THE BLOG
01/08/2015 03:10 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2015

Women Are Criticized for What They Spend and Men Are Admired

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images

A recent Daily Mail story reported that Gwyneth Paltrow--Hollywood actress, Martha Stewart of the X Generation, former rock star wife--spends upwards of £14,000 (roughly $22,000) a month on a beauty regimen that consists of regular facials, weekly blowouts, intravenous vitamin therapy (it's a thing), and various types of massage (Reiki, lymphatic). She reportedly shells out more than $25,000 a year on anti-aging laser treatments alone. The Sydney Morning Herald branded the sum "eye-watering," while Bonnie Fuller's Hollywood Life called the revelation "shocking."

It's pointless to ask why we care enough to break down Paltrow's every expenditure, and then critique it for articles on end: When it comes to celebrities, we're obsessed with every last detail, and the more outrageous the better.

But let's be honest. Are we offended by her overspending--or by her vanity and self-indulgence?

The sum--which adds up to $264,000 a year--may be excessive, sure. For one thing, that's a lot of laser. But the sole purpose of tallying up the total--and then publishing it--was, of course, to shame and judge her, and the care and cash she puts towards her appearance. Later, the Sunday Times did some further digging and concluded that--what do you know?--there are lower-priced alternatives to nearly everything on Paltrow's list. This can, of course, be said for pretty much everything else in life and let's imagine for a moment the predictable pans if Paltrow turned up to the Oscars looking tired in a frumpy, ill-fitting, inexpensive dress and hair she'd let air-dry. Women are expected to look good, all the while projecting the image that getting to that state was entirely effortless.

Whether you love her or don't, Paltrow works hard. She earns a lot of money--and with it, the right to spend it on things that make her feel good, without judgment or qualification. And yet the uproar surrounding Paltrow's beauty allowance is evidence of the persistent belief that we have not only the right, but also the obligation, to weigh in on what others spend their money on, with the expectation that their values, or their reality, align with ours. Paltrow can afford the better end of things. Should we demand she go to Supercuts just because less expensive haircuts exist, or because that's the reality for so many others?

But there's more happening here, and it comes down to the fact that Paltrow's a woman. How often do we see male celebrities, or men in general, tasked for the stuff-- whether vain or frivolous or "too indulgent"-- they spend their money on? When's the last time someone tallied up the number of massages George Clooney gets a year, or how much Justin Bieber spends on his clothes, hair, tattoos, and body? Instead, we talk about how Bieber "got those amazing abs," not how much he spent in the pursuit of them, and without the not-so-subtle sort of digs at the sad, selfish vanity that often accompany commentary on women's image-related spending. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio's apparent need to be ever in the presence of a supermodel or three, as evidenced by a recent St. Bart's beach party with a "harem" of beauties (at a $28,000 per night villa), earned him not condemnation for being either superficial or over-indulgent, even though surely there are both other women and cheaper houses out there. Instead, he is admired, with recognition that concluded, "Leonardo DiCaprio has become the embodiment of every man's dreams."

A friend--a very hard-working mother of two--who recently reached a career milestone as a tech industry exec rewarded herself with a pair of $2,000 Chloe boots, then broadcasted the purchase to all via her social media accounts. She wasn't bragging--though what if she was? The boots made her feel empowered. Beautiful. And so she reveled in them. She enjoyed them. And that was her right. She earned those boots, both literally and figuratively.

So did Paltrow. And yet, in half-heartedly trying to justify the expenditure, Hollywood Life suggested that some of Paltrow's motivation could be that, following her split from musician Chris Martin, she's "back on the market." Radar echoed the thought. Of course! If a woman is going to spend that much on her looks, well, it MUST be in the pursuit of a man. Who knows? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. The point is that Gwyneth Paltrow--and any other woman who chooses to indulge in a pricier-than-drugstore brand mascara because she likes how it makes her eyes look, or crazy-high heels because they make her walk taller--needn't justify the decision. We're sexist for asking her to, and that's our problem. Not hers.