If you think back way before your turkey coma set in, you’ll recall that two weeks ago, I kicked off a brand new series round these parts called Spa Stories, where we’re going to share various close encounters of the beauty salon kind. Now I’m back with the next installment, courtesy of reader Gina in Boston, MA. But first, a little clarification, so you can get your submission all ready for me.
What this series will NOT be: A place to rant about the hair stylist who cut three inches when you totally said one. Or the manicurist who filed you square when you clearly indicated oval. Or insert similar tales-of-customer-service-woe here.
What this series WILL be: A place to share how your relationship with beauty (your own or other people’s) evolves when you spend time in a salon or spa. And by “you,” I mean consumers, sure — as you’ll see from Gina in a second. But I’m also talking to you, salon workers. If you read the comments on my Slate story, you’ll see a lot of folks feeling highly anxious about what to tip and why it took me two hours to do all that waxing. It’s one thing for me to keep regaling y’all with Beauty U tip stories, but clearly, I cannot speak for the whole industry! So hair stylists, estheticians, nail techs — I want your stories here.
And when I say “stories,” this can be an epic saga spanning years (like Gina), a quick life-observed moment from a comment made by a client last Tuesday, the tale of your first brush with waxing and other extreme beauty sports, or… You get it. Email it to me at beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com.
Now here’s Gina:
The year is 1998. I find a quaint little beauty shop close by my college campus. I love it immediately because the stylist/owner B. has a great Italian accent and she quickly wraps me into her web of products and techniques. I get an introductory hair cut for a steal of a price, but all the while the B. insists that my hair is an “ugly color.” At first, this doesn’t sound so bad with her magical Italian lilt. I giggle at her, and admit that it is a kind of boring brown, but assert that, “at least it isn’t grey.”
Her negative talk continues through the haircut: “Gina, your ‘air it needs-a-wurmth!” She continues with the cut as she is tsk-ing and sighing over my mousy brown locks. She pressures me to dye it a “rich chocolate brown.”
I cave in, and let her dye my hair.
This is the first time — of sadly, many — a beauty worker persuades me into getting a service I didn’t think I needed. I feel embarrassed for not realizing that my hair is unforgivably ugly and of course, needs to be dyed pronto!
I walk out of the salon feeling like a million dollars but the effects of freshly dyed hair only last so long… And there it is, I am hooked. I quickly become addicted to the salon routine, going every six weeks and spending at least $100 dollars plus tip every time.
Until, one day my friend who also frequented the salon reported that the hairdresser had told her the exact same thing. The only problem was that her hair was not mousy brown at all, but a luxurious auburn that I honestly coveted. B insisted, of course, that my friend’s hair also needed “wurmth”and had done the same routine of shaming her into a color she didn’t want. We laughed about it, at length, often impersonating B.’s accent and playfully insulting ourselves over again.
I never returned to her salon after my friend and I talked about it that day. But I did dye my hair. I didn’t really ever get over the idea that my hair color was ugly, because even in my own non-magical New England accent, it sounded like the truth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that my hair is “boring,” or “mousy brown,” to other salon workers to have them expertly color it away.
Flash forward to the present day for story #2. It is the eve of my 30th birthday and I treat myself to a blowout and makeup application before going out with friends and family. I am so excited to indulge even though I have a hair cut coming up in a couple of weeks. There is something wonderful about someone else blow drying your long hair! I go to my regular salon. I drop in, as they allow, and get an unfamiliar stylist.
New stylist is, decidely, a non-smiler. She is very abrupt, as she escorts me back to the shampoo area. Grimaces, and rolls her eyes as she complains about how slow business is while shampooing my hair. In fact, the entire time she is working on my hair, she switches between complaining about her job, to informing me how limp and unhealthy my hair is. She also shares that she is “dying to cut it off,” but relents when I tell her that H. is my regular stylist and that I already have an appointment with her in a few weeks. I politely commiserate with how fine my hair is. I reassure her that I am looking for sleekness, not a lot of volume from my blowout.
She blows my hair out without using clips to section it off. This may not sound like a big deal, but may hair is really, really, long. So she’s flopping my wet mop of very long hair back and forth, over my face, over my ear, over my other ear, back to my face for about 20 minutes. She shouts over the blow dryer, “This would go quicker if you cut your hair shorter!”
I stick it out, and for what it is worth, it looks much better than what I come up with at home on my own. Really. I got compliments all night. I pay, tip her well, and move on to my makeup application (which was wonderful and I was treated exactly as I hoped to be treated).
How many more times I am going to allow a salon worker to continue a service that is not going well without saying something? Is 30 old enough to advocate for myself in the salon chair? Apparently not. I think I would self-advocate over correct sandwich making more than over what someone is doing to my hair/me.
Both these stories make me feel a little disappointed in myself as a feminist and as a consumer. I still love my local salon and H., my stylist. I will go on tipping because it is the fair thing to do, and hopefully next time I will speak up when made to feel uncomfortable. Let’s see what happens for my next birthday. Maybe I’ll ask for the clips.
VA again: I read this and had myself a little ah-ha moment. Because why IS it so much harder to speak up if you aren’t happy with the way a salon service is going than if someone forgets the pickles on your sandwich? Are we just afraid to hurt people’s feelings? Or is it weirder because it’s so up close and personal? Anyone else experience this? Discuss.
PS. Oops, almost forgot a quick standard disclaimer on the Spa Stories: I choose what gets published (and probably won’t be able to publish everyone’s or in a super timely manner, so be patient!) and may edit you lightly for length, spelling/grammar, or clarity. ‘Kay, thanks.