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?