Friday, February 15, 2008

The Price of Luxury

Jill at Feministe presents an argument against the latest tax proposal in New York for "luxury items." Because the measure would include services such as chemical peels and face lifts, she feels it unfairly targets women.

Among the more intriguing proposals is a new tax on cosmetic procedures, i.e. face-lifts, chemical peels and dermabrasions, which would generate $65 million annually. However, the report notes there will be opposition from those who see such treatments not as luxuries but as “vital to improving self-esteem and general quality of life.’’

I’m not sure that cosmetic surgery and treatments are “vital,” but it does seem a bit unfair to target women for what amounts to a beauty tax — especially when it’s been shown that a woman’s physical appearance has a direct impact on her compensation and her hiring prospects. Older women are offered lower salaries than younger ones; fat women make less money than thin women; mothers make less money than women without children. It’s economically rational for women to try to make themselves look younger. For a lot of women, it does feel like a necessity, not a luxury.

I can't really bring myself to agree with Jill on this one. I do see her point, but in my opinion, making spa treatments more expensive has two good outcomes: 1) putting face lifts out of the average person's price range might reduce demand for them and help to stop the spreading popularity of changing one's appearance surgically, and 2) it might help stop the poor treatment of women, often immigrants who work in salons.

Of course, it wouldn't have as much of an impact as if these measures were proposed in California, home of the Barbie ideal. But really, it would be nice if women, unable to afford cosmetic surgery or Botox, brought back the trend of looking like normal people. Could you imagine it? People with normal cheekbones, a variety of nose shapes, ordinary lips.

And if salon services were taxed, there might be less proliferation of the salons who employ immigrants and demand that they work with dangerous chemicals with no protection. Certainly the proliferation of spas has lowered costs for basics like manicures and facial peels, meaning that immigrants are often paid less in order to maintain profits as competitors force prices down.

I certainly enjoy a good spa treatment; I'm already putting aside to treat myself to a massage. But I don't believe in having layers of my face peeled off, and I'm more than happy to pluck my own eyebrows. For me, a massage is a luxury, something I save up for and enjoy perhaps twice a year. And I wouldn't object to a tax on it.

2 responses:

Vanessa said...

I'm not sure about this tax. I don't consider face lifts a salon treatment... that's cosmetic surgery. But, for example, a microderm abrasion or chemical peel can help someone's self-esteem. Like myself, I have horrible scars from teen acne. I'm actually going to talk to my doctor about medical microderm abrasions. This is different from the salon because a dermatologiest does it. But at the salon I already cannot afford them at at least $50 each. But my self-esteem is priceless so I'm hoping the medical one will be covered.

mice said...

Why would it have a less of an effect in California?

You don't think Californians are taxed enough or think we are all so vain that we would not notice an increased price on our Salon treatments?

There are plenty of scary Californians. But really we are not all like that.

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