Monday, July 7, 2008

The Salon Industry Is Pretty Part I: Cosmetology School

[Note to readers: We're excited to have Voodoolady here as a guest-blogger today, and honored that she's decided to post her exposé on the salon industry on The Feminist Underground! These are her words...]

I entered the cosmetology world due to an interest in working with the public and being creative. Short hair, long hair, blue hair, black hair: I love the change, and I wanted to help others have that experience. Was I naive? Yes. I believed that hard work and study at a top school would provide me with the skills I needed for a career.

There were no warnings that this would not be the case as I entered cosmetology school. I was impressed by the faculty and the environment. Without hesitation, I made my plans to begin school and got my application and financial assistance completed. I could not wait to begin!

I soon found out that there was an all-black dress code, with dress shoes (no sneakers) required. On the first day of school, I was reprimanded for not having "complete" makeup. I'd worn some concealer, powder, and blush, but I was informed that I must wear foundation, mascara, full eye makeup, and style my hair as if I were 'going out on the town.' I thought this was sexist, but I decided to comply the next day. I wondered if some vanity simply came with this career.

The first week was terrifying. I was 10-12 years older than the majority of the students, and that old high school awkwardness returned. I didn't speak much during the first week of school, but I eventually adapted (in a way). During my entire cosmetology school experience, I was reprimanded constantly for my makeup, hair, and comfortable shoes. I noticed that the male students got away with wearing blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a hat to cover bed-head. Yet, whenever this dress code discrepancy between genders was discussed, the staff promised to enforce the same standards. It never happened.

I studied hard and made excellent progress. The top echelon of education was the honor's program, my goal. Joining every club and charity event, working hard, making clients happy, and becoming Student President gave me a feeling of belonging and confidence. I made excellent grades and finished my credits months before finishing my required hours.

Shortly after entering the honor's program, the director of the honor's students told me in private that I would have a much harder time finding work than the younger, slimmer, 'more attractive' students. I was shocked and angry. When I discussed this with other teachers, and they assured me that he was just "picking on me." Yet, he went on to make derogatory comments towards me in front of other students and, more importantly, clients during the duration of my education. I kept my head up, however, and my sights focused.

[Watch for Part II: After Graduation later this week...]


Anonymous said...

What a horrible experience. I can't wait for your next installment...

You nicely outline that there is a difference between professional dress codes and sexist codes. I understand having to dress nicely in front of clients, but to differentially enforce these standards depending on sex [and age] is inappropriate.

More time than one would expect in medical school is devoted to how to dress. It seems, however, that the rules are more strict for the men (they have to wear button down shirts, slacks, and a tie), where as I have gotten away on numerous occasions with a plain colored T-shirt tucked into a skirt.

lindsay said...

Bullshit. Interesting, though. Good job calling them out on their crap, even if they didn't do anything about it.

Casmall said...

Interesting post. Was this the attitude of the school or just this one guy?

habladora said...

I think that the 'dress code' of the school that includes full make-up and elaborate hair styles points to a larger problem than just one guy, but one person can also have a big impact when they are in a position of authority - and when they're allowed to harangue students about their looks and it gets universally brushed off as 'just a joke.'

Anonymous said...

I can't say I'm entirely surprised. Just on my own observation, "casual" for men and "casual" for women are entirely two different things. I wouldn't be surprised to find "dress codes" similar to yours in other workplaces (there is only one man in my entire department and he's part-time, so my workplace is not indicative of the larger culture).

I'd like to state for the record that the woman who cut my hair all through my childhood and styled it for my senior prom and my wedding has always been "older" (she was in her 40's when we started with her 18 years ago), has always been on the heavy side, and never attempted to keep up with trends. But I always trusted her, and if I still lived in Ohio, would choose her until the day she retired. No, she wasn't some young hotshot, but she and I had a relationship. And I trusted her to take care of my hair and help me select flattering new styles. I don't care what a stylist looks like; I care that they respect me and help me.

I look forward to your next post.

Anonymous said...

Huh, so that's why women who work in the beauty industry always seem so "done." There's a cosmetology school near my house and I see the students on the bus all the time -- and you can always tell because they're wearing WAY more makeup than most people would during the day, and their nails are always done, and their hair is always done in a really showy way, if that makes sense. I wasn't sure if that was just something that naturally happened while you were learning this stuff, or if it was enforced; I assumed the former, but I guess it's the latter.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting! Looking forward to part 2