The Lady Stripped Bare by Tracey Spicer at TEDxSouthBankWomen conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – The lady stripped bare by Tracey Spicer @ TEDxSouthBankWomen
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?”
He said, “Well, look, it’s just what society expects of the ladies”. And he stormed out and slammed the door. He couldn’t explain it, he couldn’t articulate it. It makes no sense.
I’ve been accused of a lot of things over my time in television and radio. Porking up, when I was a size 12. Being too long in the tooth when I was 37. And having limited intellect because I’m a blonde. I know that women on television and in the media more broadly are a microcosm of what is experienced by women in society more broadly. But the message is the same: you are valued for how you look, not for what is in your heart or in your head.
Well, I’d like to start a movement to change that. Like any big movement, it starts with small steps. And the first step is to deconstruct the problem. I am quite literal — I take things quite literally, OK. So I’m going to physically deconstruct the problem.
I don’t like wearing three-inches of make-up. It makes me feel — thank you – it sounds like I’ve struck a chord there. It sounds like it draws you guys not too. It makes me feel like I’m wearing a mask, like I can’t really be who I am. And yet every time I go out without make-up, the comments are always the same. And I’d try to not wear make-up when I’m not doing TV appearances or giving speeches. And these are comments from friends. They’re well meaning, they don’t mean it in a belittling or insulting way but they’re just comparing the way I look when I see them without make-up with the way I am on television. And I always say things, like oh, “You look a bit pale and you’re not feeling well. Are you a bit iron deficient? Here I’ll get you a steak”. “You look a bit washed out, are you coming down with the flu?”
God, that feels better. See, I literally do have three inches of make-up [ball]. Oh, thank God. All right. What can I deconstruct next? This is fun. This is just like pulling a Barbie doll apart.
Now the hair is more difficult, because this is what my hair looks like usually. An electrocuted puddle or a blonde afro as it was known at university. Now any woman knows that getting caught in the rain is the best way of getting frizzy hair. So let’s hope this works and doesn’t short-half the microphone or in some way electrocute myself because then the cameramen down there and the news journalists will have a really great story.
Well, that’s better. All right. That should undoubtedly take effect in a few minutes, I’m telling you. All right. I love this dress. See how emotional we are when it comes to clothing. I freaking love this dress. But we shouldn’t love pieces of fabric, we should be loving people. This dress becomes constricting after a couple of hours. I can’t think properly. I feel like I can’t breathe, so it’s coming off.
Now I know what it feels like to be a stripper. This is awesome. That’s OK.
Now I get to high heels. I could do a whole speech on high heels, frankly. We all know they’re the tools of the patriarchy. But we get caught up in how they make our legs look longer and more shapely. But they’re bloody uncomfortable. We also get caught up in the narrative that we’re expressing our individuality, our economic power and our strength through them. Well, that’s bullshit, too.
Remember Sex and the City. That’s gone. There we go. I grew up in Queensland, so I am extremely comfortable in [inaudible]. So this is me. The real Tracey Spicer without my armor, because that’s what it is. There’s a reason why a woman [befont] is called her helmet of hair. We do this to physically protect ourselves.
I have a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer recently and she had chemotherapy. And believe it or not, she said, the worst thing was all her hair falling out, that she always felt like a lion with this mane of hair. And that she felt like the biblical Samson without that power; sad, isn’t it?
Quite obviously, I couldn’t go to work with this. Most of us couldn’t. I love the idea of binning our bras and not shaving our legs. I did that when I was at university. It was marvelously liberating. But I think with this fourth wave of feminism, we need a new way. And so I’ve devised three easy steps. If they all come up, one easy step is I should let my technology build.
Step one: Take note of the number of minutes your personal grooming takes over a day, week, month, year and lifetime. You’ll be shocked by how much time we spend on this stuff.
Step two: Think about the other things you could be doing. Writing a book, meditating, learning how to surf, learning how to sing, doing a master’s, doing a PhD. You know, whatever it is, think about what you wanted to do when you were a kid. We only have one life. We don’t know when it’s going to wean. Your mothers would think about all those things you wanted to do as a kid and think right, I can do that now.
Step three: Decide what you can reduce or live without. This is a really difficult thing and it’s different for every woman. And I don’t want to be prescriptive about it. As an example for me, it will be simplifying my hairdo 45 minutes a day, all at once hair is ridiculous. Minimizing the make-up on television and continuing to not wear it off camera. Stopping painting my nails and my tummy. Who said that women’s nails need to be shiny and colorful and men’s don’t. It is an absurdity. And getting rid of the fat tag. I mean, it’s expensive. And it’s full of nasty chemicals.
Like any change, this will take some time to remove society’s lace of expectations about how a woman should look. And there will be backlash, there always is. But I hope that everyone here in this room goes home today and at least has a think about this time spent and its effect on productivity and reassesses that mathematical equation. Because if we do this, I assure you we will be happier, we will be healthier. And we will be more productive.
My name is Tracey Spicer and I am no longer a vain fool.