Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Crackdown Continues. Again.

So, we had Monday night off because it was a Beauty U Staff Development Day, which means tonight, Miss Stacy and Miss Theresa have a long list of new rules and reminders for us:

When you greet a client, always make eye contact.

And smile.

And say your name and their name.

And give them a double handshake, where you tenderly — dare I say, reverently? — cup their one hand in both of your own.

And the biggest deal: Nobody, but nobody, is allowed to know in advance what clients we’ve been assigned, or when they’re coming in.

Stay with me.

Up until tonight, when we arrived at Beauty U, we would clock in, go to the classroom, and look at the night’s appointment book, writ large on the flat screen TV monitor that is hooked up to the main computer. The appointment book program is basically a big Excel sheet with the names of the senior students running along the top and the hours of the day down the side, with each appointment plugged in accordingly.

Then we would pow-wow with Miss Stacy and say things like, “Oh can I do the cellulite wrap that was assigned to Brooke, because that’s on my Jeans Pass list this week?” or “Wow, I have a really bad headache, does anyone else feel like doing that Brazilian instead of me?” Or sometimes Miss Stacy might say, “Stephanie doesn’t have any eyebrow signatures yet, so let’s have her do that eyebrow wax at 8:30.” Then, once the schedule has been worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, we’d go off and start setting up for clients.

It wasn’t a perfect system. Sometimes you’d feel a little peer-pressured into trading away a service you really wanted to do, or taking on something you’d rather not. Sometimes it enabled Service Hogs, where people who are really gung-ho about getting their signatures would push to do more, and people who are a little more wimpy polite would end up with not enough to do. One student, who has been working hard to build up her own base of regulars, and manages to upsell every one of them to the high-end facials, would generally find a way to get out of doing the more mundane European facials that bore everyone to tears.

Realizing this, Miss Stacy instituted a rotation a few weeks ago where she wrote our names in alphabetical order on the white board and just assigned out all the services that way, giving each of us a check as we took a client, and then starting over at the top of the list when everyone had their turn. That seemed fair to me, and still allowed for the occasional “oh hey, can I trade you this facial for that lip wax?” kind of bartering that is so essential in the never-ending quest to collect Jeans Passes. (You don’t even know. Some weeks, they are our whole world.)

But now, those days are done. The list has been erased from the white board and is now kept by Iris, who is the receptionist up at the front desk. She, and only she, has the power to decide who does what service.

We’re not allowed to see the list.

Miss Stacy is not allowed to see the list.

In fact, the word on the street is Mr. G told the staff that if any teacher asks to see the list, she will be fired on the spot.

We’re allowed to know that there are, say, three European facials, one salt scrub, and a lip wax coming in tonight. As a class, we get everything set up for those treatments. Then we wait for the clients to arrive, at which point, Iris hands the assignment sheets off to Miss Stacy who comes back and tags us, Oprah style: “And YOU get a facial! And YOU get a facial! And YOU get a lip wax!”

Why the secrecy? It’s all rather unclear. Miss Stacy says, “Mr G had smoke coming out of his ears about this,” and the only explanation they received is that he doesn’t want people being skipped “because they’re slow, or because they haven’t gotten good at that service yet or because of the color of their skin.”

Now I’m only the messenger (of the messenger) here. I have not personally witnessed or heard tell of any racial profiling when it comes to client assignments. I haven’t even seen a teacher pass someone over in a “hey she needs more practice with highlights on their mannequin before I give her a human head” kind of way. But I’m deducing that there have been some doings of this kind afoot.

In which case, instituting a school-wide policy designed to prevent miscellaneous prejudice seems wise. And if you’re going to have a new policy like that, you’re going to need some dire consequences (like firing teachers) to ensure it gets implemented. That’s all making a certain kind of sense.

Things that make less sense include the fact that Iris (the receptionist) doesn’t get invited to the Staff Development Day. So she walks in for her shift tonight and nearly has a nervous breakdown when all of these new responsibilities are dumped on her with nary an explanation or a pay raise. It’s also harder to prepare for your client if you don’t know who she is and what she wants done. We’re supposed to input painstakingly detailed summaries in the computer’s client files at the end of every treatment, so the next person who works on that client can get her whole life story. Now there’s no time to go read those summaries, so you run the risk of asking “is this your first facial?” to a regular who comes in every three weeks.

But what I think I’m most weirded out about is the way it strips our teachers of their authority over the clinic. Why can’t Mr. G trust his staff to distribute client assignments fairly, using their best judgment and making their own game-time decisions, perhaps rearranging things now and then to better suit the needs and talents of the students they know better than he does?

Of course, if a teacher has been abusing this power and discriminating against students, she needs to leave. But what’s up with a management style that assumes such behavior would be the norm?

[Image: The newly top-secret appointment book software looks a lot like this one, from Salon Iris.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, In Class, week 32

[Beauty Overheard] Beauty School is Not Hot.

From this week’s Modern Love essay, “Finding Marriage Without Losing a Self,” by Jillian Lauren:

“You know, when I said beauty school was hot, I was just playing with you,” he said. “I know that place is crappy and mind-numbing. And I think it’s great that you do it anyway. I think you’ve got guts for trying to change your life.”

This essay isn’t really about beauty school. It’s about Jillian Lauren, a recovering heroin addict/prostitute who tries to reclaim her middle-class Jewish Good Girl self via a Brides‘ Magazine-worthy wedding to the perfect guy, until she realizes that the fairytale ending would require her to ditch her “disaster” self, even the parts of that girl that are worth keeping. The couple elopes in a small, cloudy sunset wedding instead: “Not at a happy ending, but at a quiet and hopeful beginning.”

But the story starts with Lauren in beauty school post-rehab, because, “I was just desperately trying to find a career that would pay my rent, lend some stability to my days and maybe afford me some time to write in the evenings.”

And that resonates with me because it’s a version of what so many of my Beauty U classmates are doing: Hoping for a career to replace a dead-end job, to pay off old debt, to make rent, to support their kids. They don’t expect Beauty U to send them to the moon because they’re done with those kinds of hopes and dreams, if they ever even had them in the first place. And frustration sets in when they realize that beauty school is, in fact, just as crappy and mind-numbing as whatever it is that they’re trying to get away from by coming here.

But at the same time, I don’t want to downplay the fact that there are Beauty U students who are hoping for more. Campbell spends at least twenty minutes a night painting her lips with dark red glitter, or perfecting someone’s smoky eyes. She upends her makeup case and a collection of jewel-toned eye shadows and face glitters spill out and they look so pretty, you want to eat them all with a spoon. We call her brand of makeup applications “The Sexy Pirate” (as in, “Did you see how Campbell went all Sexy Pirate on Meg’s eyes?”) but she’s really, really good.

And when Campbell nails the perfect pink-and-gold combination on someone’s eyelids, she becomes so overjoyed, she breaks out in song, which makes everyone laugh and feel overjoyed and gather around to ooh and ahh over the amazingness that she has created.

Which is pretty great. Because Campbell is a single mom and just got laid off from her job as an Applebee’s waitress and is babysitting her cousin’s kids to pay the bills right now. She takes Beauty U very seriously, asking smart questions about how she can improve her customer service skills and taking copious notes when we have a guest speaker. She brings her makeup case in every night so we can practice, since the Beauty U-supplied makeup is utter crap.

Back to this Modern Love essay: “So beauty school, in my opinion, was not hot,” writes Jillian Lauren. “Beauty school was humiliating. Beauty school was penance. I definitely didn’t want any cute guys popping by to see me doing hot roller sets in my regulation white smock.”

I read that and think yes. For us it’s a regulation black apron, and there is much talk of burning them in the school parking lot on graduation night.

But I also think about Campbell. And I want it to be clear: Beauty school, regulation aprons, draconian attendance policies and being treated like a naughty five-year-old for bringing in a contraband water bottle — these things are not hot and they are humiliating, for sure.

But beauty school students? These are women who can make amazing glitter eyes happen. Who make me laugh so hard I probably shouldn’t talk to them while I’m holding tweezers. Who will lend you money for the break room vending machine when it eats your dollar yet again or pick you up when your car breaks down even if you live 20 minutes away. Who help each other strategize better custody arrangements with their exes and bring in bags of old baby clothes to share.

So they are the very epitome of Hot. If you ask me.


Filed under Beauty Overheard, Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, week 32

Pretty Price Check (06.25.10)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday round-up of how much we paid for beauty this week.

photo of women smoking a cigarette in the sun

  • 4.5-9 lbs: The average weight gain you’ll see if you quit smoking. Which is enough to have French women clinging to their Marlboros. (Or whatever fancy French brand of cigarettes they smoke there.) Bleh. (Via Jezebel.)
  • $700: How much this writer spent on eyelash extensions. Hey, she got two-and-a-half months of glory out of them, before starting to look like “a bad drag queen.”
  • 26 percent of tanners who filled out a survey using criteria for alcohol abuse qualified as “addicted” to their UV exposure. I feel like this whole “tanning is addictive” thing is so not news. And yet we keep hearing news about it. So I feel compelled to tell you about it. Because skin damage/cancer continues to be a key way we’re paying for pretty round here. (Via BellaSugar.)*

Must Read: Elizabeth Kissling’s insightful post over on Re:Cycling about the decline in diaphragm use. Hint — it has a lot to do with the increase in Pill sales:

But nearly four of every ten women who use contraceptives are not satisfied with their method, and I hear frequently from young women that they’re pressured at college health centers and physicians’ offices to choose hormonal methods, usually the Pill, over barrier methods such as condoms and diaphragms. Even after negative experiences with the Pill, women are often encouraged to try another brand rather than another method.

*Oh WAIT and on the subject of tanning: (Since I very much hope you are not addicted to it and in fact, protect your skin at least most of the time.) Check out Enviroblog’s Sunscreen Hall of Shame to make sure you’re not wasting your money and skin cells on something that doesn’t do sh*t. Good. You can also get a list of their top-rated sunscreens here. Now go enjoy your sunny summer weekend!

[Photo: “Women Smoking a Cigarette in the Sun.” While being French (Or not). Via Flickr.]

1 Comment

Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Pretty Price Check, Tanning, Week 31

What Your Waxer Is Not Thinking About You.

Photo from "Smallest Canvas" series by Molly Surno

Meg gives me a bikini wax tonight both because hey, it’s swimsuit season and because she has “1 Bikini Wax” written on her List and I like to help a sister out. Every week, the teachers write us out a grocery list of services to try to do that week — if you complete everything by the end of the week, you score a Jeans Pass. And you know how we all feel about jeans passes. Which means by Wednesday/Thursday, we’re all scrambling around in a “please-can-I-just-wax-your-arm-hair-for-my-jeans-pass” way.

Anyway, I’m just going to say it: You are never going to feel more unattractive than when you’re splayed out for a bikini wax. Forget the part about your waxer seeing your business. Tonight all I can think about are thighs and how you have to contort into all these angles that are extremely unflattering to them, under what just might be the brightest light ever. This is the first time I’ve been back on the client side of the table in awhile — so strange because just a few months ago, I was the client and had no idea what it was like on the waxer side of things — and I completely zero in on how very vulnerable you feel. And how much you have to trust your waxer to be cool with things.

But here’s a pet peeve I have about many spa clients/some people I tell about this project/probably a lot of privileged white people: When they say things like, “I wish I spoke Korean/Vietnamese/whatever so I could understand what those nail salon ladies are saying about me.”

Okay, let’s break this down.

1) You are not that interesting.

2) Spa services, especially manicures and pedicures, are increasingly performed by Asian people. 40 percent of nail technicians nationwide are Vietnamese, according to the latest Nails Magazine survey, and in some areas, like California, it’s closer to 80 percent. Nail tech training requires the least amount of hours (250 hours in my state to esthetics’ 600 and cosmetology’s 1000), which means you can get through school and start earning money more quickly, which is important when you have a family to support. And while wages are low, they tend to be better than many other jobs available to recent immigrants who aren’t yet fluent in English.

Now, being non-native English speakers, they quite naturally converse with each other in their non-English native language. So listen up, because I’m only going to say this once: When people talk to each other in a language you don’t understand, it does not mean they are talking about you.

3) You are not that interesting.

In fact, I’ve been interested by how rarely we talk about our clients at Beauty U. If a client tells a funny story, maybe we’ll reprise it. If a client is really mean or doesn’t tip, well, okay then. You gripe about your day too.

I’ll admit, earlier this week, Miss Marci came out from helping Brooke negotiate a particularly tricky leg and bikini wax and said, “That woman is so hairy! She even has hair on her stomach, like a man. This is going to take all night!” So yes, it does happen when we’re faced with something extreme.

The rest of the time, we talk about the funny thing someone’s kid said, or who has cramps, or what’s up with our skin. We bitch about the ongoing esthetics-cosmetology rivalry (which boils down to the fact that we give them facials and such all the time because we need people to work on, but they never give us haircuts or blow-outs because there’s a Beauty U rule against students getting free cosmetology services during class time — don’t get us started!). We talk about blind dates and fights with boyfriends and the merits of the various vending machine offerings.

And in between, clients come in and we go to work. And that’s the deal.

So back to the bikini wax: I think it’s probably impossible to be in that situation without wondering, “Oh God, what is she thinking about this?” I know all of the above, and I still have that moment. If you have a language barrier, I get how that adds to the confusion because it creates more uncertainty in what is already a highly uncertain situation. And the many vagaries of human nature mean that I can’t guarantee that your waxer/hair stylist/nail tech doesn’t talk about you behind your back (or within earshot in that Secret Code otherwise known as the language she can speak and you can’t — you know, like how spending every day in America surrounded by fluent English speakers probably feels to her). I absolutely can’t guarantee she doesn’t think something in the privacy of her own brain. In fact, you might as well assume that she does. Because she’s human and entitled to her thoughts.

But I think it’s worth noting that even though you’re naked (or barefoot), you still might not be the most vulnerable person in that room.

[Photo by the constantly brilliant Molly Surno, from her “Smallest Canvas” series that I just cannot get enough of.]


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, In Class, Waxing, Week 31

Twittering This Post.

I’ve been finding Twitter to be obnoxiously slow today, probably because everyone is tweeting away about a certain soccer game. Plus, it’s about 112 degrees in my office, which doesn’t translate into super insightful blogging. So, here’s a quick post that is really just things I would have tweeted if I didn’t keep getting that sad whale screen:

  • Anna North has a really great essay about why we’re so weird about seeing women’s skin, even if we’re Kim Kardashian (on Jezebel.)
  • If you share my obsession with mannequin heads, check this out (via American Salon.)
  • Constance McMillen didn’t get to go to the prom, but she got to go to the White House. I say, she wins. (Via Salon’s Broadsheet.)

There you go. If you loved this and you aren’t yet following me on Twitter, well goodness, get on that. I’m getting close to 200 followers, which seems awfully fancy.


Filed under Beauty Schooled

Estheticians Are Not Doctors.


Esthetician's Lab Coat from photo

Esthetician's Lab Coat from Wait, what does she remind me of?


At Beauty U, we’re told this all the time. Like, don’t think that you can diagnose a mole as skin cancer. Just suggest your client see her dermatologist for a check-up. And, don’t expect to learn lasers or Botox — those have to be administered by a doctor, or an esthetician working under a doctor with advanced training. (Read: Well beyond the scope of Beauty U.)

Some of the time, I find this reassuring. Anatomy, cosmetic chemistry, skin physiology and basic electricity each get a dedicated chapter in our Milady’s textbook. That adds up to maybe three weeks, tops, that we spent learning straight-up science and they are everybody’s least favorite chapters. Last week I was waiting for a client in the classroom while Miss Lisa and Miss Stacy led the current crop of freshmen through their chemistry chapter (this involves the students reading off a PowerPoint lecture while the teachers interject every now and then with their own knowledge and expertise). When it came time to figure out the difference between a solute and a solvent, everyone got so stumped that we turned to Wikipedia for a better explanation. I’m not saying these women are dumb. They are quite smart. I’m just saying: Med school, it ain’t.

But some of the time, I also find this whole “you’re not as smart as doctors” approach to be pretty patronizing. American Spa posted a story a few weeks ago about an esthetician who spotted a sketchy looking mole after the client’s dermatologist had refused to do anything about it for two years in a row. The mole came off and the verdict was: basal cell carcinoma. Score one, esthetics.

On the other hand, there are these times when we are taught to act like doctors. When we escort a client out after her spa service, for example, we’re supposed to say, “I’d like to see you for another facial in four weeks.”

“It’s like going to the dentist where they just automatically schedule you for your next cleaning in six months,” Miss Susannah explains. “This way, the client just thinks oh, I better rebook now, because she needs to see me again in four weeks.”

Miss Susannah also uses the “I’d like you to do X” phrasing when she retails products, as in “I’d like to see you using a moisturizer with an SPF” or “I’d like to try a night cream, to see if that helps the puffiness under your eyes.” Just like when the doctor says, “I’d like to try a course of antibiotics.”

Except we’re not like the dentist where getting your teeth cleaned every six months has been medically proven to prevent cavities and other oral health issues. And you’re not sick. Getting a facial every four weeks might make your skin look prettier, and be a really nice treat, but it isn’t medically necessary.

Because we’re not doctors. But we are kind of okay with you thinking that we are.

1 Comment

Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, week 30

The Birk Question, Answered. (-Ish.)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my struggle to embrace the new (or not so new, depending on who you ask) Birkenstocks-aren’t-ugly-after-all trend. And you guys had a lot to say about that. I got a backhanded f*ck you, I got a lot of feminists wondering why I would devote so many words to talking about frickin’ shoes already, and I got some fellow shoe lovers saying hell no, we won’t go there.

Well. This should make some of you happy. (Not that last group.)

Photo of VA's Birkenstocks

Those are my feet and I’m wearing my first pair of Birks.

I think they look great. From most angles anyway.

I’m even rocking them to a work event in NYC today, because I have to schlep about the city in 90-degree heat and I know I need to do so blister-free.

And I would end the post there, on such a foot-happy note, except so many of you raised valid questions about all my anti-Birk agita, asking, quite reasonably, if it wasn’t at odds with the entire mission of the Beauty Schooled Project. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Week 31