the privilege of being taken seriously. The alternative is to take a career break in order to produce the next generation of little human beings for little or no monetary reward. No wonder women have less superannuation and long-term savings. Thank goodness we have an extensive shoe portfolio …. and a longer average lifetime over which to enjoy them.

"The Beauty Board" by Leah Mariani 2016, 25" x 36"


Allen, Katie; “Gender Pay Gap: Women Earn £300,000 Less Than Men Over Working Life”, 2 March 2016, The Guardian,

Cliff, Martha; “That's A Lot of Lippie! Women Spend TWO YEARS of Their Life Applying Make-up, Splashing More Than £12,000 on Cosmetics”, 27 August 2015, The Daily Mail,

Cosmetics Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA) Media Release, 27 May 2016,

England, Beth; “Research Shows Women Spend Big on Beauty,” 26 April 2016, Beauty Heaven,

Frank, Julia; “Australians Spend More Money in Clothes than Anyone Else in the World,” 19 August 2015, Vogue Australia,,3728

Shaw, Hollie; “’Pink Tax’ Has Women Paying 43% More for Their Toiletries Than Men”, 25 April 2016, Financial Post,

Swanson, Ana; “Commentary: Why So Many Women Spend So Much Time Getting Ready”, 20 May 2016, The Washing Post,

Wolf, Naomi, “The Beauty Myth”, 2002, HarperPerennial.

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