Category Archives: Customer Cult

[Tip Jar] Client Nineteen is Ready for Her Beach Vacation (And I Really Need a Nap)

Client Nineteen comes in for a full leg and bikini wax. Because of the new rules, we never know who we’re getting or when, so when Miss Marci comes back with the clipboard and says, “Virginia, you’re up!” I am in the midst of having my own legs and bikini zone waxed by Brooke and Tammy. Irony, I know.

But this far along, we’re basically a well-oiled machine, so Brooke pats the now-hairless parts of me with the aloe oil we use to calm things down afterwards, and then she and Tammy clean up and cut me a pile of new waxing strips while I get dressed and go greet Nineteen.

I really like her at first. Continue reading

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 36

[Tip Jar] In Which You Discuss Amongst Yourselves

There are a lot of Tip Jar stories that I haven’t told you, either because they seem kind of run of the mill (yet another European facial on yet another middle-aged lady for yet another $5 tip) or because I’m just not quite sure how to explain the encounter or what conclusion we can draw. I’m solving all these problems by giving you this (not at all chronological) list of some of the latest, with the salient facts, but not much else. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure day, only you can Draw Your Own Conclusions instead.

  • Client Twelve: Is a middle-aged woman with red hair, who comes in for a European facial. I leave her to change and step back in a few minutes later. “Don’t be alarmed — I took my hair off!” she says cheerfully, now wearing the kind of black nylon head wrap I usually associated with a more shall we say urban aesthetic? Tips me $6. Comes back three weeks later for a salt scrub where she tips me $10.
  • Client Thirteen: Tells me she has MS when I ask if she has any health conditions that might contraindicate an eyebrow wax. We agree that’s not really relevant here and proceed. She’s very sweet and gushes over what I do to her brows; “They’ve never looked this great!” I like her a lot. No tip.
  • Client Fourteen: Comes in for a cellulite wrap and spends the whole time telling me about how she volunteers with her church and was called to adopt two children from Ethiopia. Plus she needs to lose weight. Is a size zero. Tips $10.
  • Client Fifteen: Is a very old and deaf man who has come in while his daughter gets a haircut. She asks me to trim his brows. They are crazy old man brows. I do my best. She tips me $3.
  • Client Sixteen: Is an Italian man who has come in for a haircut and wants his brows trimmed. He is very nervous that I not “make him look like girl.” I do my best. He doesn’t tip.
  • Client Seventeen: Turns out to be the daughter of Client Seven, how about that? And here I learn a lesson about assumptions, because while Seven painstakingly tipped me $3 for a heck of a lot of work, Seventeen tips $10 for a European Facial and eyebrow wax, and spends the whole night telling me about her yacht club membership, her son’s fancy private school, and how, when she goes on cruises, she packs her own booze in Listerine bottles so she doesn’t have to pay cruise ship bar prices. The next night, Seventeen comes back with Seven, who tells me all about her latest diet while I give her a European. This time I get $4.
  • Client Eighteen: Comes in with her daughter for European Facials. Are perfectly lovely and enthusiastic and tip Meg and I each $5. After we wave them off, Meg says, “Why can’t they all be like that?” And we go for doughnuts.

Oh and on the subject of tipping: A lot of you have asked me what’s considered an appropriate tip, from the esthetician’s perspective. I’m sure it varies place to place, but at Beauty U, we hope for 20 percent, so $5 on a $25 European Facial. If we get more ($10 tips are not unheard of!), we are completely jazzed. If we get less, we complain.

And if you have a coupon, or the service itself is discounted in some way, it is classy to still tip based off the regular price, especially if you’re in a setting where workers are really tip-dependent. At Beauty U, we don’t get paid anything else and in fact are paying gobs of money for the privilege of working on you. At many “discount” salons, workers are paid a pretty low day rate on the assumption that they’ll make it up in tips. I don’t think that’s happening.

Tip Jar Total: $138-ish. Which keeps me in Diet Coke and Mac Snack Wraps during break. And that’s about all.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 33

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.]

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

Estheticians Are Not Doctors.

 

Esthetician's Lab Coat from Salonwear.com photo

Esthetician's Lab Coat from Salonwear.com. 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.

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

Why It’s All About Skin. (Don’t Read This if You’re Squeamish, Part 2)

Salon’s David Marchese has an essay up today about our secret addiction to pimple popping which is worth reading, though I can also summarize it for you in one line: Squeezing your zits is gross, but everyone does it anyway — what’s that about?

So here’s a maybe not shocking answer: It’s because we don’t like our bodies. And more specifically, we don’t like our skin.

Because an awful lot of our body anxieties reside in the epidermis. After all, it’s not your kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs stacking up that make you feel fat, It’s how much skin you can see in the mirror. And whether it’s smooth, or lumpy, or skin you can lift using both hands because it’s got that kind of heft. Skin is also where all of our unwanted hair sprouts from. It’s where we agonize over wrinkles and other signs of aging.

And of course, it’s where our pimples brew. Here’s the best quote in Marchese’s piece:

“Pimple popping offers instant gratification,” seconds Laura Cooksey, who “pops pimples all day long” as an aesthetician* at the Face Reality acne clinic in San Leandro, Calif. “People find it pleasurable the way that having your legs waxed is pleasurable. It can be uncomfortable and sort of nasty — we’ve all been grossed out when the pus hits the mirror — but you’re doing something that can help you toward your goal of clearer skin.”

Yes. I’ve talked about the perverse pride we get from extracting before, but I had a bit of an epiphany when Cooksey compared it to waxing. Both of these skills are still so novel to us at Beauty U, that whenever someone comes in with a really big pimple, several of us will cluster round to watch Miss Stacy go to town on it. (We also watch the gross-out YouTube videos that Marchese references. Which I’m not linking to because, seriously? Don’t.) And when we’re waxing each other, there’s a lot of pausing to admire the evidence. I gave Brooke another Brazilian on Monday and every time she flinched, she’d say, “Wow that hurts! But did you get a lot of hair?” And I’d show her the pellon strip now coated with wrong-side-up hairs, freshly ripped from where the sun don’t shine, and we’d both be like, Damn, you can even see the root balls.

I’ve debated whether to view this as a weird kind of empowerment. We genuinely don’t get grossed out by the site of pimple pus or pubic hair anymore, and I’d like to think that’s a sign that we’re all becoming so sangfroid about the human body; sure, it’s hairy and sometimes oozes stuff, but that’s life.

Except. Our satisfaction is all about getting this stuff out. We want pimples and extraneous hair gone — annihilated!— so we can feel cleaner, smoother, and pretty. Which means our natural state isn’t pretty. It’s gross. And as estheticians, we’re the front line on fighting grossness. The only ones tough enough to face that pimple dead on and take it out in a surgical strike. It’s like the Jack Bauer school of skincare.

This is a pretty violent way of viewing the human body. Of course, that sounds extreme. And when we’re faced with the worst of it — the angry red scars of a recent face lift, for example — we might feel horrified and sad. But we don’t connect that extreme violence to the everyday abuse. Anyone who has ever agonized over acne in the mirror, extracting until you’re red and swollen, knows that violence is the answer. We love popping pimples because it’s a not totally crazy way to punish yourself for failing to meet your beauty criteria. For not loving the skin you’re in.

Now, when you choose to have these things dealt with professionally, you’re paying someone else to inflict that pain on the parts of yourself that you hate. I’m not sure what that says — about how you feel about yourself or how you look at them after. But Brooke did a Brazilian on a client last week who didn’t tip her and at first we were all shocked — who doesn’t tip the person willing to get elbow-deep in their junk? (You know, in a non-sexual/non-gynecological context.)

Then I remembered the shame.

That feeling of how fast can I get dressed and get out of here? that comes after a particularly rough bikini wax, or even a facial when the esthetician extracts so much you’re convinced your face is going to look like Swiss cheese. I understand not feeling entirely friendly towards the person who just beat up on you for an hour.

But you should tip. Because once you stop to think about it, the woman making $11 an hour to excavate your pores is not the person you’re mad at. It’s mostly you, what with all your skin.

*Yes she spells it aesthetician and I always spell it esthetician because that’s how the textbook spells it. I think the A is just for fanciness. We all do the same stuff.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Waxing, week 30

Back to Makeup: You’re Also a Client.

Max Factor cosmetics, Her Majesty's Arcade, Sydney (taken for M.G.M.), c. 1941, by Sam Hood

When I went to The Makeup Show a few weeks ago, I was struck by how expensive the “quality” professional products were — even though we were supposed to be paying professional prices, discounted even further because it was a big trade show.

Then last week, when I was sitting in detention Make-Up Time, and flipping through Milady’s as directed, I came across a few passages that helped me connect those dots. For your reading pleasure:

Page 479:

If you invest in high-quality makeup brushes, you will have them for years.

Page 471:

Quality is important when choosing products and supplies. There is a difference between high-quality makeup and less expensive generic brands. The quality of the products and brushes makes a big difference in how makeup application will go for you, the artist, or for your client — smoothly or not so smoothly.

Page 602:

To be successful selling products and services, you must first be motivated and committed to their value […] Looking the part and practicing your philosophies is a good way to advertise the benefits of healthy skin care.

Most of the estheticians I’ve met own at least a steamer trunk worth of makeup and have bathrooms overflowing with products. There’s a lot of talk about the different deals you can get by repping for companies, or hitting the sales at the local beauty supply stores and really digging through the trade shows. But when I consider the average salaries, I’m just not convinced the math checks out. So, will I sound naive if I now admit that I’m still a little surprised every time I realize that the whole point of beauty school is to teach us to sell products and services?

Duh, says Milady’s on page 602:

To frame the concept of sales positively, the esthetician must first accept that recommending and providing clients with quality skin care products and services is a professional responsibility.

I think a big part of me still wants the whole point to be to help people achieve healthy skin and hair and feel good about themselves. And sure, that’s part of it. All of our teachers say “making clients feel good” is what they like best about their jobs.

But we use products to do that. And we use products ourselves to “advertise the benefits of healthy skin care.” And then we try to sell our clients more products to use at home when we’re done.

To do that, we have to buy what we’re selling. First, by believing it all: The promised benefits of our services, the value of having healthy (read: younger-looking, smooth, blemish-free) skin, the self-esteem boost you’ll get from looking better.

And then by actually buying it all ourselves.

[Photo: “Max Factor cosmetics, Her Majesty’s Arcade, Sydney (Taken for M.G.M.), c. 1941, by Sam Hood” via Flickr.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, milady's, Muddling Through Milady's, week 29

[Tip Jar] Client Nine Brings Her Parents

Client Nine is a tiny girl with big eyebrows.

When I go out to the reception area to get her, she jumps right up when I call her name. And the woman sitting next to her says to me, “Don’t worry, she’s been here tons of times.”

“Great,” I say. It honestly takes me a minute to put it all together. “Come on back, Nine.”

And then Nine turns to that woman. “Mom? You’re coming, right?”

And then to the man sitting on her other side. “Dad? Do you want to come too?”

Then I realize that Nine is very, very young. Thirteen, her mother tells me. And I am going to wax her eyebrows with both of her parents watching.

First stop, Miss Stacy. Because technically speaking, the minimum age for a waxing service is 16. (I’m not actually sure if that’s a Beauty U rule, or a state board rule, or a general industry standard, but I’ll dig into it and report back.) But Miss Stacy says as long as a parent or guardian is present, it’s okay.

At this point, I’m sort of assuming that Nine is the one wanting her eyebrows waxed, because she’s read about it in magazines or her older friends are doing it, or whatever. She is not one of those 13-year-olds who looks 20. In fact, she looks maybe 11. But I always looked young too, and I get that sometimes that means you desperately want to look older, when older equals cooler.

So Nine gets comfy in the waxing chair and I take a look. Yes, she has the kind of unibrow that happens when you also have lots of dark curly hair. It’s there, but not so thick you’d stop on the street or anything. Then again, it’s clear this isn’t her first waxing job. I explain that I’m just going to clean it up a teensy bit.

“We were also wondering,” says Nine’s mom. “Do you think it’s time for her to start waxing her lip?”

I blink. I know there’s a semi-annual media blitz about tweens getting crazy spa services (see here and also here) but this is my first up close and personal encounter with it. I’ve never heard the mother of a middle schooler suggest a lip waxing before.

Also, Nine doesn’t have any lip hair. I swear to God. This is not some hormones-out-of-whack or unfortunate-genetic-tendency super hairy kid. She’s got the same amount of lip hair as me, which is to say, basically none unless you look really hard in certain lights. Plus she has that perfectly soft, smooth skin of a child who has always worn sunscreen and has yet to experience her first pimple. The thought of putting hot wax on that makes me cringe.

“She really doesn’t have anything to wax,” I say. Which is hard, because what I want to say is, are you effing crazy? But, you know, customer service and what not. “Plus, with lip waxing, we’re learning that once you start it, you really have to keep on doing it and I’m not sure she wants to take that on right now.”

(By the way, this is true. I had a moment of “oh God, my lip hair” a few weeks back, and while everyone at Beauty U claims up, down and sideways that waxing makes the majority of your hair grow back finer, both Miss Stacy and Miss Marci were adamant that I shouldn’t wax what is really just some peach fuzz because with lips, the hair does become more noticeable when it grows back. How is this possible? I have no idea. Hair removal is so often more art than science.)

“She is only thirteen,” says Nine’s mom. “I guess we should wait a little longer.”

Yeah, or never do it.

And then Nine pipes up. “See, Dad? I told you I didn’t need my lip done.”

I’m sorry.

What?

Nine’s Dad comes over to take a look. “Okay, okay, we’ll wait.”

Let’s be clear: This father seemed like a reasonable guy. He wears glasses and a crumpled button-down, and has been sort of hanging back, highly aware that he’s a stranger in a strange spa-land. He didn’t pound his fist and insist that I go ahead with the lip wax. He didn’t call his daughter ugly (while I was there).

I’m just saying: This father suggested his thirteen-year-old daughter get a lip wax. That she in no way needs.

Thankfully, no one pushes the issue any further, possibly because I’m putting out all the “I will not wax your child’s lip if you pay me in rubies” vibes that I can muster. We proceed with the brow wax after I call Miss Stacy over for reinforcement. She traces Nine’s eyebrows with her finger, which is just what we do to kind of feel how the hair goes, but today it’s somehow very sweet, like, it’s okay, we won’t let them hurt you.

“Just clean up the middle,” Miss Stacy tells me. “We don’t want to do anything more because we want her to look her age.”

Nine looks distinctly relieved.

“Last time, the girls did under her brows too,” urges Nine’s mom.

Miss Stacy repeats what is going to become our mantra: “We want her to look her age.”

So I clean up the middle. Nine is used to waxing and barely flinches, but every few minutes she says, “Mom?” Like to check that her mother is still here with her. Which tells me that she’s more nervous than she’s letting on. And makes me sad because um, yes, her mother is here. Her mother and father are the reason we’re all here.

I also do tweeze a very few hairs from underneath, because I realize, upon closer inspection, that whomever waxed the arch into Nine’s brows last time, did a crap job and they’re growing back unevenly. I try to even things out, not because I want her to have some kind of Anastasia Brow Studio arch, but because I’m hating that someone already screwed up her fine-before-we-got-our-hands-on-them brows and, in case you missed it, She’s. Only. Thirteen.

When I finish, the unibrow is gone, but Nine’s brows are still full and natural. Miss Susannah wanders over, confused. “Don’t you need to wax the underneath?” she says.

Miss Stacy and I both attempt to convey all of the above via a furious, whispered “Lookherage!” I’m not sure Miss Susannah gets it, but she stays quiet after that.

Mom and Dad peer in to check the results. “Ohhhh! SO much better!” says Mom to Nine. Dad is nodding. “Don’t you think it looks so much better that way? I just wish it didn’t grow back so fast!”

“Okay,” says Nine.

I can’t help myself. I turn to Nine and say all in a rush, “You’re gorgeous just the way you are, and having thick brows means amazing hair and amazing eyelashes and this is a very good thing.”

“Okay,” says Nine.

But then something great happens. Mom turns to Dad and says, “Honey, why don’t you let them clean up your eyebrows too?” Maybe the woman (whose own brows are completely tweezed and possibly dyed) is just super anti-brow hair. Or maybe she’s annoyed that he’s been pushing hair removal on their daughter and wants to give him a taste of his own medicine. I have no idea. What I do know is a minute later, the father who told his daughter to get rid of her non-existent lip hair is sitting in my waxing chair.

I promise, I’m a professional. I don’t make his brows look crazy or burn him with the wax or anything. If I maybe pull a little up instead of parallel to the skin, because maybe a sloppy ripping technique makes it sting a little bit more, well, you know, who can say? It all happens so fast.

After they leave, Miss Stacy tells me that Mom is “a peel junkie,” who comes in for spa services all the time. “I really don’t think Nine cares about her eyebrows,” she says. “I think they make her do it.” I tell her about the whole lip wax question and we’re in firm agreement: It’s one thing to clean up a kid’s unibrow because maybe she’s getting picked on at school. But giving her a super-styled arch, zeroing in on lip hair that nobody else can even see, and telling her that the way we make her look is “so much better” than the way she looked before — I mean, no. Obviously not.

But here’s the thing: Nine’s parents aren’t the type of Real Housewives folk that you’d expect to be spa servicing up their child. They look their very middle age, he in khakis, she coming straight from work in some kind of scrubs. And, obviously, they love their daughter. So once I step back from the experience, I’m not even mad at them.

What I’m mad about is just how normal they seem.

And also, how normal the whole experience seems to them.

Tip: $5 (for two $8 eyebrow waxes.)

Tip Jar Total: $60

[By the by: I feel compelled to report that these tallies are actually a bit off base. In real Beauty U time (16 hours a week, with 1-2 clients most nights) I’m now up to way more than nine clients, and thus, more than $60 in tips. But not every client story is all that post-worthy. So I’m going to do a round-up post soon, just to get us caught up on a more accurate tip jar total and such. In case you’ve been wondering about all of that.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Customer Cult, In Class, Tip Jar, week 28