Body care has never sucked up much of my budget. I hate manicures, dread massages, and find waxing to be a form of torture I tried long ago and refuse to ever do again. I’m shitty at painting my nails; they start chipping immediately, and I start picking off the polish not long after that. I don’t shave my legs for the cold part of the year. I don’t even blow dry my hair anymore—until a couple years ago I used to at least do that every day. I just have zero interest in spending money or time on any of this.
When it comes to body care, my rules are simple and have been for awhile: I have to look professional at work, and ingredients can’t be toxic. This has long meant I check the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database before buying any body care products, from sunscreen to shampoo. Even before I adopted frugal living as a mission, EWG led me to stop lots of purchases I may have once made sporadically, such as bubble bath and nail polish.
And now I have two kids, who in the course of the last 4.5 years dramatically changed how I approach body care in a few big ways:
- When I was pregnant with each of them, I pared back even further on body care products, not wanting to expose their sensitive bodies indiscriminately to whatever icky chemicals the products contained. I got rid of hair mousse with petrochemicals and makeup with questionable ingredients.
- After my pregnancies, I decided I wanted to set an example of how a person can be beautiful without making cosmetic changes to their body.
- And I prefer to use the time I once used to put on skin lotion or take a bath every morning to hang with the family or do things that truly serve me, like exercise or read a good book. Now I just shower (every other day), slap on sunscreen and deodorant, and…that’s it.
Because of all this, I didn’t look immediately to body care practices as a potential source of saving money. But lo and behold, I had room for improvement! Surprisingly, I’ve spent even less time and money on body care in the last few months, as I’ve gotten started with this Fishtailing Joyride, than I did in the recent past. And it’s been FANTASTIC!
After some reflection, I realized all I’d done to frugalize my body care was take two steps:
Step 1: See the matrix
Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) likens breaking away from mainstream consumer habits, from financing cars to cooling your home to anything less than 80 degrees, to unplugging from the matrix. He questions every aspect of consumption and comes up with strategies to do things more frugally. Seeing the consumer matrix literally pays him back in dividends—by spending only around $25k a year regardless of income, he and his wife saved and invested so much in their 20s that they retired at age 30.
I’m hardly the first person to point out that the body issues ingrained in mainstream U.S. culture are an offshoot of our bigger problems with consumption. Body shaming is rampant, as are “fixes” you can buy for any body “problem.” “Good” looks are even a form of privilege, helping to open doors they shouldn’t, like higher pay. And the color of your skin matters deeply, regardless of whether you’re “good looking.” If you’re Black, you can scarcely breathe without being seen as a threat—a problem with roots that weave back deeply through the generations all the way to the centuries of chattel slavery that built our country’s agricultural economy.
Well shit. I guess that last paragraph should serve as a clue that it’s no simple feat to give up either body shame or the body care practices rooted in that shame. But it’s worth a try. Mainstream body care views and practices should be questioned, just as any other decision to consume things should be. We can consciously choose our body care practices instead of just accepting what so many others do as a given.
Seeing the matrix was a decades-long process for me. (I don’t recommend that approach if you can help it!) For almost two decades, I spent so much time worrying about my body it was ridiculous—especially considering that, without much effort, I pretty much fit the mainstream magazine definition of”good looks:” tall, skinny, white, etc. Somehow, I’ve mostly moved past all this body shame, thankfully. It happened gradually from my late 20s to early 30s.* Maybe I lost the body shame due to the fact that, compared to many women, I’ve received relatively few messages throughout my lifetime that my body isn’t okay the way it is. I’m not so sure that’s a valid conclusion, though; after all, having a “culturally approved” body didn’t protect me from body shame to begin with. More likely, my leaving body shame behind resulted from birthing and breastfeeding two kids, both of which required me to use body parts I’d previously been pretty disconnected from—and ones that played a starring role in past body shame, like my uterus and breasts.
Looking back, I can say that my body worries were fed by pervasive cultural messages telling women two things:
- Our bodies need to be perfect and therefore always need some kind of fixing (I’m looking at you, Photoshopped magazines) and
- Our bodies are not truly ours (hellooo catcalls and well-meaning compliments, the epidemic of violence against women that isn’t taken anywhere near seriously enough, flaunty clothes for sale starting in toddler girls’ sizes, etc.).
Personally, my worries also came from unaddressed generalized anxiety disorder starting at a young age. “What if?” is a famous anxiety disorder refrain: What if my boobs don’t get bigger? What if I get cellulite? What if someone sees this zit? What if I’m getting creases from scowling? And on top of all these “what ifs,” my anxious brain probably made me more susceptible to messages 1 and 2 above than many other people are.
You can start seeing the matrix by talking with your friends about this stuff and reading about it. There’s a practically endless litany of options for reading material out there. One good book I read recently that touches on cultural messages toward women is Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. The Color Purple by Alice Walker was also a good one for me. Maybe someday I’ll get into why I pointed to those two books (and which others I’d also point to!); for now I’ll just throw those out as two books that might be a good start for you, too.
Step 2: Unplug a little at a time
Start with changes to your spending habits that feel easy for you. They don’t have to relate to body care. Maybe it’s programming your thermostat to cool your house to 80 degrees instead of 72, biking to work instead of driving, or making more meals instead of going out to eat so often.
You can probably see where I’m going with this: note that two out of those three very quickly become about taking care of your body! As it turns out, the body care stuff starts happening naturally as you make changes to live more frugally. When I started biking to work, I took a bunch of work clothes to keep at work instead of in my closet at home, and I consequently spend almost no time picking clothes to wear each workday. Cooking more meals at home means more nutritious, whole foods. The list goes on: I experimented with washing my hair less often to save time and money on hot water and, after 36 years of washing it daily, I learned my hair can easily go 2-3 days without being washed. And after at least 20 years of blow-drying my hair daily, I stopped getting haircuts that require blow-drying. Then I stopped getting professional haircuts and learned to trim my own hair. I seem to keep finding more efficiencies like these, too.
As a collateral benefit of getting more efficient at taking care of your body, any body shame you harbor just might begin to heal as well. Just between the biking and ditching restaurant meals, I feel better about my body than ever before. I love the fact that my hair is shinier and I spend less time getting ready each day because I’m not washing my hair daily and never blow-dry it anymore. And taking so much less time to get ready each day is a confidence booster for me. I joke that the extra confidence comes from the fact that I now take less time to get ready in the morning than my husband does. But I think the confidence really came about because I’ve examined every body care choice under a microscope, and now the only body care practices I do are hand-picked by and for me, not to serve anyone else in some way. Yep.
* Perhaps a clue as to any remaining body shame I have is that I fought a powerful urge to point out, after writing the first few paragraphs in this post, that I’m not the hairy mess I may sound like. There is no shortage of irony in this footnote, since now I’m saying I’m not a hairy mess right here. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that I don’t have this zero body shame thing down perfectly, lest you start to think otherwise.