The Lady Stripped Bare by Tracey Spicer at TEDxSouthBankWomen – Transcript
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Tracey Spicer – Journalist
Hello, my name is Tracy Spicer and I am a vain fool.
Let me take you through my schedule before appearing here today. 6 a.m. get up, look in the mirror, see old lady looking back, wonder how the hell did she get in there! Put on running gear designed to suck in wobbly bits. Run even though no one is chasing me with an axe but run to maintain professionally acceptable size 10. Get home, do 20 wide leg squats in futile bid to get in a thigh gap. Add 20 tricep dips to get rid of nasty bingo flaps. Go to bathrooms, scour skin with exfoliant to get rid of those dreadful dead cells. Hop in shower, lather hair with sodium lauryl sulfate. Rinse out, dollop on conditioner containing placental extract, wait until it sink sink and wait, and wait and wait. Rinse out, soap up, wash off, get out of shower, dry body, lather body in petroleum byproduct, otherwise known as body moisturizer, and wait till that sink sink and wait and wait and wait.
Cleanse face, add toner containing alcohol, wish it was a G&T and I could drink the bloody thing instead. Apply serum carefully and wait till that sucks in and wait and wait. Increase the parabum load by dabbing eye cream, dab, don’t wipe, don’t want to damage the delicate skin, do we?
By this stage, I’m feeling like the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill but I can’t stop. Cover the rest of the body in bronzing cream and wait till that sucks in, and wait. Put straightening gel in hair, section off and apply searing heat until styled into shape. Burn finger on tongs, ow. Almost do back in lifting up make-up kit. Foundation, powder, concealer, blusher, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyelash curler, mascara, eyebrow liner, eyebrow color, lip-liner, lipstick, lipgloss. Put on shapewear to suck in mommy gut after two children. Pop on dress perfectly pressed by dry-cleaner using no carcinogens. Put liquid to nails containing phthalates which are linked to breast cancer.
But wait! There’s more. Yesterday visit the house of pain. No, not the one with the whips and the fishnets. The one with the hot wax which they drip above my lip and below my eyebrows, before large hairs are torn out of my face, as I lie there and silently chant, “Beauty is pain, beauty is pain”.
Today, I ask the question: Why do we do this to ourselves? Why? Why? Because it’s bullshit.
Today I’d like us to reassess the amount of time we spend in our grooming and the effect it has on our productivity. Imagine what we could achieve if we weren’t beholden to society’s unreasonable expectations about how we should look. Imagine our increased levels of productivity in the workplace and in the home in our lives more broadly. And imagine how much happier and healthier we would be by not adhering to society and advertising’s unreasonable and unrealistic image of how women should look like.
A survey by Marks and Spencer found women take an average of 27 minutes to get ready for work. Over a year, that is 10 full working days. That’s an awful lot of productivity lost.
A second survey expanded that. They compared men and women, they looked at not just grooming to the workplace but for personal life as well. And they extrapolated that over a lifetime. Over our lives on average, women will take 3,276 hours in grooming. For men, it’s 1,092. That’s how the Simpson being groomed, he’s grooming me. That’s about a third.
Do you know what we could do over those 3,276 hours? We could complete a pre-MBA course at Oxford Business School, become proficient at a music instrument, or learn another language.
But for me, this is the killer statistic. The American Time Use Survey looked over four years at the effect of grooming time on earnings. And what they found was this: That for women excess grooming time actually signals a negative work attribute rather than a positive work attribute. And guess what, it decreases earnings. If a woman doubles her grooming time, her earnings are decreased on average by 3.4%. Why? Because it’s a non-market activity.
Do you know the other big non-market activity? Housework, which we already do the bulk of. It’s an absurdity that we get caught up in all of this.
So what can we do about it? This is the difficult thing — how do we move forward from this? I’m not a well sought. You know, I love the girl power movement. I love getting dressed up from time to time. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop asking questions.
And the questions I would like to ask are these: Why does society expect this of us? Will this make happier and healthier? And is there a better way of doing it? The reason why I chose this as a topic to speak about today is because I’ve got a seven-year old daughter. Every time I get ready for my TV appearances, she stands next to me in the bathroom. And she always asks the same question: “Mommy, why do women wear make-up and men don’t?”
And for months I struggled about how to answer her. I thought I can’t say because, honey, it makes me look better, because that implies that women don’t like the way they look naturally. I can’t say, it makes me feel better, because that points to pathologically low self-esteem. What I do say to her is, “Darling, I don’t like it. It’s not right. But it’s what society expects of women. And I’m doing whatever I can in my very very small way to try to change that. Hopefully by the time, you’re a young woman, you won’t have to go through this”.
I remember when I was a young woman at my first job in journalism at a metropolitan radio station, I was breakfast news editor. And I’d come in at 3:30 in the morning, no make-up, wet hair, straight-up out of a shower. Sometimes I’d come in in my pajamas, because it was so early. But I still got the job done, you know.
And the boss came in one day and he said, “Tracey, I need to talk to you about your attitude”.
I said, “Yes, what’s this all about?”
And he said, “You need to tidy up your act. You’re not looking professional”.
And I was genuinely perplexed. I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “Well, you can at least put on make-up once in a while!”
I said, “How does that make me more professional?”