Pre-Covid, Daniela Vinick took various workout classes at boutique fitness studios all over New York City. When the shutdown happened and Vinick, who is 26 and works in advertising, was left with no place to go, she did what she says would have been unimaginable before the pandemic. “I went and splurged on a Peloton,” she says. “It was a big commitment for me financially, but I couldn’t do without my workouts and needed an outlet to deal with what was happening around me.”
Vinick is far from alone in not only having made pricey purchases during the Covid-19 pandemic, but making them because of the pandemic.
Ever since turning 40, Lizzy, a marketing executive in Manhattan who wants to be known only by her first name, became fixated on getting Botox for the lines on her forehead. Justifying the expense, however, was another story. “It costs close to $1,000 (£726) and seemed like a frivolous use of money when my budget was already tight,” says the now-43-year-old.
The pandemic changed her perspective.
“Like everyone else, my life suddenly became so much more stressful,” says Lizzy. “Also, I was on Zoom calls all day staring at myself, and all I could obsess about was how much those lines annoyed me.”
Forget waiting: Lizzy decided that the best time to treat herself to Botox was here and now. “I was working incredibly long hours and thought that finally getting the injections would be a nice thing to do for myself during a challenging period in my life,” she says.
Lizzy had her much-anticipated appointment at Marmur Medical on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in early November and has no regrets about her decision.
“The lines have dissipated, and I feel better about how I look,” she says. “It was totally worth the splurge.”
At a time when the world has likely never been more chaotic, women across the country are treating themselves. Sometimes it’s for high priced goods and services. In other instances, that treat means carving out time to devote to a new hobby or for a daily ritual that’s as simple as a long bath.
Given that the pandemic has led to financial hardship for many, clamping down on discretionary purchases — not ramping up on them — may sound like a more likely trend. Experts, on the other hand, say that this money be damned behaviour is unsurprising and even expected.
“We have such little control over many aspects of our lives right now, and plenty of people aren’t feeling so great about themselves,” says Melissa Nesle, a licensed psychotherapist who specialises in working with women in their 20s and 30s. “Spending on pricey items and treatments is a way to add sparkle and regain a sense of control in your life.”
Farnoosh Torabi, a personal finance expert and host of the podcast So Money, agrees. “There is a lot of self-gifting going during Covid,” she says. “Women who are isolated and depressed are looking for gratification, and spending on themselves is an easy way to get it.”
The dermatologist who gave Lizzy her Botox, Dr Ellen Marmur, has witnessed this sentiment among the patients in her practice over the last eight months. “Ever since we reopened after the shutdown in May, I’ve had a steady stream of patients who tell me that they can’t control Covid, but they can take steps, be it Botox or fillers or a peel, to look as good as possible,” she says.
While Marmur Medical is down 40% in patient visits since the pandemic, the average spending per visit has increased, according to Dr Marmur, most notably with new patients.
“Most of them get their upper face done because they notice it much more in masks, and it starts to bug them,” she says. “One round of injectables is around $950 (£690), but I’ve had patients come in for multiple rounds.”
In an indulgence of another kind, many women have taken to establishing what they perceive as elaborate self-care routines that wouldn’t have occurred to them before last March.
Zoe Melewski, 25, who lives in Stamford, Connecticut, and works in medical communications, for one, spends more than an hour each night taking a bath with scented oils while listening to classical music and surrounded by candles. “I am working 12 hour-plus days, which is more than ever before, and I really don’t have time to be doing this for myself,” she says. “On the other hand, my stress levels are high, and I soothe them away when I’m sitting in the tub. My routine helps me cope.”
Jemma Roche, 24, who lives in Southbury, Connecticut, and works in marketing, says her self-treat is taking body conditioning and Zumba classes at her local YMCA. “The classes aren’t expensive, but they do cost money which I feel bad about spending — though, they have helped me keep my sanity,” she says.
Torabi attributes some of the spending to women reallocating their budgets. “We’re not using our money in the ways we traditionally do. We’re not traveling, eating at restaurants or going to salons nearly as much,” she says. “Instead, that money is being used for these luxury purchases.”
The most eyebrow-raising pandemic extravagance may be happening at VSPOT Medi Spa in Manhattan, which owner Cindy Barshop describes as a sexual health spa. Services include Ultra Femme 360, a radio frequency treatment that helps with urinary incontinence, FemiLift, a heating treatment to target vaginal dryness, and BLT EMSELLA, a machine that does 11,000 Kegels in 28 minutes and helps tighten the vagina.
“Our business literally exploded when we reopened in June. We went from 100 to 130 customers a week and are adding another floor to double our space so we can accommodate even more,” says Barshop.
Letiece Miller, 33, a mortician from Mt. Vernon, New York, is a VSPOT regular and said that the spa has transformed her sex life over the last few months. “I was going through a bad patch with my boyfriend of 11 years, partly from the stress of the pandemic and partly because we had no sex life,” she says.
An online search for treatments for her urinary continence and vaginal dryness led her to VSPOT. “I felt more confident after doing BLT EMSELLA once, and a series turned me into a new woman,” says Miller.
She’s since sprung for a series of Ultra Femme 360’s and the bikini wax that uses a 24 karat-gold wax. “Yes, I’ve spent thousands of dollars, but it came from a place of self-love,” says Miller. “I have a new partner and a fantastic sex life now. I feel empowered.”