The High Maintenance Woman and Self-Care

A few weeks ago while I was browsing through Facebook, I came upon one of those ubiquitous quizzes.  This particular quiz was entitled “How High Maintenance are You?” and the women who had completed it were more than happy to post and comment on their results.  They went something like this:

“I got a 2! I must be low maintenance lol…”

“A 2?! I got a 1! I think my car is better maintained! haha”

“I didn’t even score.  Did I shower today?”

“I got a 3 but that was only because I got a manicure for my sister’s wedding.  I would have scored lower.”

“I haven’t had a haircut in over year, and I think I have a unibrow.  I would break the test.  I didn’t even bother…”

On the surface, I can see the humor, but it almost reads like gallows humor.  Are these women serious? You treat your car better than you treat yourself? Notice the competition.  Five women are competing for who takes top honors in treating themselves the worst.  Who practices the poorest hygiene? Who practices the poorest personal grooming? Who cares the least about themselves? This is something to be validated and rewarded? And someone came up with a quiz to measure this?

Let’s think about this from the other end.  Let’s think about the “high maintenance woman” for a moment.  If there is honor in being The Martyr–the woman who throws herself under the bus in the name of Low Maintenance or no maintenance at all, then what about the other end of the spectrum? What of that woman who averages a 5 or above? That woman with the foiled hair, gym membership, gel nails, and spray tan.  She’s probably got a Brazilian wax ‘down there’, too.  She’s following some vegan gluten-free diet or something trendy.  Doing wheatgrass shots and refusing to eat sugar.  Blah blah blah.  High Maintenance.  Who has time for that nonsense? Right?!

The first thing that struck me about this quiz is that men generally don’t do these quizzes.  I rarely hear men ask their friends, “Hey, do you think I’m high maintenance? Do you think that my preferring a microbrew over a Bud Light makes me high maintenance? Do you think my liking socks with no seams and tagless t-shirts makes me high maintenance?” It sounds like a situational comedy.  Change the script, however, to a few women in a restaurant:

“Do you think my preferring a microbrew over a Bud Light makes me high maintenance? I mean, I just prefer it! Do you think that my refusing to wear socks with seams makes me high maintenance? Or t-shirts with tags? They really itch me! It distracts me all day! I can’t do it.  I’m not high maintenance, am I?”

I theorize that you would have mixed responses.  Some people would say, “Yeah, you are high maintenance.”  Many men would just make their choices and feel okay about it.  He likes what he likes.  Why? In part, I suggest, because there are no quizzes and labels such as these aimed at men.  Men have other labels to deal with to be sure.  The idea, however, that women are judged on a spectrum, particularly by each other, for investing in themselves should be shocking.  Oddly, it’s not.  The first time I heard the phrase “high maintenance” was in the film “When Harry Met Sally”:

“Well, I just want it the way I want it,” Sally says.

“I know.  High maintenance,”  Harry answers.

Hmmm.  That’s interesting, isn’t it? In 1989, the year “When Harry Met Sally” hit theaters, a woman knowing her own mind and asking for what she wanted defined “high maintenance”.  In 2016, investing in yourself unapologetically seems to be the new definition particularly if you are a mother.

What does all this mean? What can it mean for you and me?

I used to be a woman who neglected herself.  There was no simple reason for it.  There were a lot of reasons.  I was ashamed of myself.  I had gotten married too young.  I had children too young.  I felt trapped in my life.  I had trauma issues to deal with, and I didn’t know how to do it or where to start.  I had gained weight in my pregnancies, and I didn’t know how to lose it.  I was the primary caregiver to my young children, and I had no friends.  I couldn’t see that there were any resources available to me.  I was very lonely, and I felt like a foreigner in my own body and life.  Nothing felt like mine anymore.  My then husband ignored me all the time.  I felt almost hopeless.  It didn’t feel like neglect.  How I treated myself seemed appropriate.  I just drifted along with the current.  I put everything I had into my children.  That felt like the thing to do.  In reality, the more I put into my children, the more I was erasing myself.  I hated what I had become.  I was so disappointed in my life and my state.  I completely forgot how to truly be myself–how to maintain my own identity and continue to develop it.  It is impossible to maintain and develop yourself if you’re running from yourself.  Personal growth and development do not mix with avoidance.  They are mutually exclusive.  If shame is in the mix, then it becomes doubly difficult.

There is no such thing as a high maintenance woman.  Before you point and say, “Kim Kardashian…”, I will say that we only see what we are allowed to see when it comes to other human beings even more so when commercialism, exploitation, and virtual reality are at play.  As women, we know first hand how hard it can be to try to meet the tacit and spoken expectations surrounding us.  It’s hard enough to meet our own much less everyone else’s.

So, I propose something.  I propose that we all erase the phrase “high maintenance woman” from our vocabularies.  Going further, I suggest that we stop comparing ourselves to other women altogether.  If you like your unibrow and weekly shower, then keep it! You are not lesser than your neighbor who waxes her face, legs, and bikini area and showers four times a day while getting a mani/pedi and Botox while holding the Warrior pose at the same time.  What matters here is that you like yourself, know your own mind, can express your wants and needs, and live a fulfilling life with rewarding relationships.  Your ability to practice self-care and invest in yourself is an expression of the quality of your life and self-esteem.

As women, when we observe other women participating in self-care and self-expression, applaud them because this has not always been available to women.  It is often still not available to women here and in other parts of the world.  So, eschew that quiz.  Don’t do it.  Take care of yourself.  Love yourself.  And encourage and enable other women to do the same in whatever way is most meaningful to them.  If you are not sure how to begin taking care of yourself in a way that is meaningful to you, then I recommend this book:

While you’re thinking about how to do that, consider donating to Days for Girls International, an organization that provides hygiene “kits” for girls in developing parts of the world so that they don’t miss school due to their menstrual cycles.  Yeah, that’s a thing.  Hygiene kits–the most basic self-care for women and girls.  You and I can actually change the lives of girls in other parts of the world by fulfilling this most basic need.  To see this in action, watch this four-minute film.

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