Grooming and personal appearance can be expensive to look after, and a parent earning minimum wage who wants to send a child out into the world looking and feeling his or her best may find that it isn't affordable.
By Michelle Martin
Published January 03, 2012
Chesterton wrote the following paragraph in conclusion to an argument against an unnamed public official who had suggested cutting the hair off of poor children in order to combat head-lice, a plan he rightly accused of being ass-backwards. We will forgive him his early twentieth century lack of political correctness and substitute the word parents for mother.
I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.
— G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World
Head lice are no longer the exclusive lot of poorer children. With public education, lice have become much more democratic: two kindergarteners, from very different neighbourhoods, leaning over a picture book together with their heads touching can pass the insects back and forth easily in any classroom, as can preteens enjoying a comic book together at summer camp in the Muskokas.
Eradicating it easily, however, may be a different story, depending on one's income: lice shampoo costs just under $40 a bottle for the generic brand. Two treatments are required, seven to ten days apart. If you need to treat two or three children, then you are looking at $80 - $120 to get rid of the critters, never mind re-infestation if the school is having a bad year with outbreaks.
Shampooing is just the start: it does not kill nits (the eggs that are laid by lice). These need to be combed or pulled off of individual strands of hair, which means hours and hours of work, even if there aren't that many nits overall. Every hair needs to be checked, just in case. If you don't want to be bothered with nit-picking, you can hire someone who will do it for $50 an hour.
Fortunately, we live in more enlightened times where head lice are concerned. Children aren't banished from school for having nits, because we now know that lice do not carry disease. Families in Hamilton can access both the treatment shampoo and help with combing nits at a clinic run by the Public Health Department. Those on a fixed or low income can get assistance, then, with one aspect of childhood grooming.
Grooming and personal appearance can be expensive to look after, and a parent earning minimum wage who, quite rightly, wants to send a child out into the world looking and feeling his or her best may find that it isn't affordable to do so. No free clinics exist that will help with basic skin or hair care, and often a bargain shampoo or soap is just not going to do the trick.
Let's say dandruff is the problem: just buying medicated shampoo from a drugstore is going to cost enough, never mind making your purchase at a high-end salon or spa. Dry, cracked skin?
Again, a simple drug-store solution designed for someone who is also sensitive to scent can be beyond the monthly budget of many who could only dream of going shopping at a department store cosmetics counter.
Grooming issues like these typically make their appearance at the onset of puberty, when hormones wreak havoc on scalps and faces. Acne is a normal complaint, and used to be a bit of a leveler, as it has no respect for social class or income level. The science of skin care has made great leaps, however.
In our scientifically advanced era, those who suffer from mild to moderate blemishes and who have a bit of money to spend can find a great deal of relief at the drugstore, as well as specially blended cosmetics to cover up pimples that have not yet disappeared. Those who don't have the money to spend have to tough it out the way everyone did in the bad old days.
If the acne is moderate to severe, the option of powerful and effective prescriptions exist for those who have a drug plan and who can also afford the attendant expenses of special moisturizers, lip balms and even eye drops to relieve the dryness that comes with a course of Accutane.
You can argue that a teenager who needs to spend the extra cash to keep her- or himself comfortable and eczema-, dandruff- or acne-free should just go get a part-time job. I might argue that too, except for an anecdote that was recounted to me last year. Someone I know, who works waiting tables at a franchised restaurant, overheard an exchange between the owner and the manager that went something like this:
"What did you take her resume for?"
"She just dropped it off."
"I've already told you we need to improve the appearances of the waitresses here. Don't give her an interview."
Clearly, enlightenment among employers has not grown at the same rate as the science of dermatology.
These are not frivolous concerns for a parent. They are reasonable ones, and any discussion of a living wage needs to take into consideration a monthly amount to be spent on grooming that covers more than just cast-off hotel soaps from vacationing boomers, cheap shampoo, dollar store body lotion, and cheap razors.
Chesterton began with a little girl's hair. We can just as easily begin with a little boy's hair, or a teenager's complexion.