Do You Want Fries with Your McFacial?

Older workers package cosmetics on the assembly line at the Bonne Bell cosmetics factory in Lakewood, Ohio. (David Maxwell/AFP/Getty Images)

Tonight we finish clients early, so Miss Stacy does a mini-lecture about different kinds of spa employment.

Booth renters (which make up a majority of hair stylists and nail technicians) pay a spa owner weekly or monthly for their chair or workspace. You get the benefit of being associated with the spa’s name (great if it’s a place that attracts lots of walk-ins), but you’re essentially running your own little business. “It’s very hard to booth rent if you’re just out of school because you won’t have any clientele built up,” explains Miss Stacy. “And you have to buy all your own products and equipment, but it will take awhile to earn that back in services.” You also won’t get any benefits like health insurance or paid vacation.

Of course, regular salon employees probably won’t get that either because most of those gigs are part-time and paid largely on commission. Miss Stacy says she’s heard of a few set-ups where an esthetician gets a day rate no matter whether she works on clients or not, then earns a commission on top of that. But most of the time, you just get 40 to 50 percent of the sticker price on every service you perform. The key benefit that Beauty U likes to tout here is the flexible work hours — so great for moms! Unless, of course, you’re counting on this gig to be your main source of income and only booking two facials per week. So the pressure is still on to build your own client base, and on top of that, you’ll face a lot of upselling pressure. “Some spas have very specific quotas you have to hit in terms of how many products you sell each week,” Miss Stacy warns us. (We’ve been seriously slacking on the retail front this week.)

The other big drawback of being a spa employee (especially the kind that earns a day rate): You’ll have to perform your services exactly the way the spa thinks they should be done. Word on the street is that the fanciest spa near Beauty U gives each employee a handbook that lists step-by-step instructions for each facial and bikini wax. “They want to ensure that customers always get the same quality of service,” Miss Stacy explains. “But I won’t work at a place like that because I don’t want to be a robot.”

I don’t blame her. It reminds me of when we were learning body treatments and Miss Lisa told us not to linger over the product application. “You’re not a masseuse,” she said. “You’re here to apply the product.” Translation: When a client agrees to shell out $75 for a cellulite wrap, it’s not because of your talent; it’s because of the cream on your hands. They’ve bought into what that potion claims it can do for them (shave inches of their waist). You’re the life-size spatula they use to slather it on.

So many Beauty U students are currently employed in jobs that require standardized, repetitive labor: Fast food restaurant cook, grocery store cashier, retail store clerk. The whole point of doing this, as we’re told over and over, is to find a career that offers creative and financial freedom. And we’re already finding ways to take pride in our work. Meg is the queen of extractions. Stephanie is a master of the smoky eye. Blanche nails an upsell on every client (and I swear, they seem happy about it). I’m surprisingly good at shaping eyebrows.

We celebrate these talents in each other precisely because it breaks up the monotony of yet another facial. After all, women perform so many different kinds of labor in the name of beauty, both in terms of our own personal grooming routines and the work estheticians, nail technicians and hair stylists perform for us. And most of it — after the novelty of a new cream or shampoo wears off, after you get used to the way it all makes you look and come to expect that you’ll always look that way — becomes straight-up drudgery. Shaving your legs over and over. Washing your face before bed using your particular arsenal of cleanser/toner/night cream/whatever. (This is a habit I shirked constantly before Beauty U because when I’m ready for bed, I’m so tired I often forget to brush my teeth — but since enrolling, I’ve been indoctrinated with fear of the evils of going to sleep with the day’s sweat and grime in your pores.) Sure, we’re satisfied by the results of these practices, but in terms of getting it all done? They’re just more chores on our already ridiculously long to-do lists.

At Beauty U we learn to perfect all of our personal beauty routines in ways that create yet more repetitive labor for ourselves. Committing to aggressive eyebrow reshaping plans that require vigilant maintenance to “correct” past transgressions. Deciding the lip hair only we can see really does need to be waxed every three weeks. Washing our faces before bed nomatterwhat. And of course, we take responsibility for our clients’ beauty labor too. So as eager as I am to hone my facial technique, I clock-watch constantly as I time the cold hydrating mask, because the ten minutes it takes to set up are the most boring of my life. There’s a point during every full leg wax when your back starts to hurt from hunching and reaching, and you’re thinking “this will never end,” while also entering a bit of a trance-like state of wax/rip/repeat. And those are the “fun” parts of our job. Every service we perform also creates a load of dirty laundry to wash, work areas to clean, and trash to take out — all the very epitome of undervalued, unrewarding and repetitive labor typically performed by women.

So when a client tells you that your hands are magic or her eyebrows have never looked so good, it makes all the difference. Suddenly your labor has a value beyond your 46 percent commission. And more than that, you have a value, because she’s saying that you and only you are capable of such things. You’re not just the anonymous person who cleans up her public hair in exchange for a folded-up $5 tip. You’re an expert, a miracle worker, an artist.

Nobody is jazzed about the idea of reining that in to perform McFacials step by step. But nobody is too sure how they’re going to give up even a semi-steady paycheck, either.

[Photo of older workers on a lip gloss assembly line at the Bonne Bell plant cosmetics factory, from this Epoch Times story, “US Workers Delay Retirement as Recession Drags On.”]

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2 Comments

Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, Career Opportunities, In Class, week 25

2 responses to “Do You Want Fries with Your McFacial?

  1. Pingback: Hmmm… (A Little Behind-The-Scenes Peak on What Makes the BSP Cut.) « Beauty Schooled

  2. Pingback: My Beauty Labor, Part One: Why We Should Talk About It « Beauty Schooled

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