Mirror, Mirror: The Price Of Looking Good

Most conspiracy theories make me giggle. I’m a pretty open-minded gal, but the notion that the moon landing was faked strikes me as downright bizarre. However, I do believe that most major cosmetics and personal care products companies actively conspire against women. These corporations strive to manufacture discontent among women to convince them to buy new products, more products, complex systems of products to combat our apparent flaws. In many cases, the conspiracy goes even deeper, getting women hooked on certain cosmetics or procedures as mere gateways, eventually revealing that more costly versions will yield even better results. It’s a system that not only convinces women we’re undeniably imperfect, but also snows us into believing that our “imperfections” can be cured with products. And, of course, bales of money.

So I find myself seething with frustration at the discovery that, in many cases, paying more for beauty products and services actually DOES make a difference. Often times, the more expensive option is the better one. Not always, of course, but far more often than I’d prefer.

For ages, I got two haircuts per year. At Cost Cutters. My big, unruly mane of curls could handle just about anything that a $12 trim could dish out. But about nine months ago, I got a pixie cut and quickly realized that corraling my thick waves into a tidy short cut required a bit more expertise. I fared better at a spendy salon, working with a stylist who specialized in curls and waves. And the outrageously expensive products that stylist sold me? They kept my locks in better shape than the drug store gels and mousses I’d used for ages.

The second aggravating step in my hair-related realizations came when I noticed that my cheap-ass flat-iron didn’t actually do much in the way of straightening. At the salon, my stylist’s shimmering ceramic flat-iron left my hair shiny and smooth. My crappy, ancient, metal dinosaur just yanked out hairs and fried my ends. I ponied up for a top-of-the-line model, and lo, shiny, smooth pixie at home. Much grumbling ensued.

A colleague of mine makes her living speaking and teaching about wise and prudent spending, so when she informed me that a $150 Clairsonic Mia would help with my acne and blotchiness, I was inclined to believe her. And she wasn’t yanking my chain. I can’t quite believe I plunked down that kind of cash for a little, humming, swirling face brush, but damn, it has made a noticeable difference, and in less than a month!

The first blush I ever bought was the legendary NARS Orgasm, and I adored it. But it set me back $28 and I felt like a fool for spending so much. Five types of drugstore blush later, I understood how a blush becomes legendary.

Now, I still refuse to do pro manicures. I’ve gotten at least a dozen in the past few years and from dirt cheap to breathtakingly expensive, they’ve all sucked. I’ve never met a cheap lipstick I didn’t love, including the $2 glosses from Target. I use grocery store olive oil as my cleanser when I haul out my wildly expensive Clairsonic Mia, and I’m proud of it. There are so many beauty bargains out there and I seek them whenever I can, but I’m amazed and aggravated to find that many products, tools, and services are actually worth the extra cash.

Of course, this all assumes that you are a woman who wears blush or wants to straighten her hair. Plenty of women go completely natural, and that route is an undeniably fabulous one. After all, it could be argued that even a $2 lipstick feeds the manufactured discontent machine. But I’m curious to hear from those of you who chose to consume beauty products and services. Have you found that, in many cases, spending more yields better results? Any cases in which cheaper is better? By all means, share!

Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.