Becoming High Maintenance

Serial beauty slacker Erin Flaherty experiments with priming, polishing, and shellacking to see whether flawlessness really has its privileges.

By Erin Flaherty

Sharland/Getty Images

When's the last time you took a shower?" my well-scrubbed husband asks (from across the room). I not-so-inconspicuously sniff my armpits. "You're like that Peanuts character, the one with the flies buzzing over his head — Pig-Pen!" he says, grinning. I'm aware that this exchange usually plays out in reverse in most heterosexual relationships. But despite my day job as a beauty editor for Marie Claire, the truth is I'm rather, shall we say, bohemian. My blowdryer retired in the '90s; my short, raggedy-cuticled nails are rarely painted. Brows? I like them full. Waxing? Come on. My morning beauty routine: Brush hair, splash face, brush teeth. Total time? Five minutes. Recently, however, a survey done by this very magazine suggested people react more positively to those who literally keep up appearances. Is my neglect undermining my professionalism? I wonder. In the spirit of New Year's self-improvement, I vow to make the extra effort in 2013: I'll become a high-maintenance woman.

I spend one last deliciously dressed-down weekend dreaming of how glossy I'll look come Monday. But that morning arrives all too soon, and when the alarm goes off (I hit snooze once — OK, twice), the enormity of this lifestyle change faces me in the mirror. Glancing nervously at the ticking clock, I jump into the shower, wash my hair, perform a full-body exfoliation worthy of Patrick Bateman, and even apply lotion, which I never, ever do. Wiping the dust off the hair dryer that had been banished to a remote region of the closet next to old tax returns and my wedding dress, I dart back to the bathroom and find that, miraculously, it roars back to life! Less awe-inspiring is my inability to navigate the DIY blowout. Between the humidity from the shower and the heat of my ancient Sunbeam 1500, any progress I seem to make is stymied by the fact that I am sweating. In the end, this is not the work of Vidal Sassoon.

I hear my husband, Shya, wake and begin knocking on the door: "Hey, are you almost done?" I decide to do my makeup in the living room, then remember to check the time. How has an hour passed?! In full-on crisis mode, I hurriedly type a flimsy e-mail to my boss about needing to deal with a leak in my apartment, then slick on foundation, concealer, blush, and more as if my life depends on it. I throw on a silk shift, heels, even a necklace (Nice touch! I think), and hurl myself out the door, much to Shya's bemusement.

I may look fantastic — well, the hair is questionable — but I'm also more than an hour late to work. That's when I decide to start cheating. Later that afternoon, I announce to my coworkers that I need to run an errand. The task at hand, though, is scoring a real blowout at a nearby salon. It takes exactly 80 minutes, which is regrettable, but my bad behavior is justified when, back at the office, a colleague says, "Oh, Erin, you always look so great!" See? Even one day of looking fabulous can fool others into thinking that's always the case. Now I am really motivated: Facials, waxes, self-tanning sessions, hair color treatments — I get on the phone and start booking appointment after appointment. It's so time-consuming, I cancel drinks with a friend. Clearly, I'm too busy.

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