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Women Sabotaging Women: How mixed messages keep us from getting ahead financially

It’s probably no surprise that on average, women earn less than and are less confident about their financial futures than men. But why do we feel this way? I’ve long worried that one of the reasons is the mixed messages that society, and even our fellow women, send to us. This was fully illustrated to me in the last two issues of Marie Claire magazine, which tells its female readers to bone up on their financial literacy, while also celebrating examples of women who spend money they don’t have on products and clothes. This is going to be a long one, but I can’t help but share my thoughts on how disappointed I am to see yet another example of women being discouraged from achieving our true financial potential.

In April, I was so excited to see that Marie Claire devoted a whole 7 pages to personal finance! It started with the typical story of “I’m a girl and I have no idea what goes into my 401(k),” and followed with a call to action to take control of your finances, along with some basic tips to get started. As the article said, “It’s time to finally get serious about boosting our bottom lines.”

And yet, Marie Claire went on to undermine every single piece of this financial advice the very next month. In the May issue, Marie Claire featured the “skincare diaries” of five women around the world. But my interest in a finding a good skin cream from Paris quickly turned to dismay and disgust.

Along with the details of which products each woman uses, the article featured each woman’s income and annual skincare budget. The first featured woman, from South Korea, earns an annual income of $27,000. But her annual skincare budget is $9,100! That’s a third of her income!

And the other featured women aren’t that much more responsible. Another woman spends 29% of her income on skincare, while two more spend 5%, and one spends 1%. Not only is Marie Claire celebrating women spending a third of their income on skincare, but it’s telling us where we can find their gold eye masks. Don’t worry, they only cost $195 for 8 masks.

This article left me fuming at its hypocrisy. In the finance article in April, Marie Claire suggested you spend 50% of your income on fixed expenses like rent and utilities, spend 30% on anything you want, and save the last 20%. Technically these women are abiding by the 30% of discretionary spending rule, but that assumes that they spend no money on clothes, entertainment, eating out, hair care, gifts, etc. Let’s be real; skincare is not the only line item in these women’s discretionary budgets.

I’m pretty easy going by nature, but this article left me outraged. Clearly, the feature a month ago on gaining financial security was merely another passing fad. It’s almost as if they checked off their politically correct checkbox for the issue, and went back to hawking products as soon as possible.

Look, I get it. I also occasionally shell out significant sums to look good. I get keratin treatment on my hair once a year to combat my worst enemy: DC humidity. And I recently purchased my first and only true “luxury” item – a Celine bag I bought with my birthday and bonus money and got for a third of its original price on eBay.

But I keep my spending well within reason given my income and I would never spend an un-responsible amount on my appearance. I buy almost everything on sale and use drugstore products (here are my favorite bargain beauty buys). And I track my spending by category monthly to make sure I don’t ever spend more than I should.

So as someone who appreciates makeup and skincare and clothing, I wondered why this article made me so upset. Or, upset beyond the fact that I wanted to give a free budget lesson to the women spending 30% on skincare. And I think the reason this article upsets me so much is that it feels like more to me than encouraging women to buy eye creams they can’t afford. It feels like a giant slap in the face to women fighting for just as much financial respect and security as men.

Could you imagine showing a man an example of someone who spends 30% of his income on skincare? For a man, that’s not someone to emulate, it’s someone to mock. And yet a woman is told where to buy the products so she too can spend irresponsible amounts in search of glowing skin.

If $195 gold eye masks weren’t enough, Marie Claire can show you where to buy Chanel bags for a few thousand dollars and shoes that cost more than my rent. But it’s not just Marie Claire that will tell you to buy these items; it’s magazines in general. And don’t even get me started on the fashion bloggers who sport a new designer bag every other post, with no indication of how they manage to afford it all (hint: a lot of items are given to them for free in exchange for encouraging you to buy them).

This is why it feels like an uphill battle to fight for women’s financial security, and why I am so passionate about sharing my experience and knowledge on the blog. Because it feels like so many factors are fighting against stacked against us.

Because we’re told that it’s more important to have perfect skin and the season’s latest “it bag” than it is to be financially secure. Because we’re told that we’re valued more for our looks than for our intelligence or responsibility. Because we’re told that we might intimidate potential boyfriends if we make more money than them.

Marie Claire, you should be ashamed of yourself. Clearly, your desire to promote financial security was merely “skin-deep.”

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