If you were to ask me what one of the worst damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t situations is, it would be women spending money on beauty treatments and products. It’s a shock to exactly no one that spending in this category (or just spending money in general) is something people love to shame women for. Yet, studies consistently show that women suffer negative consequences for not pumping money into their appearance.
For most of my life, I’ve bought into the idea that spending money on my appearance was bad. This by no means meant I never did; I have coveted (and bought) many a product in the aisles of Sephora, convinced that this one would finally smooth my frizzy hair/clear up that stubborn zit/make my skin glisten like a Grecian goddess/fix everything wrong with my current present. However, there has always been this nagging voice in the back of my head: “Okay, you can get this primer with SPF coverage because it can be loosely classified as a necessity because skin cancer, but spending money on that foundation that perfectly matches your skin tone and complexion concerns is a ‘no’ because it’s expensive, and spending that much money on your appearance is too much. That would just make you vain.”
This is a common dialogue I have in my head when making a lot of decisions. One version of me is pragmatic and practical, almost to a fault. She knows that in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really need a new brand of mascara, even though the one I have right now has a habit of rubbing off toward the end of the day, getting into my eyes, and stinging so bad that tears start streaming. The other version is the treat-yourself version. She is of the mind that spending a bit more money for quality and comfort is worth it in the long run. She fiercely believes I shouldn’t be bound to finish a beauty product that makes me cry pain-filled tears at the end of the day.
About a year ago, I found myself running through the same dialogue with these two sides of myself yet again; this time, it was about my hair. Some people say I’ve been blessed with naturally curly hair, but those people usually have no experience spending an hour trying to tame frizz and make your hair look like you weren’t electrocuted on your way to work. Long story short, my hair and I have always been frenemies. One day my curls will be shiny, bouncy, and full of life, and the next they will look like a bird’s nest that was whipped around in strong winds overnight.
I went through years of not knowing what to do with my hair. I could never seem to figure out how to tame it. I used to try to go to school with wet hair because at least it would look “straight” for a few hours before turning into its usual puffball around lunchtime. (For the record, I know that logic sounds ridiculous. I was 12, guys.) I got regular haircuts. I tried every drugstore mousse, gel, cream, and hairspray I could find. I spent hours in the bathroom assaulting it with the heat of the most powerful hair straightener I could find (again, 12-year-old logic and disregard for overall hair health). Each time, I inevitably was met with another disappointing result.
So back to last year: I was really fed up. I was 25 years old, and I couldn’t believe I was still going through daily battles with my hair. After a lot of research and rumination, I finally made my decision: I was going to go to a salon specializing in curly hair and curly-hair products. But not only that — I was also going to cut my hair the shortest it had ever been in my life, casting off another ingrained belief that long hair was the only way to look feminine.
The many years of getting $25 “good enough” haircuts had made me believe that spending more than that was wasteful. I hated my hair, but I couldn’t ignore the external signals that spending more on something that literally grows back would be ridiculous. Seeing studies and articles calling personal grooming expenses “nonessential” like this one didn’t help. (Thankfully, in that particular case, the publication got dragged for it).
At the end of that fateful day, I had spent around $150 finally getting a haircut from someone who was trained specifically to handle hair like mine. The lovely woman who clipped and snipped my hair did so with precision and care, assessing how each curl fell. She took her time to explain to me what products would achieve the results I wanted, and what process I should use for washing my hair to prevent product buildup. After so many years of feeling like I was wandering the desert of hair woes alone, I finally felt like I had the help I needed. I finally felt capable of handling my hair and embracing it as the blessing I was always told it was.
Did I just tear up writing about my hair? Maybe. Trust me, it is not lost on me that hair is largely superficial. It will always grow back. It is not life and death. It is not the most important thing about me, not even close. I know all of this.
The real power of that experience was in taking control of my money and my happiness. I walked into the salon that day thinking I would feel guilty after paying more for a haircut than I ever had before. I expected to feel ashamed telling anyone (including my boyfriend at the time) how much I spent on my hair. It was to my extreme surprise and relief that I walked out feeling like the best, lightest, and most confident version of myself. I can honestly say to this day, that money was the best beauty purchase I’ve ever made.
Listen up if you need to hear this: getting a good haircut, one that accentuates the best parts of you and makes you feel yourself, is not a luxury. Yes, you should budget and plan for the expense of it, but it is not something to feel bad about. The money-shamers will always go after something, making us feel like in order to succeed at ~finances~, we need to cut out everything in our lives that makes them enjoyable. Go back to admiring your new ‘do (or post-facial skin, or flawless highlight, or sleek blowout) and tune the shamers out.
Claire Cole is a Midwestern native currently living in sunny South Florida. When she’s not creating marketing campaigns in her day job, she’s reading every book she can get her hands on and trying new baking recipes (to varying degrees of success). Feel free to say hi on Twitter (@claire_cole18) and Instagram (@claire_cole18).
Image via Unsplash