Many women spend a significant amount of time altering their appearance with makeup and hair styling tools to attempt to fit the societal standard for what a woman ‘should’ look like. Gender expectations have taught us to believe that women must always look beautiful.
This can be an expensive as well as a time consuming process, and for women in college it can be particularly stressful. When women are expected to spend so much time concentrating on perfecting their appearance, it can take away from time that they could be spending on studying or completing their homework. I want to examine the ways that we value and hold ourselves to women’s beauty standards as college women in a multiple part series addressing makeup, hair, and clothing.
For part one I discussed makeup with fourth year Sociology major and Women and Gender Studies minor, Megan Saenz, to get her perspective on how the pressures that women experience to look a certain way can impact their studies and their mental health.
Q: Hi Megan, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Do you feel pressured to look a certain way as a woman?
A: Yes. I feel like there are standards or expectations from both men and women for how we are supposed to look, so you always have both of those voices in your head. I feel like I have to look a certain way for the women and I also have to look a certain way for the men. You can’t be too provocative with your appearance for the men because then you are seen as a slut. I think that that also can be the same from the women because they also can label you as a slut.
Q: How often do you do wear makeup?
A: I pretty much wear makeup everyday unless I’m not going out in public. I use as little makeup as I possibly can and sometimes when I’m going to work or I want to look a little nicer, I will wear more.
Q: Do you think that’s the case for a lot of college women?
A: I know for me it doesn’t take a lot of time to do my makeup, but I also know for a lot of females I see it can be 50/50. Many of the college women I see have minimalistic makeup and most of the women here will wear some type of makeup everyday.
Q: For me personally, I spend thirty minutes to an hour on just my appearance because I straighten my hair and put on makeup nearly everyday. How much time do you think you spend on your appearance daily?
A: For me it will take me maybe an hour tops on my appearance daily.
Q: Do you think that men experience a similar thing? Do you think they spend as much time focusing on their appearance?
A: I don’t think they spend as much time on their appearance because it hasn’t really been a standard for them. I think that they are allowed to look imperfect and that’s a good thing. But for women, we are not allowed to look imperfect. A lot of the stuff that guys are allowed to display, we are not allowed to display because we are seen as unprofessional, not taking care of ourselves, or not feminine when we don’t spend time on fixing our appearance.
Q: Let’s say you didn’t feel like doing your makeup or focusing on your appearance one day, and you show up to class or work without any makeup. What is the typical reaction you receive from other people?
A: I do my makeup everyday because I don’t feel like dealing with that type of discussion from other people if I don’t. A lot of women hear from other people, ‘Oh, you look tired’ or ‘Oh, your hair is kind of messy’ when they don’t spend time on their makeup. I’ve kind of started to care a lot less about that over my college years.
Q: What do you think contributed to you caring less about doing your makeup and your appearance over the years?
A: I think that it can become such a priority for so many women and I didn’t want to follow the crowd and make that a priority because I think it takes away from a lot of aspects of life that I should be focusing on.
Q: When you make your appearance and makeup a priority, what do you think that takes away from?
A: I think it takes away from time I could be spending on schoolwork. I think it takes away from being a more aware and considerate person in general because it takes up a lot of time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
Q: How do you think we can change the way that we put pressure on women through our gender expectations? Do you think that is something that should be changed? How would we go about creating a better space for women?
A: I think a lot of it is within our own culture and our educational system. I feel that our culture of expecting women to look beautiful is the foundation for our socialization as women. If we have certain rules in school such as dress codes that focus on policing women’s bodies, then it implies that the education of men is more important. There is more of an emphasis for women for how we are supposed to look and how we present ourselves instead our actual education.
Q: How do you think the pressures that are put on women by society to look a certain way impact women’s mental health and the way we view ourselves?
A: I think it just sets us up for failure because we are held to a standard that is not realistic. It’s toxic for women’s mental health.
Q: Thank you for sharing your knowledge on women and gender studies for the first part of this series!
A: You’re welcome!