Monday, October 3, 2011

How Much Time Do You Spend on Grooming?

After a week of careful tallying, I can definitively say I am six minutes
more high-maintenance than the average American woman.

After reading the somewhat dispiriting statistics about how women’s earnings negatively correlate with time spent grooming, I started thinking about my own grooming minutes. Not so much what it might mean for my earnings (when you work in women’s magazines and/or from home, your grooming/earnings formula gets a little chaotic), but more what it means about how I prioritize grooming on a practical level. So when Tori from Anytime Yoga (a wonderful feminist wellness blog) said that the study made her want to calculate her own beauty labor, I piggybacked onto her experiment. We each spent a week tallying our minutes spent on grooming; you can read Tori’s results here.

My numbers are about what I thought they’d be, and are roughly on par with the national average: American women spend an average of 49 minutes a day on personal grooming, and I spent an average of 55 minutes, making me six minutes more high-maintenance than you. Rather: If I plan on seeing people socially or professionally, I spent an average of 55 minutes on groomingdays I spent working from home and not seeing anyone socially had a much lower average, including one slovenly Tuesday when my grand grooming total was exactly 8 minutes. (Grooming as defined by the American Time Use Survey, the source of the original data I'm drawing from, includes selecting clothes, brushing teeth, showering, etc., in addition to hairstyling, makeup application, eyebrow tweezing, and playing kissyface with oneself in the mirror.)

When I was looking at my numbers, I wasn’t thinking about their impact on my earnings, but another sort of economy came to mind: my own personal labor economy, as described by Parkinson’s Law, which states that work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. The term was coined in 1955 and was intended to humorously illustrate bureaucratic inefficiencies, and it’s not to be confused with actual economic theory, though there’s probably something there to be said about elasticity.

In any case: Remember when I stopped washing my hair last year? Part of the reason I quit shampooing was the time spent washing and drying my hair every dayit was taking me almost an hour to get ready, from stepping foot in the shower to stepping foot out the door. That’s not an enormous amount of time, but at least 15 minutes of that was spent on my hair, and coupled with the damage I was doing in blow-drying my hair daily, I began to question its utility. (This is why I like Verging on Serious’s take on the more-grooming-equals-less-income bit: “Perhaps these women get the same results in less time because they are super skilled at being efficient, which is a characteristic of a successful person.” Perhaps I am just highly effective. Consider skipping shampoo the eighth habit.)

The eighth habit: Be a Hair Warrior.

Now, last week was the first time I’d actually tallied up all the minutes spent on grooming, and so I don’t know what my grand total was back when I was washing my hair every day. But it wasn’t until I did this week’s experiment that I realized my shower-to-door time is back to where it was when I was washing my hair every day. Somewhere along the line, I unintentionally decided that just under an hour was an acceptable amount of time to spend grooming myself every day. And when I cut out a major time expenditurewashing my hairI expanded the rest of my beauty labor in order to fill the time I’d allotted to my appearance. They’re small things, but they add up: A year ago, I didn’t wear lipstick or eyebrow pencil, and I wore eye pencil, not liquid liner, which takes more time and care to apply. I still wore an updo, but my hair was shorter then and required less work to stay secure. I rarely painted my nails, and I’d easily skip a day or two of shaving my legs; now my nails are generally painted, and I shave every time I shower. (I finally admitted that stubble makes me feel plain old grody, and the untended leg hair look doesn't really work for me, so I suck it up even though shaving is a total drag.)

Now, if I were an economist I might look at this and say I’m being irrational, that by successfully cutting down on beauty labor only to reallocate that time to more beauty labor is defeating my own stated purpose (and adding on financial cost, with the lipstick, liquid liner, etc.). But another economist might look at my morning routineyou know, because economists are lined up outside my bathroomand argue that I’m actually maximizing my utility by exchanging invisible labor (hair-washing) for visible labor (color cosmetics). And if utility is defined as the amount of satisfaction derived from any particular good, certainly my lipstick utility is higher than my blow-drying utility, since blow-drying is bo-ring and lipstick is not.

But my own personal lipstick index aside (though rumor has it it's now a nail polish index?), I’m wondering what it means that I’m right back to a just-under-an-hour morning routinewhich, by the way, is pretty much where I’ve been since high school. I keep taking steps to minimize my routine, but then I’ll add other steps back on, all without realizing that’s what I’m doing. Maybe my personal rhythm is such that 55 minutes just feels rightenough time for it to feel like an unrushed ritual, not so much time that it seriously takes away from other things I might be doing with that time. (And about half of my grooming minutes are spent doing things I’d be doing even if I stopped all beauty laborshowering, brushing my teeth, clipping my nails, etc.)

I’m wondering about other people’s experiences with this. How long does it take you to get ready in the morning? Has that changed greatly over the years? Are there things you do in your morning routine that you didn’t do a year ago--or things you stopped doing?


  1. Love this.

    I too am in the 'work from home' camp, which makes tallying up the hours or minutes a bit challenging on days I don't go out on calls. I pretty much don't groom those days. Ew, I know. But when I want to put my best foot forward, I am easily an hour-or longer!-groomer. I am so bad at efficient grooming that it actually worries me. In fact, I think my income and my time spent would certainly throw off the study. Then again, maybe it's time I look into streamlining my routine and bumping up my salary!
    PS. I still need to go read that study!
    PPS. Thanks for the shout-out:)

  2. Hmmm. I have a breakfast meeting with my boss this morning, so it was a good morning to run my morning grooming routine straight through without breaks to pet cats and surf the internet and such. I started at 6:41, showered until 6:55, put on my clothes (ideas for which I had pondered while in the shower), dried my hair and put on a little makeup, and by then it was 7:07. I might fiddle with my hair a little more but I'm basically ready.

    I have a hard time thinking of time spent in the shower as labor, too. A hot shower is one of the little high points of my day and the delights of civilization.

  3. I haven't tried to cut down my grooming time as much as I've avoided adding to it. For instance, I go out w/ wet hair all the time because I'm not willing to get up earlier to spend a half hour drying it. When I DO cut down on grooming time, it's usually for a similar reason--I didn't allot enough time for the whole process. On those days, I'm lucky just to be wearing mascara. My impression of women who are disciplined about their grooming is that they are good time managers with clear priorities. Don't disabuse me of this if it isn't true. I want to think that there's hope for me.

  4. I'm unemployed, so my grooming time has reached a record low. The only downside is that I generally look like a pizza-faced teenage boy. Can't win 'em all!

    Parkinson's Law is a big factor for me, too. Sometimes I groom myself with businesslike efficiency, and sometimes I lazily dawdle along.

    For the past year or two, I've skipped all nail-polishing. For the past week or so, I've been skipping mineral foundation and cream concealer when I dress up. They didn't REALLY hide my acne, and mineral powder foundation almost always looked cakey on me. I've added blush to my routine, because it always looked like fun. =)

  5. I used to spend about an hour grooming every day. I'm currently a grad student,and have been for a number of years, and that has had a significant impact on my grooming for two reasons. First, I started to feel like people weren't taking me seriously because I visibly spent a fair amount of time on grooming. I'm in Philosophy which is a male dominated field and I remember one male grad student being shocked that I got a better grade than him on an assignment. Apparently, because I care about the way I look, I'm unable to understand abstract concepts. Second, I started working mostly from home.

    On days I work at home my routine is purely comprised of the hygiene essentials. I don't wear makeup or do anything with my hair. I wear yoga pants and a T-shirt. Somehow this has altered the amount of time that I spend when I do go out, which is now down to 35 minutes: approx. 8 minutes for makeup, between 10-12 minutes for clothes (my wardrobe is carefully sorted to make picking outfits easy) and about 15 minutes for hygiene depending on whether I need to wash my hair or not.

  6. I agree with the comment that the shower itself doesn't feel like labor. Generally it is the one place my kids leave me alone. That said, I usually only get 5-10 minutes in the shower another 5 minutes or so for teeth brushing, deodorant, etc. Maybe another 5 minutes to apply minimal make-up and twist up my wet hair. I'd like to think I spent more time on myself pre-kids, but back then unless it was a special occasion I didn't even wear make-up. I only wear it now so I don't look so tired!
    I recently went on a date with my husband for our anniversary and my special, additional beauty labor involved eyeliner, high heels, and new, pretty underwear.

  7. Maybe my personal rhythm is such that 55 minutes just feels right...

    I think there's something to this. While it doesn't account for my asscrack of dawn usual routine, my favorite mornings are when I have 30-45 minutes of downtime before I have to do anything to get ready for the world, like put on real clothes or brush my teeth. In my envisioned perfect world, I would not get up earlier, nor would I spend more time on beauty labor, but I'd still have an additional ~20 minutes of morning me-time before I headed out into the world.

  8. For awhile, I was pretty "good" about doing a full face of makeup for work. Now? I like sleep. I probably spend maybe 30 minutes in morning between clothes, hair, makeup and teeth brushing.


  9. By the way, Autumn, what's your current hair plan? I just re-read all your "hair" posts, and I'm curious what's working for you these days.

    Also, did you stick with only water-washing your face?

  10. I recently re-evaluated my routines & decided that I would "try harder" with my image for business and personal reasons. Mornings it takes me about 40 min to get ready, including shower, hair wash & blow dry, and what I consider lots of makeup (foundation, powder, shadow, eye liner, mascara). I've also taken a bit more time to properly care for my skin and it's surprised me by improving my pores and slight acne (I used to think simple soap and water was the best one could do, but it's not, apparently for my skin!). I can't skip the hair washing--I have fine wavy hair and unless I pull it back it looks awfully weird after sleeping on it all night. I do get up early so I have an hour to myself to just sit & drink coffee before my kids get up--helps a lot with my stress level even though I could use more sleep.