Beauty gap: how the cost of living crisis is ruining women’s confidence

As we reevaluate our spending and sort our purchases according to our needs and wants, beauty can seem difficult to place

“I stopped having acrylics, tanning beds and haircuts. I used to do my nails every month and do a balayage. Now I cut my hair and do my nails myself because I can’t afford it anymore,” says 24-year-old communications consultant Siobhan Fitzsimmons. “It’s heartbreaking to work so hard and make less money than when I left college. I live in my overdraft, and when I’ve been paid, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m going to medicate myself. and get my nails done,” then I look at my balance and that’s not even an option.

The cost of living crisis forces everyone to rethink where and what they spend money on, and cut back on both essentials like food and ‘non-essentials’ including beauty. According analysis out of 100 beauty salons in the UK, average sales fell by almost 20% in September, with average customer spending falling by more than 30%. Mintel found that more than half of women in their twenties have cut back on their beauty and skincare routines over the past year, due to increased financial pressures, while Have reports that one in ten people have given up makeup. A survey by UpCircle also found that one in five UK shoppers worry they can’t afford skincare products.

“I’ve stopped everything – I don’t do my nails, my eyelashes are rolled, my eyebrows are waxed and I’ve stopped getting my fill-ins,” says Jasmine Douglas, founder of Babes on Waves. “Beauty treatments were the first to go because they are not ‘essential’ when they are so necessary for my well-being. I haven’t felt hot in ages and it’s definitely impacting my confidence. I socialize less and it puts a strain on my relationship because I don’t feel sexy anymore.

As we re-evaluate our spending and sort our purchases based on our needs and wants, beauty can seem hard to place. It is a luxury that resembles a necessity; a “nice to have” that increasingly feels like a to have to in order to participate in society. Just last year, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak describes beauty as an “essential service” providing “things that cannot be measured on spreadsheets…a sense of confidence and self-esteem”.

For many women, the cost of living crisis has highlighted societal pressures to maintain a beauty routine and adhere to an increasingly unattainable standard that they can no longer afford to meet. While the financial freedom to participate in beauty culture has dissipated for many, the pressures to present a certain way have not. The result may seem cruel, as many women are left in a liminal space – painfully aware that they are being penalized for not participating in beauty culture, but without the means to do so. For some, abandoning their routines is not an option, whatever the cost.

“I feel a bit stubborn about changing my routines and I really don’t accept this recession,” says 29-year-old executive producer Amber Bateman. “I am in debt, but I have so much resentment about the way the last ten years have been managed economically and politically; there is a bit of anarchy in the air. I’ve swapped all my groceries and we’re careful about our heating, but I don’t want to compromise on beauty. It makes me feel like a human being.

Beauty is something many of us are reluctant to give up. Even during a cost of living crisis, 32% of Britons refuse to stop spending on beauty products and treatments. “I would literally rather freeze at home than have bad hair,” says 24-year-old Charlotte Drinkall. “I would so much rather have perfect hair and skin than spend money on food and drink.”

“I’ve swapped all my food purchases and we’re careful with our heating, but I don’t want to compromise on beauty. It makes me feel like a human being” – Amber

While expressing an interest and being seen as visibly invested in beauty work is often seen as trivial, vain and self-indulgent, it is at the same time positioned as necessary not only to release self-esteem, but also to have a value as a human being. . “For me, beauty treatments are a necessity,” says Winnie Akadjo, 30. She cut her expenses from a monthly basis to every two months, and opted for a natural hairstyle to cut costs. “I work in fashion, you don’t want to walk in with your nails chipped and your hair unstyled. It’s a big part of professionalism.

The reality is that beauty work is an entirely rational and valuable pursuit in our hyper-visual digital culture. As we consume hundreds of “perfected” beauty images daily, the threshold of our base level of beauty only rises, and membership is an investment that, for most women, pays off. . In countless studies, beauty work brings significant benefits – both real and symbolic – from an increased ability to make friends and build relationships, to better job outcomes. Women who invest their time and money in beauty work earn 40% more than their “poorly groomed” counterparts, while beautiful people are considered more trustworthy, competent and confident.

“Reducing beauty treatments definitely affects my self-esteem, I feel like a faded version of myself,” says Eniye Okah, 27. “I’m in a relationship and I know my partner doesn’t care if I’ve had waxing, but I do it, because I’ve always felt the need to do it. I work in a office and I think it might look unprofessional if my nails aren’t done in front of clients.I don’t feel like I have a clean look for work anymore and I don’t feel as confident.

The cost of living crisis and its impact on our beauty spending is triggering a shadow crisis: a crisis of confidence. Perfectionism among young women is on the rise as we spend more time online and more time exposed to an unattainable ideal of beauty. It’s a huge confidence killer, because the gap between what’s achievable and what’s not, widens. “When you look on social media, you feel like everyone around you is capable of stepping forward and continuing to provide beauty care. It’s alienating,” Siobhan says. I feel like I was overpriced to be able to be pretty, there’s a financial threshold, and if you can’t spend money on beauty treatments, you’re stuck.”

When I started writing this article, I had hoped to speak to women who had been forced to give up beauty treatments, only to find that they felt just as confident, beautiful, and dignified without the extra cosmetic work. At every turn, I found the exact opposite.

Perfectionism and lack of confidence means an unwillingness to take risks, seize opportunities and constantly doubt one’s abilities and self-esteem that affects all areas of life, and it is marginalized women who are the more at risk. Data from the Women’s Budget group shows that women are already disproportionately affected by economic crises – cuts to Social Security compound the lower wages women receive due to the gender pay gap. Women also pay more for mortgages, car loans and, because of the pink tax, personal care and beauty products. “It costs to be a woman, in more ways than one,” adds Siobhan. “I can’t afford to have my hair cut, but it’s much more affordable for my brother to have his hair done at the barber. It’s a quarter of the price, and it’s really unfair.

According to research, 25% of people plan to trade their salon treatments for DIY solutions: cut and dye your hair at home, trim instead of heading to a salon for a wax, and buy UV gel lamps for longer-lasting manicures (DIY gel nails now have 2.4 billion views on TikTok ). Meanwhile, searches for “cheap makeup” have increased by 77%, with an additional 32% of consumers planning to seek out the cheapest price for beauty treatments instead of visiting their usual salon. While this hunt for discounts may seem harmless for haircuts and manicures, it is causing concern within the aesthetics industry, in which unregulated practitioners compete to inject and augment women’s bodies. at ever cheaper (and ever riskier) rates.

When I started writing this article, I had (perhaps naively) hoped to speak to women who had been forced to give up beauty care, only to find that they felt just as confident, beautiful, and worthy without the work. additional aesthetics. At every turn, I found the exact opposite. The need is now even greater, the value of beauty work magnified. “As soon as I can afford treatments again, I will go back!” Jasmine says, echoing all the other women I’ve interviewed for this piece. “By reducing, I realized that I needed it even more,” adds Eniye. “I look at my ugly nails and it’s like ‘ah, life is getting worse.’

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