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The Prejudice of "High Maintenance"


Discussing the high maintenance human being is an extremely tricky process. Regardless of what side of the argument someone is on, not only will the definition of "high maintenance" be inadequately explained, but there will also always be sweeping generalizations to be made regarding why someone appears and acts the way s/he does. And so, from a history lesson to a gender-neutral analysis of the matter, I will attempt to tackle this issue in the most comprehensive manner my upper consciousness will allow. 

Defining "High Maintenance"

There seems to be a lot of overlap dealing with what it means to be high-maintenance. Many see it as excessive grooming (the term "excessive" being extremely subjective), and others see it as an abnormal desire for attention. Regardless of which definition is intended, it almost always carried with it a negative connotation. At first glance, both definitions appear similar, so much so that any potential differences between them is considered negligible. After reading multiple infographics on how to spot/avoid/handle/dump/fire a high maintenance person, I have come to the conclusion that we need to be retaught how we view ourselves, and others. According to Forbes, a high maintenance employee, regardless of gender, is one who is excessively needy, whiny, bratty, and essentially a large child. According to, well, everyone else, someone deemed as high maintenance is concerned with their outward appearance, and as a result spends an exorbitant amount of time dressing up, acting up, being loud, seeking approval and reassurance from others while rejecting criticism and demanding superior treatment. Unfortunately, these "traits," in and of themselves, can never provide a full picture of any one human being, leaving many people incorrectly categorized, allowing the masses to over diagnose a potentially serious mental instability at a whim, and promoting the sociological anomaly of schadenfreude. 
What I define to be true high maintenance (someone whose self preservation, emotionally, physically, mentally, and otherwise, is dependent solely on the time, efforts, resources, and opinions of others) is a compound issue, complete with a myriad of potential mental diseases, chemical instabilities, and social experiences that serve as formidable background material for each person. At the moment, however, it might be more beneficial to discuss the purely visual traits of high maintenance, of which there is only one: looking good. No no, I hear some of you say. It's not about looking good, it's about being inappropriately, and therefore generally overdressed for any event at any venue. That seems like a perfectly valid train of thought, until one realizes that we do not judge people on being constantly well-dressed or overdressed. We judge them (and the "them" are more than likely complete strangers, perhaps with an occasional "hello") based on how we feel about the way they are dressed. And let's be honest: since when have feelings been completely logical? We do not care if someone shows up in cashmere socks and leather loafers to a raver party and then switches them out with rags and barely there sneakers. We care that they were dumb enough to do so. We do not care that someone shows up in what may very well be a princess gown to English class. We care that they look properly out of place, and therefore, silly. We do not care about these people specifically. We care about how we look in relation to other people, and vice versa. That is a basic truth that many of us refuse to acknowledge for one reason: in making ourselves feel superior to anyone else, we are no better than what we perceive them to be. 


Gender-Based Stereotypes of the High Maintenance Person

Now, to the good stuff. Gender (or, more specifically, gender roles and behaviors) is a very controversial topic that's currently being debated everywhere from science labs to the Supreme Court. And for women, gender roles have come to involve the daily grooming process. In the past, wealthier men and women spent hundreds of  thousands of *whatever the currency was back then* on wigs, and makeup, and heels, and structured tops, bottoms, underpants, underskirts, hats, fans, bags, carriages, shiny armory, socks, outerwear, etc. The only difference was that women and men had different silhouettes. After the Age of Enlightenment, which came about around the 17th and 18th centuries (a conference for which one of the presiding powers was none other than Catherine the Great), women were put on a backburner. In attempting to put more focus on learning, the arts, music, and basing all ideas and conclusions on reason, women were more or less deemed "unreasonable" and they, along with the poorer classes, were pushed out of the ranks of the Enlightened. Any attempts to start educational discussion forums by women in their salons were eventually quashed by their male counterparts, and they were locked in to the role they already upheld as homemakers. At the same time, men retired "frivolities", i.e. excessive grooming, in favor of education and knowledge. Keeping in mind that this sequence of events are most applicable to the better off in society, women, for the most part, being pushed away from education, hadn't much to do but indulge in the "frivolities" the men had shed and brush their hair in front of a vanity. And so, the stereotype of the uneducated, well-to-do, vain woman became a societal given.
Here, while there is obviously incentive for women to rectify this false image where intelligence is linked to appearance, appearance is linked to opportunity, intelligence is linked to opportunity, and appearance and intelligence are seen as mutually exclusive, a problem is created for men (*irony goes here*). For men, appearance is now somehow linked to sexuality, since everyone seems okay with assuming intelligence has nothing to do with appearance when it comes to men. This is because the formation and persistence of a solely patriarchal society, with women leaders hailed as exceptions to the rule, suggests that men create opportunity, and like to hand it out to women if it so pleases them to do so. The ability to create opportunity resides in inherent intelligence, and therefore, men are, by default, smart opportunity makers. That leaves little wiggle room to explain the perpetually overdressed (read: high-maintenance) man. The well-dressed man is impressive, wealth or not. The overdressed man is confusing, but one cannot judge him as unintelligent, since he created the opportunity that affords him the funds to be overdressed. Therefore, his one true love must be the lifestyle that allows him to dress so, and he is deemed "metrosexual." If that is not the case, then his one true love must be other men (for the vain, narcissistic man is not a stereotype that a patriarchal society will peddle), and he is deemed "homosexual," usually as an afterthought and very tentatively.
It seems absurd that the need for attention seems to be a trait attributed to one gender (understandably so, since women, having been marginalized time and time again in a society run by men, have banded together to be heard each time), where the media capitalizes on this notion by not only portraying the female as a creature solely concerned witth impressing her male counterparts, but also by promising products that will help a woman acquire this attention (while men are promised that their natural gifts for attracting attention will be enhanced). As a result, the image of the woman as a shallow, vague, one-dimensional sexual object is perpetrated.
In actuality, there are women who will buy these products, but not necessarily for the reasons presented in advertising campaigns (makeup for drawing attention away from oneself due to skin conditions/perceived imperfections vs. makeup for drawing attention towards oneself). It seems befuddling that not all females have the same agenda when it comes to indulging what many see as frivolous. Regardless of why one's personal appearance is or is not important women will be seen as unintelligent, either for grooming (vain), or for not grooming (unprofessional). Even more confusing is when some men adopt these traditionally female activities and habits, many for more or less the exact same reasons some women partake in them. However, in lumping together everyone who seems to find personal grooming important, we ignore the many reasons and personalities that pertain to each individual, and it becomes incredibly more difficult to separate those who truly enjoy the process and creativity that goes into styling oneself on a daily basis, and those who simply yearn for attention.
What many of us forget is that the level to which each person, male or female, chooses to groom him or her self has absolutely nothing to do with you.


How to Spot and Handle a High Maintenance Person 

As a general rule, we are curious people, and few things are more riveting than the actions and motives of others, from close friends to seemingly distant celebs. Unfortunately, persistent curiosity, also known as being nosy, is the easiest way to attract high maintenance people. By making everything and everyone our business, we seem to forget the fact that some people exist who want to be the "business" we devote our attention to. And while we can turn off the TV at will, put the gossip mag back on the rack, and decide that Julie's drunken hookup is no longer a topic of interest, we quickly lose control when it comes to a high maintenance friend. At first it seems wonderful, that someone so excitable and lively seems to have handpicked us as a friend, until we realize that this person seems too available, seems to value our opinions too much, and cannot find anything to discuss other than him or herself, months after the initial "let me tell you about myself" phase of friendship. We were handpicked. We have become what is known as the person's "target," and are, for any amount of time, doomed to do damage control multiple times a day, every day, in order to keep this person mentally sound. For them, attire is simply another way to attract attention, and many of us, constantly on the lookout for any particularly standout character to judge, fall for it. There are many, many guides on the internet, and in bookstores about how to deal with such a person. Yet in this case, a personal shift in attitude and conscious thought is all that is required to avoid being strung along by someone who sees your energy and your time as disposable commodities. If we treat everyone, no matter how strange and out of place we think them to be with the same amount of respect, give them the same amount of attention every human being deserves, and make it very clear that we do not condone immaturity and do not indulge bad habits, the high maintenance man or woman will stay far, far away from us. It seems like a harsh attitude to project, but in reality, the sweetest of people can succeed. It firsts starts with making an effort to filter and analyze more of our thoughts, especially those relating to others. In seeing a stranger, we will pass a judgment, and we may not have much control over that. But it is up to us to be aware of that judgment, and reason with ourselves a to why our assessment of a stranger may or may not be fair. Many of us, especially those more removed from the world of fashion, must learn to accept that some people may have hobbies we do not quite understand, and what others do with their time and resources and how they do it is not any of our business. 
High maintenance is not a fair term to use for a good amount of men or women, especially those interested in fashion, simply because it puts many people on the defensive, always fearing that they will have to explain their life choices and appearance to everyone who passes them on the street (this more or less applies to victims of any sort of preconceived, unfounded prejudice).

Conclusion

Take time to learn about and meet new people, regardless of what you perceive their motives to be, but do not overindulge anyone's habits, especially when you feel taken advantage of.