The beauty business is layered with stereotypes. The movie, Grease, didn’t help its cause when, in 1978, one of the movie’s most popular songs was Beauty School Dropout. So began the plummet of the notion that choosing beauty school for a career was a step down from intelligence and being taken seriously.
The beauty business is often taken for granted and the perception of people working in it is certainly not of one filled with people and their intellect.
“What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing working here?” A snarky realtor said to me when I was just starting my career at a hair salon in Newport. I had been applying lipstick to her at some type of group makeover party and she, being Jewish as well, felt that was an appropriate thing to say to me.
Little did she know I was already insecure about my career choice. I had been listening to my grandmother for many months, “Alayne, why don’t you finish college and become a teacher, you are so good with children.” What I wanted to say was, Because I don’t fucking want to, but like a good granddaughter, instead, I just said something like Because I really want to go to beauty school.
Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, it wasn’t the bragging choice my grandparents wanted for their first born grandchild.
We may not think about the wildly successful women and men who have famously forged a path of their own using the beauty business as their vehicle. The beauty business has been career choices for many highly over achieving entrepreneurs.
Estee Lauder, Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden, Mary Kay, Vidal Sassoon are the ones where the names come easily to the lips. There are the lesser known brilliant women way ahead of their time, Madam C. J. Walker, who created hair care products for black women and became one of the first black women millionaires in America before 1919. Or Annie Malone, another black female millionaire who opened one of the first beauty schools in America during the 1920’s. (Sidenote-if you are curious like I was about these two remarkable women, I included the link to their history at the end of this piece.)
I often think this was why I chose this business, yes for the reason of helping people feel better through looking better, but more often because I love business. I enjoy leadership and all of the little nuggets that come with owning and running a company.
The beauty business has afforded many women the opportunity to have a work life balance, raising children and having a career and all for less than a year of schooling where graduates leave with a license and a skill set. There are not many four year college graduates who can say this and in addition being saddled with extraordinary amounts of debt post college before they even begin looking for a job.
For the past eight weeks, for the first time in history, we have had to live without beauty. Even World War II had a lesser known focus on beauty, using lipstick to boost morale. Lipstick as propaganda, imagine, (link also included below).
As we go through our days, and now weeks, living without hair color, hair cuts, waxing services, manicures and pedicures, facials and massages, it may seem superficial to give its loss in our lives a mention considering all of the other problems. But we forget beauty is wellness too. External and internal go hand and hand. Vidal Sassoon said, famously, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.”
I would add, when we don’t feel good, we don’t look good.
Beauty is two sided. When you look in the mirror, what reflects back is what is going on inside. And it is not often the other way around.
I have seen the most beautiful women with the whitest hair and the deepest wrinkles whose eyes sparkle and smile lights up a room show beauty in the deepest sense of the word. I have seen women with perfectly sculpted bodies and the most uplifted eyes look so sad that it is almost painful to return their gaze. The realization of deep beauty is how one feels, looks are only a small part of it, but they often go hand in hand.
I am struck by how many beauty appointments I have missed in eight weeks. Three pedicures, two waxing services, one haircut, one massage, one facial, at least sixteen boutique gym or yoga classes, four house cleaning services. (Yes, I do count house cleaning services as beauty because when my house looks good, I feel better and when I feel better I look better- an excellent rationalization, I am guessing).
What has struck me during this time is that as much as I have missed them, I am still here.
My house is surprisingly clean, my hair is long, but I am enjoying it, my skin could use a good facial, but I have products that can suffice, I have cut my own toenails for the first time since I was twenty years old. A massage would be amazing, but I have a roller and it has been ok for now, waxing I could do myself, after all I am a licensed professional, but I can wait.
The question I ask myself is two part. I have saved a lot of money not having these services, and I am ok. But the second part is the services I have gone without have left a little bit of a hole. There is great camaraderie in the beauty experience. We make the appointments, we go to the salon or the gym, we chat about nothing or reveal our souls like we are talking to someone who has been sworn to secrecy (they haven’t). As we get primped and prodded and shined up like a car detail, there is something so female that is an essential part of the ritual of beauty.
When I walk into a salon, I am six years old in the passenger seat of my mother’s pale yellow convertible triumph driving to Boston to get a haircut. I am twelve years old with my grandmother and my aunt sitting and watching me get my first makeover, a lesson in how to apply makeup the right way. I am going to lunch at a special place after the appointments to enjoy time spent together. When I walk into a salon, there is the hope that I am going to feel a little better than when I walked in. There is the purchasing of products so I can take home a little of the experience.
Beauty is so much more than getting a haircut and a facial. It is economics and financial freedom for so many young budding entrepreneurs. Beauty is a welcome mat to people that says, You Matter Today. Beauty is rituals and conversation, hugs and expressions of kindness.
Touch, Love, Joy. A place to shed some tears, to laugh aloud, to show pictures of lifecycles, to grieve and to celebrate. We see all of our client’s lives in our chairs and facial beds.
Sure, we can look at it as an exchange of goods and services for financial gain, but as we have all lived without the rituals of beauty, our levels of connection with the industry has shifted. We may all be asking ourselves how much do we need, how much can we go without, and now the conversation has turned to safety. How can we safely perform the services we love and keep everyone safe?
The beauty industry is a resilient one. It will recover. It will take about a year or two, but it will come back stronger for sure. I know this deep in my heart, but what we have lost is the wellness aspect of our beautiful businesses. The realization that when we do come back, for a time anyway, the industry will not be the place of respite it once was.
It will be a science experiment.
I got into this business to upgrade the image of the industry. I got into this business so that I could offer clients a place to come to put their weary bodies on a bed and take a sigh of relief with a big deep breath for the first time in their day. I got into this business to offer mostly women a beautiful place to work to build a career while they were building their lives teaching them they could do both in this business.
I didn’t get into this business to think that we would one day have to wear almost hasmat suits and worry about tears, and noses running from those tears, and spray coming from the words of the mouths of clients who are covering them with their apologies because they are crying. Or laughing, Or talking about their lives in the comforts of a private room. Or wiping their mouths and noses and placing their now potentially contagious hands somewhere that now has to be sanitized.
I got into this business to serve, not for the money. For the ability to serve and to create a better place for people to work. I can’t imagine doing this any other way. So we wait and see. And this makes me feel guilty like I am rolling over and not fighting for my company. But the thought of reinventing my entire business model just to give a service in a way that I never in my wildest dreams intended doesn’t resonate with me or my team for that matter.
I don’t mean to be a buzzkill. I know hair salons and nail salons are dying to get open. I was on a call yesterday with my state to discuss this very matter. Meanwhile my mother who lives in Alabama already made her facial and hair appointment for next week!
I feel like a cry baby in my hesitation.
Clients are saying, YES! WE CAN’T WAIT! But it just doesn’t feel right. I have been getting emails and text messages from relatively intelligent business owners who are now quoting lines from the online movie, plandemic, like its legitimate science causing an uprising in Live Free or Die commentary on Facebook posts like it is ok to let people die.
And I sit here listening to the experts and they are saying the opposite. And I am listening to the son of the man in the Whitehouse say that “This is the Dems trying to keep his father off the campaign trail from his rallies and that after the November election, this Covid virus will magically disappear.” I really heard him say this or else I wouldn’t believe it.
I know people want facials. I know they may even need my services. But am I willing as a business owner to put my team and my beloved clients in harms way for beauty? This is the opposite of the way I think.
Clearly, those of us have to make some difficult choices in the next few weeks and months and pragmatically speaking, economics does play a role in these decisions. My business like so many other small businesses in addition to beauty, are people’s life’s work.
I have spent my entire life in this business and I can’t imagine not doing this.
But the truth of the matter is how I, with good conscience, reopen a business that is all touch and facial fluids and spit molecules? I wish my father was alive. He would be able to guide me with his super smart business brain.
But he is not and I have to be a big girl and put on my big girl boots and figure out my own way to get back to work. Sorry to be such a whiner today, but writing is my only way to move all of these conflicting thoughts in and out. I ‘d love to hear from you.
I hope I am being overly cautious and this will all be a nightmare I can wake up from a few months from now.
Check out Alayne's business goodies here @ www.alaynewhite.com
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