Women Stress About How They Look More Than Anything Else


Adulthood is a series of time sucking precursors to moments of enjoyment — traffic jams, that spinning pinwheel of doom that your computer shows you when it’s thinking, standing in lines at airports, outside of clubs, at the grocery store. For women, there’s also the omnipresent time suck of Getting Ready, or fashioning your hair and face into a state that the outside world deems acceptable. In fact, Getting Ready is such a time suck that if you take all the time an average woman spends on it and lump it together, you’ve got two weeks per year spent in front of a mirror.

That’s more than most jobs give their employees in vacation time. That’s 5 months per decade of life. That’s…. a lot of time.

According to a TODAY/AOL survey, time spent in front of a mirror preparing to face the world isn’t necessarily born from of an appreciation for or an enjoyment of makeup application (which, you know, some women have found to be a fun outlet for creativity and artistry); it’s often due to anxiety women feel about their appearance’s need to be improved somehow. The survey found that women worry about their looks more than anything else — more than money, health, relationships, and their professional success, and that mothers were more likely than non-mothers to feel anxious about their looks (73% of mothers reported appearance anxiety versus 65% of childless women).

Participants were fairly split over whether or not pressure to post pictures of themselves to the internet made them feel more or less self conscious, but younger millennial women were much more likely than their older, less social media-savvy counterparts to feel like shit about their appearance, despite their youth and presumptive peak physical shape. The women who responded to TODAY’s survey seemed to agree, though, that airbrushing presented a misleading, unobtainable ideal that made them feel worse, not better, about how they looked.

Survey respondents are externalizing their anxieties over their own appearances, regularly bad mouthing themselves to others. Eight in ten women reported that they’d complained to someone about being fat in the last month; 77% say they worried aloud about being old.

But women aren’t just stressing about their own faces; they’re worried about their bodies as well. According to the TODAY survey, women worry about their stomachs, their thighs. They worry about their hair, skin, and butts. Men, while worried about their appearance, spend much less time and energy fretting than their female counterparts and worried about a less diverse array of body parts.

All of this anxiety among women translates to about an hour a day spent in front of a mirror. Which, added up and divided by the number of hours in a day, puts women spending a little more than 15 days of solo time in front of a mirror per year.

This isn’t to say that wearing makeup and combing your hair is objectively A Bad Thing or that wanting to look nice is a sin against other women, because no one wants to roam the streets looking like the lady from The Simpsons who throws cats, and the external is a component of the self. But it is pretty sobering to reflect on the extent to which we’re all subject to pressures that existed before we were born and will continue to exist no matter how many daytime talk show hosts appear on camera without layers of usually-shellacked-on TV makeup.

Here’s a personal anecdote: about a month ago or so, I had to have all four wisdom teeth taken out (my mouth thinks I’m a teen even though I haven’t been a teen in more than a decade, apparently). Post surgery, I swelled up like a balloon animal and my whole chin area formed a bruise-beard of pain — fairly standard stuff. The swelling, bruising, and pain I could handle with a combination of prescribed narcotics, antibiotics, and ice. But I couldn’t have predicted how ill-equipped I was to handle leaving the house and facing the world with a startlingly injured-looking face. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the grocery store to buy more pudding (the only food I could eat, since my mouth would only open about a half an inch and I wasn’t allowed to use straws). I would see my face and cry like a child, as though the only thing I had to offer the world before the teeth came out was my fairly nondescript face — really melodramatic, whiny shit. It was literally the most minor fucking thing, walking around with a face that was sort of puffy around the jaw line, but it felt debilitating for me, to know that I could no longer disappear if I didn’t want to be noticed. That if people were looking, it was not to look past me or admire me; it was to gawk. I’d never experienced that first hand before, never understood what it felt like before. Never had the occasion to, I suppose. I always thought I was someone who had moved beyond putting too much stock in my appearance, like I’d thought my way out of it through years of Doing Feminism. But I was wrong, and the whole experience felt incredibly humbling. I’m sure somewhere, someone can untangle themselves from social pressure to appear “presentable” as a woman. But I am not one of those people.

Nor, at least according to TODAY’s findings, are most women.

So what is there to learn from this? Women spend an awful lot of time trying to meet standards they had nothing to do with setting and feeling bad when they can’t reach them. That there’s a complicated relationship between a woman’s appearance, self-loathing, and self-love. And mirrors don’t come with photoshop, no matter how many hours we spend staring at them.

Image via Shutterstock

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