When I met my now fiance, his passions for music intrigued me. I had attempted to learn a couple of instruments in my youth but none of them stuck so to speak. This despite  music being one of the greatest joys in my life. This man could play any instrument, guitar, bass, drums, and even the ocarina. I can sing, I guess, but I don’t like to. In the early days, I loved to watch him play guitar. I would close my eyes and listen. Today, we have an almost full drum kit in our two bedroom apartment, an electric guitar and an acoustic one. (We did have a borrowed bass for a period of time as well.) I do have to admit that the drums irritate me, only in their loudness and our proximity to others around us. But apart from that I enjoy him playing his instruments. I love that he is musical. It’s attractive. 

A couple of days ago I gushed about a new skincare product I was using: a lactic acid from Sunday Riley. I received it in a goodie bag from my Vogue Australia magazine subscription. My fiance was flabbergasted by the cost, $128. I consider skincare to be one of my hobbies. At a young age I watched my mother apply various lotions and potions and witness the joy they brought her. At 65 she is frequently told she looks at least ten years younger. Her skin is soft and supple with few wrinkles. When I was 13 she gifted me a Clinique gift set containing a cleanser, toner and moisturiser. 14 years later, I can vividly see the clear hard plastic bag that it came in in my mind’s eye. It was purchased at the duty free section of the airport before our journey to Turkey for a week. This was mere weeks before I was due to begin secondary school, the fancy skincare made me feel like a “real” teenager. 

This is a tradition, perhaps that’s the correct word, passed down from my grandmother who died before I turned one. My mother lovingly spoke of how every Christmas my grandmother would ask for a “good’ (code for expensive) moisturiser for a present. Dressing well and looking good was important for her as she faced the public behind the country pub her and my grandfather owned. 

I cannot say for certain what my skin would look like if I never had a skincare routine. Or to what extent genetics plays in how I will age, or how well both my mother and grandmother did. But I have great skin despite smoking for over ten years (quitting has improved the overall pallor of my skin tone) and drinking heavily in my teens and twenties, both of which contribute significantly to the ageing process. 

My mother often jokes that she can no longer stop using one cream or the other for fear the scaffolding will all fall down. We continue this tradition she began as we talk at lengths on the phone about the products we are using. I update her on the latest trends I have seen on tiktok. She sends me my favourite eye cream (Chanel’s Hydra Beauty Micro Gel Yeux), that retails in Australia for $100, as a special treat I am ecstatic!  As an aside, it is the only eye cream I have used that I’ve witnessed a noticeable difference while using. Each year I buy her a huge Soap and Glory Christmas gift set. It is so ingrained that the one year I did not get her one she was hugely disappointed. 

As a student it’s difficult to budget these creams but I think of them as an investment. Not only as an investment into my skin but into myself. Once during a therapy session my counsellor described my devotion to skin as a hobby, something I had not totally considered before. He described the twice daily dedicated time I set aside for me as a form of self care. I start and end my day with my skincare routine. 

A hobby is a regular activity done for enjoyment or pleasure. It is hurtful when my fiancé ridicules a pastime I have spent more than half my life engaging with. Something I would never dare do to him and his music. He often jokes that the cost of my skincare is the reason he should be in charge of our finances. He does not see the value in it. 

When we first met my fiancé he was enamoured by my skin, how soft it was, how unmarred by pimples, and how good I smelled generally (I include body scrubs and body lotion as a part of my skincare routine.) This was attractive to him in much the same way music was to me. 

My finance believes my hobby is in deep contrast with my political leaning as “an active consumer in capitalist society”. Am I simply materialistic? I believe that the idea of “being a materialistic person” is far more nuanced. The rise of the Marie Kondo lifestyle, and minimalism more broadly, has led people to focus on the greater meanings of life. It also insinuates that materialist values rob us of joy. But there is value in the material. There is value in “our stuff” that should not be demonised. It brings joy. Partaking each and every day in my skincare routine brings me joy.  I fear that this demonisation extends more broadly to items that are categorised as more feminine.  

I have recently realised the extent to which hobbies are gendered. Not in the way that men engage with certain types of hobbies and women with others, but the perceived value of that hobby. 

To be over simplistic for a moment, hobbies associated with embodying a masculine energy often fall into certain categories. A google search for “hobbies for men” are focused on the physical: Sports (soccer, boxing, martial arts), hiking, or typically traditional feminine household jobs: cooking, gardening, baking, to name but a few. Of course there are numerous other hobbies: photography, music, and reading, 

There has been a number of recent TikToks regarding the societal perception of sports fans versus Kpop fans. In these videos, the creators point to the glaring misogyny of how both fans are described. The typically feminine fan bases of kpop are described as obsessive while the sports fans are described as passionate. It is obscene to spend thousands of dollars to visit their favourite music group in another country yet it is acceptable for a soccer fan to spend similar to see the world cup. Both groups of fans share many similarities: having a favourite group or team, a favourite member or player, and spending money on merchandise or jerseys, becoming excited during a concert or game, and then becoming incredibly upset if a member leaves or a team loses. It can even be argued that the latter has wider societal implications as sports fans have been known to riot after games which impacts the area hosting the event. Feminine associated hobbies, or hobbies that mostly women participate in,  are deemed as frivolous, obsessive, and not of value. 

During the p-word (pandemic) many people tried to take up new and exciting hobbies to fill the extra hours they found in their days, especially ones that could be conducted at home. Many of which I am sure have fallen by the wayside. However, during this time  I became more invested in the hobbies I already had, skincare. I went down rabbit holes of youtube videos and TikToks. I bought the latest trending products. It filled my time but it also allowed me to truly test the products I was using. I tailored my routine into what worked but also what I could manage (the 10 step routines look great but sometimes would not fit into my day). These “materialistic” items and routines brought me joy and gave me a sense of purpose that continues out of lockdown. Hobbies are supposed to bring pleasure to a person’s life no matter how “frivolous” society deems them to be. Of course, there are other arguments to be made around the sourcing of these products, and the subsequent environmental and ethical demands. However I rarely see arguments against sports or music being made under the same constraints. 

Gender can be performative. To be a woman is to adhere to, and strive towards, conventional standards of beauty. I have been, and still am, continuously constrained by looking good to meet what I deem perfect. In this essay, I am speaking to both looking younger and being without spots. (Two of the huge marketing aspects of skincare). I am aware I am engaging with a hobby I like that has been pushed onto me through the media I consume. A point that my fiancé frequently makes. It is a paradox I struggle with. Yet, as I began to describe earlier in this piece, he enjoys how I look and how I present myself. On our first meeting my skin was clear, my makeup delicately applied, and my bleached blonde hair curled and hairspray-ed. Isn’t it ironic that the patriarchy that wants feminine presenting people to be perfect, beautiful, beings, then laughs when they try to do so.

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