Category Archives: week 21

Pretty Price Check (04.09.10)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday roundup of how much we paid for beauty last week.

Photo from National Go Topless Day Campaign

  • 24: How many women marched topless through the streets of Portland, Maine to try to normalize the presence of female skin in public. A noble mission, perhaps – but I gotta agree with Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, who notes that women have to put up with enough ogling as it is, and asks “Who wants to be the bare-breasted canary in that coal mine?” Also, the photo above from the campaign’s headquarters, GoTopless.org, is relying pretty heavily on size discrimination to make its point. Last I checked, most people would rather see the boobs of the perfectly toned, bikini-clad lady than those of the obese man. Aren’t I supposed to be more concerned about moms being able to breastfeed in public, even if we catch sight of a nipple or two, without being harassed?
  • 3,163: The number of chemicals used to make fragrances; meaning any beauty product you buy that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient could contain any or all of these. Which is some sketchy business. Especially since high on that list are phthalates, groups of plasticizers that have been linked with abnormal genital development in baby boys and early puberty for 7 to 9-year-old girls. (Via Enviroblog and PlanetGreen.)
  • $35: What you’ll pay for a shampoo and blow dry at one of the new blow-out-only salons popping up in LA and New York. Is this modern convenience at its finest, or unhelpful competition for small business owners in an already saturated market? (Via Talking Makeup.)
  • 7 percent: How much more the average blond earns compared to the average brunette woman. I know it sounds like a blow-off kind of stat, but this is the kind of thing I fixate on when people say media-enforced beauty standards don’t really matter. If it translates into your paycheck, it matters. (Via Sephora’s Beauty & The Blog)
  • 9: The number of pricey wrinkle creams that a new Consumer Reports analysis deemed totally ineffective. So those little jars don’t come with time machines? I know, I’m shocked too. (Via Slate’s DoubleX)
  • 60: The age that the average Baby Boomer’s self-esteem starts to decline. This stat (as reported by the esthetics trade journal Skin Inc) just possibly related to the one before.
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Filed under Pretty Price Check, week 21

[Glossed Over] The Skinny on J. Crew

photo from J. Crew Spring 2010 women's catalogue

Photo from J. Crew Spring 2010 menswear

The interweb is all abuzz about the newest J.Crew catalog. (I just moved and my catalog doesn’t seem to have followed me, so thanks to Sociological Images for the tip on this.) Were you to compare the apparent ages of these two models, you might think we pulled the first spread from a new tween line. But no. It is, in fact, from the women’s (as in grown-up) section of the catalog.

Even better: While the female model is, well, just a model (and apparently, one prone to dropping flower pots at that, thanks again to SI for pointing that out), the male models in this catalog are all real “green-minded guys:” Goat farmers, green roof designers, you get the idea, who are identified by name and featured in fancy Q&As on the website. Yet another opportunity for the green movement to act like it’s actually a secret no-girls-allowed club. (Remember PETA’s obsession with naked chicks and Method’s creepy stalker soap-bubble ad? Oh! Not to mention the Miss Earth Girls Pageant!) We love that. You’re welcome for all the checks I write, by the way. (Please stop sending the damn address labels already.)

Meanwhile, over on Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory posts about receiving an email chain outraged at the uber-skinniness of the latest crop of J. Crew girls — and shamefacedly admits that she didn’t even notice. Tracy, you’re not alone. I flipped through a few old catalogs I seem to be carting around and J.Crew ladies have been barely filling out their Matchstick Cut Jeans for years now. It’s interesting that the whole anorexic model fervor usually heats up during Fashion Week, when  hungry girls are up on every catwalk except the one where the token designer has hired the token “plus size” lady to close the show/make headlines for him — yet here we have one of the biggest mall chains (read: Supposed to be clothes for the rest of us) promoting the same disturbing standard all throughout the year.

Of course, J. Crew styles itself as couture for the mall shopper (with a much higher price point than Gap or Banana, plus those random $1000 coats that show up in every collection). And it’s not like they’re the only mid-market chain to use frighteningly thin models. (Hi, American Apparel. Hi, Abercrombie.) So it’s hardly surprising that we’ve gotten so numb to this look.

But it is scary.

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Glossed Over., week 21

Beauty School Tests Can Be Harder Than You’d Think.

Tonight we have the written test on waxing. It’s an accidental pop quiz because Miss Stacy forgot to tell us we were having it. Nobody does well. The spa has been busy, busy, busy with clients and it’s been over a week since we cracked open Milady’s (or, as is usually the case, read from the Milady’s-provided PowerPoint lecture instead). Remember that whole speech from Miss Susan about how we can’t work on clients because we’ll miss important book learning? When we get our grades,* we finally get why that’s important.

This is our fourteenth written exam (out of about twenty) that we’ve taken since starting Beauty U. For the first thirteen, we followed Miss Jenny’s pattern: Read the PowerPoint lecture together as a group. Answer our workbooks independently, then review the answers as a group. Take notes while Miss Jenny quizzed us from the actual test. Study from those notes at home. Answer the chapter review questions for extra study time and extra credit. Do well on the test.

The other teachers think Miss Jenny spent way too much time on theory and not enough time being hands on with us.

Miss Jenny thought that we all worked full-time jobs (hence our participation in a night school program) and most of us take care of kids too, and thus, didn’t have much in the way of free time to spend on homework. And I’ve got to go with Miss Jenny on this one. And even if she was being too easy, it seems a little questionable to change the game so drastically at the halfway point.

“I never had any test review when I was in school,” says Miss Stacy, when we complain that this test was harder than the rest because she didn’t do the study prep, or tell us which day we’d have the test so we could plan to study at home. “You shouldn’t have been counting on us doing that. If we have clients, we don’t have time.”

Except that we aren’t supposed to have clients, because we aren’t supposed to work on real people. Until we’re done with all our tests. Oops.

Miss Stacy and Miss Marci (one of the Miss Jenny replacements) go over the test with us so we can all figure out where we went wrong, and it becomes clear that the main source of confusion is, well, them.

Example #1: Beauty U provides baby powder for us to apply to skin before we wax. Milady’s says that baby powder can be irritating (all that fragrance) and cornstarch is a better option. So when the multiple choice test lists both baby powder and cornstarch as potential answers… Chaos ensues.

Example #2: Milady’s insists that roll-on wax is the most sanitary option. Miss Marci insists it’s the least sanitary option. So when the test describes it as both sanitary and unsanitary… You get the idea.

Sorry, I know that’s all a bit inside baseball. And in the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn’t matter whether roll-on wax is sanitary or if you use baby powder or not. Miss Stacy and Miss Marci are both excellent hands-on teachers, great at demonstrating how to perform services and endlessly patient when we ask really obvious questions, over and over again. And it’s not their fault that we keep getting so busy with clients that we don’t have time to do book stuff — they don’t book the appointments.

But I think it does matter when a business that bills itself as “a school first” prioritizes paying clients over test review. And schools that encourage working moms to apply by saying the night schedule will be so easy to fit in around their busy lives should make a real effort to design a curriculum that actually does that.

“When I was in school, I had to learn what was the real world way and what was the book way and it was up to me to keep it all straight,” says Miss Marci.

We’re getting pretty cranky about this whole “when I was in school” business, past evidence of things sucking not being the most rational argument for why things should continue to suck in the present day. But what makes me sadder is that, as we present our case, the teachers know we’re right.

“This is just how Beauty U does things,” says Miss Stacy.

“What if you asked them to do things differently?” Meg asks. “Like book fewer clients, so we can have time to do our test review? Or give us points for questions that we answer right for the real world if you think the book is wrong?”

There’s an awkward silence. “I guess we can try that,” says Miss Marci, looking at Miss Stacy for confirmation. Even though Miss Stacy is technically the junior teacher, Miss Marci, being newer, lets her call most of the shots.

Miss Stacy just shakes her head.


*Okay, full disclosure, because I know somebody will ask: I got a 90. Or technically, an 88, plus 2 points of extra credit for hastily scribbling answers to the chapter review questions as we were all cramming as best we could ten minutes before the test. I know. A 90 is a great grade. But stay focused, because this isn’t about me.

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, In Class, Waxing, week 21

So What’s the Deal with Waxing? (Because My Arms Feel Naked Now.)

Okay, kittens. We’re done with body treatments. We’ve mastered facials. Makeup applications are but a distant memory.

At Beauty U, the time has come for waxing.

A quick disclaimer to the supportive family members who read this blog: Now might be a great time for you to take a little break. Maybe catch up on that pile of unread New Yorkers in your bathroom. See what’s on TV.

I’m just saying. Things are going to have to get a little bit graphic round these parts. Continue reading at your own risk. That’s actually good advice for anyone who gets squeamish about body hair.

Because we’re going to have to talk about body hair.

And to start with, maybe we should talk about why it makes (many of) us so squeamish.

“If men had to remove their body hair, don’t you think we would have figured out how to make this hurt less?” asks Blanche, as we gear up for our first waxing practice. My forearms are deemed the most appropriately hairy subjects. Everyone is nervous. The wax is hot. The wooden Popsicle sticks and muslin strips that we’re supposed to use to paint it on and then rip it off seem clumsy and awkward.

The general consensus is hell yes, there should be a better way. And also that hair removal is something we only do for the pleasure of men anyway.

“Except now we like it better that way too,” adds Stephanie.

“I’m not sure that we even like it, I just think everyone does it, so it seems like that’s what normal is,” says Miss Stacy. “If everyone went around hairy, we would think that was normal too.”

And yet. Miss Stacy removes all of her body hair (for the uninitiated that means, arms, armpits, legs, bikini zone to some degree, and any extraneous eyebrow, lip, and chin hair) on a regular basis. Even though she has pale, sensitive skin that raises up in red welts for days after every treatment. “You get used to it,” she says. “And it’s so great later because you don’t have to shave and the new hair grows in finer.”

So, we get down to business on my forearms. Which, in the space of ten minutes, go from this:

Arm before wax hair removal photo

To this:

Photo of arm after wax hair removal

To be honest (and don’t worry — I’m always honest, but especially about what hurts in waxing), it doesn’t hurt as much as I expect. Like ripping very large (but not super sticky) Band-Aids off your skin, as fast as possible. Or being snapped repeatedly with a large rubber band. I mean, it’s not awesome. And those red welts feel hot and strange to touch. But it’s bearable. I discover a tiny scar on my left forearm that I’d never noticed when it was covered in hair.

It feels weirder the next day, when it looks like this:

Photo of arm post wax hair removal, after redness

My arms aren’t sore, and they are undeniably smooth — but they feel fragile, like the skin might peel off, and a little numb as I slide into my coat sleeves. I am acutely aware of my lack of hair. And feel sort of plastic.

“You’ll have to remind your clients that hair does serve a purpose,” says Miss Theresa, one of the day teachers who is filling in tonight. “It’s not the best idea to take it off every part of your body just because you like how it looks.”

So here’s the thing. Before I started at Beauty U, I didn’t even know that arm hair removal (as in, wrist to elbow or even higher) was Done. I’ve met a handful of women (of Italian or Jewish descent, with pale skin and very dark hair) who shaved their arms. But I thought that was a bit of an anomaly, a hassle that only the very hairy or very self-conscious subjected themselves to. Turns out (at least from what my peers and teachers tell me) it’s pretty common from women of all colors and cultures.

Which makes me realize there’s a lot about waxing (and hair removal in general) that I don’t understand yet. So as I delve in deeper, I’d love to do a little pulse-taking with you guys. This seems especially relevant in light of last week’s cross-post by Emily Heroy, on how you can love fashion and still be a feminist. After all, what says “stereotypical feminist” more quickly than hairy legs and armpits?

So: Do you love hair removal? Do you consider it a necessary evil? Do you eschew it completely as a sign of patriarchal oppression? Why or why not?

And if you have a hair removal line — some kinds of hair removal seem totally normal to you, but others sound freaky — do share your thoughts on all of that, too. Not to mention: Where do you think your preferences come from? (Your family, your friends, hairless Hollywood starlets, that Babysitter’s Club book where Kristy shaves her legs for the first time, you get the idea.)

I have my own preferences/theories about how I ended up with these preferences, and I’ll be sharing them (and analyzing them and over-analyzing them) as we go along — but I really want to hear from you. So go!

[Photos courtesy of the trusty iPhone.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, In Class, Waxing, week 21

[Tip Jar] Five and Six are Different Kinds of Difficult

Photo of ten dollar bill, folded up.

On Wednesdays, most of the students at Beauty U sit through their weekly dose of Scott’s Beauty Business Sense, except for a handful of seniors and those of us who abstained. In theory, that means Beauty U doesn’t take many clients on Wednesdays and us abstainers are supposed to work through the People Skills curriculum, where we learn the Make Stuff Up rule, and other fun facts.

Reality of course, can be quite different.

Client Five comes in for a European Facial while her acne-riddled teenage daughter gets our fancier acne-fighting facial from Sue. She’s funny and charming and asks a lot of questions about what products I think she should use, and what other services she might want to try. All in all, a breeze.

I walk her out and immediately jump into Client Six, who has been waiting impatiently for twenty minutes. (She thought her facial was scheduled for 7 PM, Beauty U marked her down for 7:15, and Five was five minutes late on top of that.) Miss Stacy rushes to set me up (grabbing products, refilling the steamer, etc) while I go out to smooth ruffled feathers. We’re told that it’s important to have clients fill out a consultation form at each visit, so we can know if they’ve added any medications, developed any allergies, or have any other issues that impact the way we do the facial. “But I filled that form out last time,” says Six. “Don’t you guys have a computer? Why do I have to do it all over again?”

Fair point. (We do have a computer, but students aren’t allowed to use it.) I smile and say not to worry about the form, then try to cover most of the same ground in casual conversation while she settles in. Very quickly I realize that unlike most of the clients I’ve worked on so far, Six is someone who doesn’t relax easily. When the steam starts unfurling over her face, she gets a coughing fit. When I apply the enzyme peel, she wants to know why it tingles so much. When I remove her mask with a hot towel and accidentally dab her in the eye, she sits up, pressing her palms into her eye sockets like I’ve blinded her.

It’s all a bit much. But it nets me a 20 percent tip ($5 on a $25 facial), and as I walk her out, Six asks if she can book me next time, all smiles.

It’s almost 8:30 PM and I haven’t had dinner yet, so I hop in my car and run over to Subway, wolfing down my sandwich with one hand as I drive back. (Ever since The Crackdown, Miss Stacy has been keeping a close eye on whether our breaks take longer than the allotted 15 minutes.)

When I get back to the classroom, I find Sue storming around.

“That bitch was on some meds or something!” she says as I come in. I think she must be talking about uptight Six, who was maybe rude to the receptionist or something on the way out. But no — it’s Client Five.

As Sue tells it: When she gave Five Jr, age 14, the acne-fighting facial, she also happened to mention that she also reps cosmetics and skin care products for one of those major brands of direct-marketing cosmetics, and they have a cleanser that might really clear up Five Jr.’s problem.  Five Jr. thought that sounded like a grand plan, and wrote down her email and cell phone number so Sue could follow-up later. Sue dispatched her to check-out and ran to have a cigarette. When she came back in, Five was waiting angrily at the receptionist’s desk, wanting to know where Sue gets off trying to “hack your products on my kid.”

On the one hand, I don’t blame Five for being annoyed that Sue took Five Jr.’s contact info without getting mom’s permission. And the fact that Sue mumbled “she should mind her own business” within earshot of Five sure didn’t help matters.

On the other hand, when Five asked me what products I recommended, she mentioned that she was eager to pick some out for her daughter, too. I even gave Sue a little pre-sell help, by showing Five the acne-fighting line we carry at Beauty U. Plus, a lot of Beauty U students rep for Avon, Mary Kay and other direct marketing companies, and there’s a kind of unspoken agreement between students and teachers that it’s okay  if they occasionally let that be known to the clients, as long as they also direct them to Beauty U’s own retail lines. (I have no idea if Mr. G is on board with that, though.)

But here’s what frustrates me about the whole situation: Instead of honing in on where Sue went wrong (taking a 14-year-old’s cell phone number without parental permission), Miss Stacy says she had to write Sue up because “the customer is always right.” Which pretty much makes Sue explode. “How can she be right if I didn’t do anything wrong?!” she yells, slamming out of the classroom into the spa, where the rest of us are now folding laundry and trying to pretend we’re not listening.

Miss Susan intervenes and Sue is sent home early, swearing like a sailor the whole time. “Now she’ll hate me,” says Miss Stacy. “But I did what I had to do.”

It bothers me that nobody tries to explain Sue’s mostly-honest mistake to her — to, you know, teach her how to become a better esthetician. Of course they can’t explain why Sue was in the wrong, because that would mean acknowledging that they’ve been wrong too, by letting these parking lot sales slide so often. So instead, they tell her off and write her up, which results in Sue (a 30-year-old mom who is training to be an esthetician so she can stop working as a bartender and not have to spend nights away from her nine-year-old, asthmatic son) behaving like an angsty teenager towards the parents who give her an unreasonably strict curfew.

And what makes me feel even weirder: After Sue leaves, Five pops back into the spa. She’s been here the whole time, waiting for her other daughter to finish up a hair appointment. “I didn’t forget about you!” she says brightly, tucking a ten-dollar bill into my apron pocket as if nothing ever happened. “Thank you so much, it was wonderful.”

I’m not sure if she means to tip so well (a $10 tip isn’t unheard of for the European — I think some clients over-tip because they know we don’t get paid at Beauty U and the facial is already so cheap) or if she deliberately gives me Sue’s tip as well as my own.

[Photo from my iPhone.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 21