Category Archives: Tip Jar

Beauty Schooled is on Marie Claire!

"The Price of Beauty," by Virginia Sole-Smith Marie Claire

Because I know you never get tired of reading about me performing bikini waxes. But this piece, which just got published on MarieClaire.com, is actually about the art of the upsell.

Which I’ve touched on before — like over here — but never in quite this much useful detail. It even includes a handy sidebar on how to get the spa service you really want. And people, it is big news for a women’s magazine to do a story like this, even online. So click, check it out, and pretty please, leave some comments, tweet it and Facebook Like It, if you do?

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, In Class, Press, Tip Jar

Beauty Schooled on The Beheld!

Virginia Sole-Smith Q&A on The Beheld

My new blog friend Autumn Whitefield-Madrano writes an awesome and thoughtful blog called The Beheld, which you should already know about because I link to it allll the time in the Price Check and on Twitter.

So there was much hopping about with excitement when Autumn asked to interview me for The Beheld about the Beauty U project and other beauty-related matters. Check it out here.

Also we coined the phrase “Sisterhood of the Brazilian,” which is going to be huge. I’m pretty sure.

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Filed under Back to Beauty U, Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Career Opportunities, Tip Jar

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Tasered.

photo of metallic pink taser

So fascinating to hear everyone’s take on the Vatoo Thing, from Friday. (I am especially loving the extremely great point that you are not actually tatooing your vagina because that is INSIDE your body. Oh, seventh grade health class flashbacks galore!)

Meanwhile, Gawker and The Cut have been riffing on the male side of the genital beautification biz (manzilians, brozilians, guyzilians, penazzling, yes these are all happening in a day spa somewhere), in response to this firsthand account on Salon by Jed Lipinski. I admit to being a little grouchy because there’s a rather glib tone being taken about a waxer who reports having to pull a taser on an “aggressive” male client in the thigh because he kept making inappropriate advances.

Maybe I’m uptight and old-fashioned, but if you have to bring a taser to work, I’m sorry, your job is too dangerous. Continue reading

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 39

[Tip Jar] How Much Should You Tip at the Beauty Salon?

On one of the last Tip Jar posts, Kate asked this very excellent question:

Okay. Here’s my question. And perhaps you can’t answer this because, you know, you’re on the other side of the salon and you’re not doing hair, but what about tips on an expensive hair service, such as highlights? My highlights cost $150, and I generally tip $25, which is just over 16%. I guess I could be tipping $30, which is straight-up 20%, but I’m also tipping the shampoo person $5, and suddenly I’m paying $185 to get my hair done. (And that doesn’t include a hair cut, btw.) It’s just a $5 difference, though. Am I being chintzy? Should I just suck it up and tip $30?

I err on the side of over-tipping to a perhaps pathological extent, so I would suck it up and tip the $30. But I fully admit, this isn’t as cut and dried (ha! hair pun, get it?) as when we talk about tipping your nail salon worker, who makes about $50 a day, or tipping me $5 for a three-hour, $55 bikini and leg wax.

So here’s my whole deal on tipping. Continue reading

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, In Class, Tip Jar, week 37

[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

More Thoughts on Skin (This Time, with Cellulite!)

Thank you, wise readers. You made such good points yesterday. And it’s helping me refine my perspective on pimple popping (because, honestly, if you don’t have an informed and nuanced perspective on that, why do we let you vote?). And skin in general.

So here’s a quick and dirty summation of your very valid points: Sometimes we pop pimples for popping’s sake. This is a hygiene issue; who wants to walk around with a pore full of greasy gunk?And it’s just damn satisfying, like popping (kinda gross) bubble wrap. Or picking your nose. And, if you have a lot of painful acne, extracting that crap makes you feel better. Plus there definitely is a space in which women being comfortable examining the less pristine parts of their bodies (even if it’s with an “ew!” response) is a good thing.

So I am not saying that every time you pick at a spot on your face, you’re hating on yourself.

What I am saying is that it can go there. Because again, skin is the site of so much of our body-related angst. Not necessarily in an anatomically correct sense; if you hate your nose, it’s really the shape of your bones and cartilage that you dislike. But when you think of your nose, you think of the skin-covered version, not the bones. This is because skin is how we see our bodies. And that’s why we spend billions of dollars per year trying to make it tighter, softer, smoother, and in some cases, just go away all together.

And at Beauty U, I see skin hatred in action every single day. We look at scars caused by the kind of obsessive picking that goes well beyond hygiene. We see people take tweezers to their zits. We attack them with lancets, which are basically tiny knives and illegal to use for this purpose in many states including mine. And with the high-frequency machine, which uses a buzzing electric current to kill bacteria. Not to mention microdermabrasion, where we scrape at your skin with tiny rocks, or chemical peels, where we paint you with acid to make pimples dry up and other imperfections melt away.

That’s why I say this isn’t always skin care. A lot of the time, this is skin war.

Now for story time:

Besides pimples, Public Enemy #1 in the skin war is, without a doubt, cellulite. I’ve been in the trenches of this battle for the past few weeks because it’s summer now, which means people are planning to show a lot more skin, which means they’re highly anxious about all of their skin from the neck down.

I’ve written before about how much I like body treatments because I like that I can convey a little bit of body acceptance to clients through my touch. It’s a no I don’t have a problem massaging your stomach, stop sucking it in and just breathe already thing.

But now people are coming in for cellulite detox wraps, which is where we massage you for half an hour with a mysterious blend of essential oils, then wrap you bake potato style in the silver heated blankets until you sweat so much you start to shrink. To prove this shrinkage, we measure your arm, waist, hips and thighs before and after. We could be more exact — sometimes I forget the precise spot I measured in the beginning and worry that skews the results, if I pick a place on your thigh, for example, that is just naturally thinner than where I clocked your before measurement. But even accounting for that margin of error, I have seen people lose an inch or two. (No it’s not permanent. I suppose it’s what people call water weight, though I think that’s kind of a make-y up term. But think the kind of weight wrestlers drop when they work out in those crazy plastic suits right before a match.)

Even though the word cellulite is right there in the treatment’s title, I’m less convinced that our massage or your excessive sweating does anything for erasing or even improving the appearance of your thigh dimples. But that’s what people come in hoping to see, and the placebo effect is a powerful thing.

“I look so much more toned now!” says Client Ten, a tiny blond waitress (who tips me $11, because waitresses get tipping).

“That bloat is gone, thank God!” says Client Eleven, another tiny blond women who spends most of the wrap talking to me about her volunteer work at her church. And tips $9. (Cellulite wraps cost $47 at Beauty U.)

I’ve noticed that tiny people are often the ones who go for the wrap, maybe because losing just an inch doesn’t sound worth it if you’re bigger? And as much as we promote the wrap as relaxing and restorative and all that, it is one of our most hardcore services, so you have to be convinced that losing an inch is worth some suffering. You can’t move much under the heavy blankets. Plastic sticks to you everywhere because we wrap you in a plastic sheet (think big garbage bag) before we put the blankets on.

And you get really, really, really hot. Not ooh I’m in a sauna or a hot tub hot, this feels so good. More like, wow, I’m sitting in a pool of my own sweat while wrapped in garbage bags and it’s starting to smell that way.

Which at first, people crave. 10 minutes in, without fail, every client tells me they’re not sweating enough and maybe we need to turn the heat up because they really, really want this to work so they can lose an inch before their beach vacation/hot date/regular Tuesday activities. I tell them to sit tight, the heat is on all the way. And 15 minutes in, they start to feel it. And proceed to slowly lose their minds.

Some people enter a sort of trance-like state, halfway between awake and sleeping. Others talk to keep themselves going and I hear about medical problems, angry teenage children, unsupportive spouses, mothers who call too much or not enough. They share a lot in the cellulite wrap, and I can’t tell if it’s because lying there in the hot and the dark feels like some kind of confessional or because they’ve gotten so delirious they don’t know what they’re saying.

All I’m saying is, it’s a lot to endure in order to cinch some skin. But cellulite wrap disciples are devoted to it. Client Twelve comes rushing in, asking if we can cut the massage short and get right to the heat because she has to be at a wake by 7 pm. It turns out that her thirteen-year-old daughter’s friend just died in a car accident. Before you judge her (because the implications of keeping your cellulite wrap appointment on the day your daughter has to go see her friend in a funeral home are pretty bleak) let me explain that she just has to get the wrap done because she’s going on a girl’s weekend to the Jersey Shore but she also has to get to the wake because the girls’ weekend means she’s missing the funeral the next day.

Okay now you can judge her.

Actually don’t; she’s a very nice person and I think just caught so blindsided by the tragedy that she’s having trouble processing the idea that life needs to stop for a minute for something so horrible. There are times when we feel so out of control that I guess knowing you can at least take an inch off your hips before you have to get into a bikini is comforting.

Or something.

Meanwhile, Stephanie brings in her airbrush gun so we can practice spray tanning each other. Which I bring up because it is also about skin and cellulite too, since the primary reason for tanning is to make pasty, dimpled flesh look more toned. As estheticians, we’re supposed to be very anti-tanning yet very pro-attractive-skin, so you can see our dilemma and how the invention of the professional spray tan has really helped us out.

Except again, the results are often imagined. Stephanie sprays Meg while we all stand around saying things like, “it’s subtle but you’ve got a really nice glow!” and “it’s good it’s so light because I hate those orange tans.” Then Stephanie starts on me and Miss Stacy realizes we’ve been holding the gun all wrong. Suddenly brown spray shoots out and turns my legs a deep, toasty orange and we realized that Meg hadn’t gotten any color at all, except that which we wanted to see.

Long story short, spray tanning with an airbrush gun is very tricky and I ended up several patchy shades of orange and brown and my original fishbelly white and now look like I have a mild case of vitiligo. Plus it smells gross and you sneeze brown for the next day because you inhale so much crap.

But my cellulite is a lot less noticeable since it’s underneath all that brown paint.

And if you’ll let me conclude by officially beat this whole war metaphor to death: Maybe the biggest problem with Violence Towards Skin is that at least half the time, when we declare victory, nothing has actually changed.

Tip Jar Total: I’ve made a total of $30 in cellulite wrap tips so far, making it definitely one of the most lucrative Beauty U spa offerings, and bringing the grand tip total up for $90.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Body Treatments, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tanning, Tip Jar

[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

[Tip Jar] Client Eight is Fine the Way She Is. So I Try to Sell her a $50 Facial.

Jill Glindermann, winner of the Sun Girl Quest at Suttons Beach, 1953

Client Eight is a shy 16-year-old girl with a small bit of acne around her hairline. (Hair products, people. Hair products.) I ask if she has any concerns about her skin and she immediately starts talking about her break-outs: “I hate them! They never go away! They look so bad!”

Under the magnifying lamp, they do look huge. (Because it’s a mag lamp. But sometimes I forget that. Like when I discover that what a client thinks are blackheads are actually hairs — this happens more often than you’d expect. Not to give you something to be paranoid about. Except I think I just did.)

Plus we’ve been getting the upselling talk. Yes again. If we don’t write down that we tried to upsell a service on the client’s form, then Miss Susan highlights that part of the form and passes it back to whichever teacher is listed at the top as our coach.

I’m not too clear on what “getting highlighted” really means, but Miss Stacey makes it abundantly clear that she does not want it to happen to her. So I suggest our fancy acne fighting facial. Eight asks the price (it’s $50) and then there is an awkward pause while she contemplates paying double what she was expecting.

“It’s totally up to you,” I say, beating a hasty retreat.”The European is also a great facial!” It’s really not. But I’m not about to take a kid’s babysitting money to dodge a yellow marker bullet.

Miss Stacey hears me mention the acne facial and swoops through the curtain to study Eight’s skin. “She definitely doesn’t need that facial,” she says. Miss Stacey is never one to mince words. “It will make her break out even more. Don’t do it.”

Humbled, I perform the regular European facial and make sure to give Nine lots of compliments about her pretty eyes and cute earrings. Because now I’m terrified that I’ve made her more insecure about her (TINY when not under a magnifying lamp! And no, you can’t see those blackhead hairs either in real life!) breakouts than she already was. Plus I’m the schmuck who tried to make money off a minor. With a treatment that would make her “problem” worse.

Gross.

When I fill out my form, I write that I tried to upsell Eight to the acne fighting facial and she refused. And to be honest, I’m giving Miss Stacey big points for preventing me from upselling a useless (even harmful) service. (I’m subtracting a point for diplomacy, but that’s really between me and my ego.)

But it’s a tricky dance we’re doing.

Because I have to try to upsell something so we don’t get in trouble later. Except some clients don’t need anything more advanced (read: expensive) to solve their problem (read: insecurity). And suggesting something completely unrelated (“by the way, did you know we cut hair here?” or “hey, how about a mud wrap?”) is just transparently pushy.

“You have to write something,” says Miss Stacey, when I ask her about it later. “Otherwise we get highlighted.”

I think that might be code for a new way to use my favorite Beauty U rule: Make Stuff Up.

Tip: $7 (on the $25 European Facial. So I guess she doesn’t hate me.)

Tip Jar Total: $55

[Photo: “Jill Glindermann, winner of the Sun Girl Quest at Suttons Beach, 1953,” via Flickr because she looks like she’s liking what she sees in that mirror and because I am obsessed with old-time-y “bathing beauty” photos.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 27

[Tip Jar] Seven, Back for a Salt Scrub.

So, remember Client Seven, the 70-year-old lady getting her first facial, despite (or perhaps because of) a host of medical problems including fake knees and high blood pressure?

Well, I must have done something right, because tonight she’s back.

Her daughter has booked them both in for salt scrubs, but failed to show up — something about Seven’s grandson and a meeting with the principal, which doesn’t sound good. “She was supposed to treat me, but I guess I’ll have to treat myself,” says Seven.

She says she’s had a salt scrub before, at a spa in Vegas. But I still make sure we go over the contraindication list pretty carefully, because I’m remembering those fake knees. “They’ll be fine, just not too much pressure,” says Seven. I leave her to get undressed, not surprised when she says she’d rather wear her own underwear than the disposable paper thong we’re supposed to offer clients. (I hate wearing those things and I’m not 70.)

When I come back in — well. I’m going to contradict all sorts of things I’ve written on this blog before, but here it is:

Seven is not pretty.

She’s the kind of overweight where her feet have ballooned up, so her toes are scrunched in sideways on themselves. Her legs have thick, angry scars from her knee surgery. And gravity has done its job most everywhere else.

I have to will myself to touch her.

And of course, intellectually, I’m furious about it. If age and weight are the two great enemies of our unattainable ideal of female beauty, then obviously, Seven has lost on both fronts. Does that mean she no longer deserves to relax, to enjoy the warmth of human touch, to feel good? Of course not. It was an unrealistic standard in the first place. Her body is just as valuable and valid as my own or anyone else’s. If anything, she deserves more respect, because her body has accomplished so much more. (Seeing as I’ve yet to bear a child, have my knees replaced, or go to Vegas.)

And yet. Maybe it’s because that’s just not the way we value women, and that value system is more deeply ingrained in me than I’d like to admit. Maybe it’s because sideways-scrunched toes freak me out. But this salt scrub (my first on a paying client) is difficult. I’ve enjoyed doing body treatments on my classmates (a fairly diverse range of sizes) because they seemed empowering, a way to celebrate a woman’s body without making it about fixing some flaw. But a salt scrub is supposed to make your skin smooth and glowing. People like to have them done before a beach vacation or a hot date. And at first, all I can think is, when is Seven planning to get into a bathing suit and why?

I get myself over it, though. I scrub up both her legs and get into my flow (though yes, I’m grateful that we don’t include feet in this service) and when it’s time to say, “Would you like your breasts included in this service?” I don’t blink when Seven says “yes.” I move in the figure eight pattern that we learned, keeping the towel in place and my eyes averted, and hoping that conveys “I respect your privacy” not “I’m afraid to look at you.” I really don’t want to give Seven reason to feel bad about herself.

When we’re finished and I’ve walked her to the shower, Seven does something that surprises me. She strips off her towel and her underwear, revealing a stained Depends pad, shoves the towel at me and hops into the shower. I dart out, closing the door as quickly as I can, and I remember how last time, she stripped off in front of me without blinking an eye. Maybe she’s just that comfortable with her body. Maybe she’s the type of person who overcompensates when they’re uncomfortable, and would rather just act like she’s okay than wait for me to guide her into the shower and have her pass the towel back, which is how we’ve been trained to do it so the client never actually has to be completely naked in front of us.

But when she’s dressed and heading out to pay, Seven makes a point to tell me that I unclasped the wrong part of her charm bracelet when I took it off for her at the beginning of the service. I apologize and ask if she wants help doing it back up.

“Why would I want you to do that?” she says in a suddenly harsh voice. “You don’t know how I like my jewelry. Just give it back right now.”

I do, feeling like the maid who’s been caught in the silver drawer. And it occurs to me that there’s another option: Maybe she’s fine being naked in front of me because she’s paying to be fine with it; she’s not supposed to have to worry about what someone in a service position thinks of her.

It’s probably a combination of all these things. When you try to work money into the youth/beauty hierarchy, the math gets tricky. Seven probably feels the power of her position as The Paying Customer and the insecurity of her body all at the same time.

She tips me $5 on a $34 service. And she’s the first client who doesn’t fold up the money first. Instead she lays the five dollar bill flat down on the counter between us and I’m the one who quickly folds it up and tucks it away.

Tip Jar Total = $48

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Beauty U, Body Treatments, In Class, Tip Jar, week 24