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.