The Cost of Looking Natural: Beauty Edition

Where Leandra’s “natural” is all about effortless dressing, mine is more about the face


People always ask me if my hair color is natural. It’s a bit of a loaded question to which I inevitably provide a loaded answer but in all fairness, who’s really to say?

My hair colorist, if sworn to oath before the court, will tell you that she mixes one part F42 with two parts FTZ* to give me this reddish hue. She may divulge the fact that once a year she paints bleach onto the ends of my hair in a technique called “Balayage,” which essentially makes it look like I spend so much time surfing that the bottoms of my hair are lighter from the sun and — wouldn’t you know it —  so too are the pieces framing my face.

See…my hair grows in much darker but it lightens and reddens on its own. I prefer the lighter color, so I’ve started making it my year-round thing. Usually I evade the question by pointing to my grays and saying that I “just have them covered them up.” Other times I glare at the person who asked me until they walk away. Maybe the color is not technically natural, but it’s kind of natural and it looks natural. It also costs about 200 very natural dollars, so sue me.

In considering that which is — sorry to say it again — natural, Leandra pointed out earlier today that perhaps what I’m really looking for is to appear effortless. So how about these effortless eyebrows of mine that appear in a thick, curated arch? It costs me $50 once a year to essentially wax my entire forehead, because I don’t know if you know this about me but I’m related to Groucho Marx. For the rest of the year I do the plucking myself, but time is money so I’d estimate I spend upward of $200 of my own life’s hours staring into a magnifying mirror and ripping errant hairs from my brow.

We’re at $450 if you’re keeping count.

Next let’s talk makeup. There’s tinted moisturizer to pretend my skin is better than its naked reality, primer to fake radiance despite winter doldrums, mascara which I won’t shut up about, and now that I’m on my new “invisible eyeliner” kick that adds another twenty something to the mix. That’s approximately $115 for “natural looking” makeup alone. Crap. I forgot cheek and lip stain which makes it look like I just happen to be perfectly flushed and pouty. Another $30.

(Sometimes I get my eyelashes dyed so that I look like I’m wearing mascara even when I’m not, but we’re up to $595 so let’s leave that fun fact out.)

The final expense and most frequently purchased in all of my routine beauty circuit are nails. Nails are the silent killer. It costs me $35 for a gel manicure, which is cheap in Manhattan but beyond ridiculous when considering I get my fingernails painted the color of…fingernails.

So $630 total to look natural. Don’t check my math.

Admittedly, no one is putting a fork to my head and saying I won’t be pretty without the makeup and whatnot. I’m perfectly fine running around sans “face” no matter how much of an earwig I resemble without mascara on — I really don’t care. But getting my nails done, hair colored, eyelashes dyed — these are my “treat yoself” moments.

Where the dichotomy lies is in the response of others; nothing makes me angrier when I come out of a hair appointment feeling like a damn Pantene Pro V commercial model and no one seems to notice that anything is different about me. But isn’t that the point? That you’re just supposed to assume I’m born with it?

Fine. I am.

And yes, by the way — to answer your question, this is my natural hair color.

*No clue what the actual formulas she puts in my hair are, by the way, but it sounds like science!

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  • CDJ

    UGH. i just commented this on the earlier post because this wasn’t up yet. BUT ima do it again because it fits better here: “I spend a lot of money on makeup to make it look like I’m not wearing any.”

    also: I once got told my new blonde hair (in ombre form) looked natural as if babies are born with ombres.

    • Rhubarbarin

      Well if you naturally have dark blond hair and grow it past the shoulders, it usually gets ombre on it’s own… at least mine and my sisters’ does. But I think your point is that people are clueless, which is true.

  • Aubrey Green

    Bar Refaeli is hands down one of the most naturally beautiful women – not that she is the most beautiful, but with and without makeup she basically looks the same. She seems to be one of those people that look better with less makeup actually…I think Leandra is also like that. Most women don’t need as much makeup as they think they do, or as they wear to begin with, especially pertaining to the foundation and powder formulas. Natural is better; I think. – which I guess is why it’s harder to achieve that look with makeup

  • Laura

    Amelia, natural or “unnatural”, you are so beautiful!

    • Amelia Diamond

      You are!

  • Elsa

    One thing’s for sure, you are naturally hilarious! (And so is your “bayalage” called balayage in France 😉 )

    • Amelia Diamond

      Oo wait nope, that’s what it’s called here too! Amended, thank you!

  • Jessica Rose

    Even natural beauty takes hard work!

  • But what about toners and moisturizers and fancy face wash and face masks that (rightly so) scare your boyfriend? I spend a ton of money each year trying to manage my face.

  • Blackenedblog

    There is so much beauty in natural beauty.

  • Shawnee Rajala

    This just reminded me how much I would love to move to a warmer climate because my summer beauty routine is barely nothing and much cheaper compared to winter’s here in Michigan. Summer=free sun kissed skin, natural highlights, beachy waves.. until then, I’ll be layering up.

  • samhallie

    youre funny hunny. i am also psychic bc today i was, literally, imagining what your hair was going to look like as you age – way better than mine! LOVE YOU

    • Amelia Diamond


  • Unless a $4 bottle of Sun-In + hair dryer meets the “natural” qualifications, I am also guilty! I just keep reminding myself that it’s how my hair WOULD look if I surfed Bondi Beach every weekend instead of, um, the internet.

    On the other hand, braving the office sans-makeup has fringe benefits. If, at my last job, I showed up with blonde, mascara-less lashes, male colleagues equated it to my being busy or tired (or after three cups of coffee, probably just deranged) and would avoid dropping random work my way. One in particular would always very caringly offer that I could go home early if I wasn’t feeling well.

  • 33

    as much as I detest mani, pedi, facial, waxing, hair treatments, and all the creams, powder, shadows, and colors sticks, I have to admit that those who do them regularly do look better and more put together in the long run. I don’t do any and although you can say that I look natural but I can look so much better with regular beauty routine done.
    Where you spend the effort will shine brighter than where you neglect.

  • Behind the Mirror

    I love this post! My girlfriends and I were just talking about how we are going to phoebe philo it this winter… and that cost a lot of money, haha. Recently put up a post on a hairbrush hunt to end up looking like we don’t care about hair, would love you to check it out if you have time… Thanks!

  • shesaidsomething

    Hmm. I guess I prefer natural because it “feels” better (I can’t wait to wash off make-up). My natural beauty regime:

    Witch hazel and Aveeno (beautiful wrinkle-free skin) ~$10
    Moroccan oil (swear by the stuff – beautiful hair) ~$5
    Natural Instincts by Clairol hair dye (black – no ombre – just black) ~$7

    I dye my hair every 2 months.

    That adds up to well….cheap.

  • Hmmm sounds about right. 😀 I really must try getting my hair done in that technique of slight bleaching you mentioned. *SIgh* must shop around for a new stylist!

  • AEKK

    I prefer the lighter color, too. But for you, I think any color is OK.

  • So your natural beauty gets edited a bit – way to go! 🙂 All the knowledge gained in the processes will serve you well while you age and mostly, edited natural beauty does look better than neglected natural beauty 🙂 (except in Leandra, I guess :-))
    It is quite difficult for my skin to accept I have put something else on it than a vegan age obliterating cream, so I guess it might be useful to get your skin to gradually accept some other beauty products, too

  • Such a great red this one makes for 🙂

  • Petra

    One of the perks of being vegan in Eastern Europe is that it constricts your choice of expensive cosmetics, so I don’t spend that much money on it anymore, but I still spend too much, probably. I also noticed that for me some products are vicious circles, you only need them when you use them – lip balm, for example. I don’t get this thing with your hair color. Are you ashamed that you dye your hair? I think you chose a very nice hue, why not take credit for it.

  • Noemi

    natural beauty is hard to find

  • Tamara

    Is that $630 a YEAR??? In MANHATTAN??? Seriously??? How do you keep to that budget? No other waxing? Wait, how old are you? No dermatologist? No facials, fillers or Botox? Do you ever get you hair blown out? Moisturizer? Pedicures? Teeth whitening? Come on girl!! Fess up! When a trip to the nars counter can easily run $200+ and hair products cost a small fortune especially if you use organic! how do you keep to an annual $630?

    • sarah

      i agree. i used to spend sweet FA, a bottle of dermasoft to cleanse and moisturise, no hair colour, and actually cut my own hair for about 2 years. but as i got older my beauty addiction took hold, now i spend a figure that i will never add up, and never confess to my husband. and thats before the makeup. i need rehab.

  • Julia Reiss

    Brazilian blowout +tip and I live off complimentary hard candy at the manicurist’s for the next six months.

  • Adrianna Grężak

    I have the same exact problem when people ask me if my hair is natural. It grows in darker, but looks red-ish in sunlight, so I add my own “sunlight” every 6-8 weeks with a $10 box of hair dye. (I’m freckled and pale, and there are redheads in my family.)

    Other than that, I really don’t spend a lot of money on my looks beyond $8 shampoo and $5 leave in conditioner. (I have fine, straight hair and I noticed that it’s much healither now that I no longer use conditioner in the shower.) I’m waiting for a scalp laceration to heal, so I even trimmed my own hair.

    I don’t wear make up, and frequently forget to tweeze my eyebrows. I think I’m the closest to natural as I can get as a Manhattan girl

  • sweetalk

    Leandra (and all of you in her age group +/-10 years) you are young energetic and fresh … So it matters less because again I repeat you are young and fresh but when you come to 40+ … trust me without these miraculous aids (and these products get exponentially more expensive with age by the way ) you absolutely cannot leave your bedroom let alone your house.. But we are the same in 1 thing I am always trying for the ‘au naturel’ look… big hugs to all

    • Poulette

      Amen! Sure I can leave my house without miraculous aids, but why would I want to? Its true that since I hit 39+ I spend more time making sure my skin looks great & my eyes look wide open than I did when I was 29+. My 5 min routine has turned into a 15 or 20 min routine, but its mostly spent on skincare & subtle enhancements rather than on outrageous statements. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, its just not for me). My partner is always mystified that I can spend some much time in the bathroom in the morning & yet come out looking like I’m not really wearing anything on my face. For me, this is a win – to each her own.

      Although I admit that for the life of me, I never understand why young women use complex anti aging potions that cost in the 3 digits and then complain that they don’t work. Of course they don’t! Peptides & retin A need something to fix! If you don’t have anything yet to fix, its money down the drain.

      Lastly, there is this myth of the miraculous natural French woman that has seeped into our consciousness. Well, let me tell you that she doesn’t exist. Living in Paris for 6 years taught me that behind every “natural” French woman is a fortune being spent in time & money. There is nothing natural or effortless in the final outcome. Again, nothing wrong with it & frankly its admirable for the effort they go through to look great. Its where I take a lot of my own personal inspiration from. But just calling a spade a spade…

  • Amelie J
  • belulopezchamba

    You forgot the waxing situation, or even the shaving situation. Because if that stayed au naturel.. houston, we would have a problem.