Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Salon Industry is Pretty Part II: After Graduation

[Note to readers: On Monday we ran the first of a two-part series by guest-blogger Voodoolady. Today we are excited to present Voodoolady's second post, describing her experience working in the salon industry after graduating from the honors program of her cosmetology school. These are her words...]

I planned on graduating and moving into the real world. I envisioned a creative, hardworking environment - a place where determination and drive would ensure my career. I wanted to learn from professionals and progress. I had the drive and the enthusiasm.

The first cosmetology job after graduation was an assistant (shampooing, cleaning, learning). On my first day of work, my manager looked through my lunch bag and scolded me about my eating habits and weight. I saw a red flag, but I continued - knowing this had no relevance to my position at the salon.

The lunch badgering continued for a week until she exclaimed that I "obviously would not listen" to her. After speaking with the human resources department, I was told that she was the manager and accommodating her would be the best thing to do. I quit during the second week, when I was admonished about my weight in front of the salon, stylists and clients. I did not sign-on for public embarrassment.

My next position was as an assistant for a salon in Buckhead, GA. My boss referred to me as "sweetie" always; looking back I'm not sure if he bothered remembering my name. I was there early and left late. I ran errands and went above-and-beyond - until I walked in on him making-out with a client who, incidentally, was not his wife. I immediately left the room, and he let me go the next day because our 'personalities didn't mesh.' Somehow I doubt that was the real reason.

I saw a fellow student from cosmetology school walking down the street the next day. She explained that the salon industry was "too flakey" for her, and she'd gone back to her previous job in graphic design. She explained that the attention to makeup, hair, and designer dressing was not her career. After expressing her disappointment with the actual salon environment, she left - explaining that the school was unrealistic about the expectations we should have as women.

The third salon job was as a colorist assistant at an upscale salon in West Atlanta. I was let go after responding to a phone message 3 hours 'late' on my day off. The owner explained to me that working in a salon was similar to being a doctor on call, and I had to be there for him even if a call comes on my day off. This was never explained as a condition of the hire during the interview or my training.

Discouraged but still hopeful, I went to my fourth position as a receptionist. I thought maybe taking a step back and observing the industry from a different position would help me adapt to salons. I was enjoying the work and adapted quickly. My boss soon started giving me suggestions for losing weight and 'dressing better.' I was concerned; I did not want my appearance to be a factor again. After three weeks of work, I was called early before work by my boss. He told me there was a water line break and we couldn't reopen until next week. I thought nothing of it until I received a phone call from my boss's boyfriend the following Monday, informing me that I would no longer be needed in the position. The boyfriend also mentioned that the new employee worked out really well last week. So, not only had I been lied to, but the owner didn't have the courage to call me personally.

I began working on clients independently and traveling to them. Without the uncomfortable overhead, cosmetology work is fun again. I still do this work, but it is not my career. I have had to become a cosmetologist with my own agenda.


Anonymous said...

You know, I always get the suspicion when I'm in a salon that many of the assistants are more critical/snobbish than creative/supportive of their clients, as well as each other. Surely it would be better business sense (not to mention fairer and more respectful) to create a work environment which is welcoming and non-judgmental? Glad you've found a way to do what you enjoy on your own terms though.

Anonymous said...

I imagined that once you left school, the beauty industry would get worse, but not that much worse! The beauty industry is a lawsuit waiting to happen. How depressing. I'm glad you were at least able to make things work on your own terms.

Now I'm concerned about the salon I choose. I don't want to patronize a place that treats employees like dirt. The woman who cuts my hair always seems happy, and the salon has a great atmosphere, but how can I know for sure?

Habladora said...

Odd, two approved comments have not appeared here - and I've already cleaned them out of my email queue! I'll do my best to recreate them, though...

Deadalus (who can be found here) lamented that some women work against other women by conforming to the rules of the patriarchy, and by trying to hold other women to those rules as well. (I was reminded of Womanist Musing's colluders.) He also pointed to , 'The Field Negro', which talks about a similar issue- but with race.

Then, a new commenter addressed the question of how to judge whether or not your salon was one that 'treats employees like dirt.' She said that while you probably can't know for sure from the outside, some indicators might be - do all the employees look and dress alike? Do they make demeaning comments about each other, their other clients, or celebrities? If so, it might be the type of place that you wouldn't want to give your money to.

Sorry, you two - I hope I've done your thoughts justice and that you'll comment again - really, Blogger is usually pretty good about not eating comments, and we want to hear from you!

Habladora said...

What Blogger isn't good at is creating links from the comments section... if you're going to link, always link from an extraneous word since it sometimes eats the word you want to link to, and turns the rest into hyper text (see above example).

daedalus2u said...

You got the gist of what I was trying to say. When my post didn’t show up, I was worried that I had said something offensive in it. I have Asperger’s, and some of the “details” of social communication go over my head sometimes, and I do get misinterpreted, and it isn’t always easy for me to figure out. Since it seemed to be non-offensive I will elaborate on it.

For those without the time to go the field Negro’s site (which is quite good), his pseudonym relates to a quote from Malcolm X which he has on his site contrasting the field Negro with the house Negro. This comparison was from during slavery where the house Negro would live in the master’s house, eat the master’s food and wear the master’s clothes and loved the master’s house more than the master did and when ever the master said “we”, the house Negro said “we” also. My understanding is that this is because if hard times befell the master, the master would become a non-master but the house Negro would become something worse, the house Negro would become a field Negro.

My understanding is that the issues the field Negro has with the house Negro isn’t that the house Negro has a certain lifestyle, but rather because the house Negro is supporting the institutions that cause the field Negro to have the field Negro lifestyle.

In the context of the “beauty” industry, there is nothing non-feminist about helping a woman to look the way she wants to look for what ever reason she wants to look that way. However, telling a woman she has to look or act a certain way to be acceptable is decidedly non-feminist. Supporting institutions that tell a woman she has to look a certain way to be acceptable is decidedly non-feminist.

I think this is the essence of women who support the non-feminist social structure (what is often called the Patriarchy but as a male and a dad I can’t bring myself to call it that because it has nothing to do with being male and/or being a dad as I understand from being both). They do so because if the non-feminist social structure were overturned, they would go from being an “acceptable” woman in that structure to an “unacceptable” woman in another; a change analogous to (but worse than) a house Negro becoming a field Negro.

I think that is a more traumatic change because male-female roles have been around a lot longer than master-slave roles. The capacity to adapt, fit in, and ultimately survive and raise children that survive in whatever role a female finds herself in is something that all mothers have had to do for millions of years. The roles that mothers had to adopt as being necessary to survive and raise children in non-feminist environments have been diverse, and at times worse than the most degrading and sexist roles that are portrayed in the worst pornography available. No one (male or female) is descended from a woman who did not figure out how to be a successful mother in the circumstances she found herself in.

As I see it, there is nothing shameful about being a desperate person and being forced to do desperate things by desperate circumstances. What is shameful are those who cause those desperate circumstances to happen, who don’t try to mitigate them, or who use a person’s desperate circumstances to exploit them.

My views of all of this are highly influenced by my understanding of physiology and how physiology under conditions of extreme stress modifies behaviors.

Cassandra Says said...

Found you via Feministe

You know, this is why I love my salon. None of the staff look like any of the other staff. They all dress differently. The woman who runs the place has full sleeve tattoos and wears no make-up. My personal stylist wears a ton of make-up and changes her hair whenever she gets bored...she's also chubby and extremely fashion conscious, which the boss is not. My colorist looks totally different again. I've never heard anyone say anything negative about anyone else's looks - the only comments you ever hear are positive, and the staff talk to each other all the time. The only common theme I can think of is that most of the colorists wear a lot of black, and I suspect that might be because spilling dye on light-colored clothes would ruin them. The clientele all look different too. And this is fancy expensive high end San Francisco salon where they give you a massage while washing your hair. Salons don't HAVE to be awful places, so why is it that so many of them ARE awful places?

There was another salon that I tried once before finding my current one. Walked in, all the staff looked tense and hyper-critical, everyone seemed to hate each other, overheard one of the stylists making a crack about a client's weight to the receptionist. Never went back. Maybe the way to change the culture would be to point out somehow that it's bad for business? I've advised all my friends never to go to Evil, Negative Salon because the atmosphere is so unpleasant. I have to wonder how many other people do the same.