People visit hair and beauty salons to get their hair and skin tone, but what happens when they do? Salon trips are about shaping one’s outward appearance, but could they involve something more?
Studies show that salons can be more than just beauty shops. They can be a place for clients to have intimate conversations with salon workers.
Working in the hair and beauty salon means more than mastering technical skills; it involves listening to and managing the emotions of clients.
Most salon workers described themselves as makeshift counselors during my research and interviews between 2017 and 2019.
Taking It Beyond The Technical
Salon workers are effective as “lay health educators” in the United States. In various salons, employees come in contact with clients directly and may have access to different and diverse communities.
There have even been instances where salon workers have been recruited to assist public health campaigns, educating the general public about issues such as melanoma, diabetes, and unintended pregnancy.
Since salon workers maintain close physical proximity with clients over a long period of time, they can form a “commercial friendship” with them. But they remain neutral in regards to emotional disclosures.
Clients may be more likely to disclose troubling details of their lives to this relationship than they would to their friends or family. Researchers in the UK have also shown that salon workers often provide emotional support to their clients.
So it is appropriate that efforts are being made around the world to train hairdressers and other salon workers on how to respond to client disclosures.
In some US states, those working in salons (hairstylists, manicurists, etc.) have to undergo formal training on domestic violence and sexual assault every two years in order to renew their license.
Who Signed Up For What?
The idea of salon workers responding to family violence is a lot to ask. Many beauty workers work in unsafe conditions and earn low wages.
Salon workers trained in Hair-3R’s program were relieved to have the opportunity to discuss frankly the nature of their work, and grateful for the support and guidance they received in handling them.
Clients are likely to disclose intimate partner violence to salon workers at some point, according to research. However, the workers I spoke with mentioned a wide variety of problems that clients have.
Among the issues reported by workers were divorce, mental health issues, suicide ideation, gender transition, and job loss.
During the course of a day or even a week, a worker may not have too many “heavy” conversations, but they will likely encounter many of them. They encounter a lot of people over the months and years, including sometimes distressing stories.
Some workers commented that this was the first time they had spoken with anyone about the emotional aspects of their work or had been acknowledged as something they deal with on a daily basis.
A Deeper Look
The gender expectations maintained in these spaces have long been a focus for feminists writing about beauty. Salons have been perceived as reinforcing stereotypes about how women should behave and look after their bodies from this perspective.
Reframing this perspective notes that many of the workers in the beauty industry are working class and migrant women. Media and popular culture portray salon workers as low-skilled “bimbos.”. Hence, it is not surprising that the emotional aspect of this line of work is mostly hidden and undervalued from both an economic and cultural perspective.
Almost every corner of our shopping centers and on every street corner in Australia is dotted with a day spa, nail salon, or laser hair removal clinic. We might speculate that people are accessing these services for reasons other than looking good.
There may be some blame to be placed on the popularity of social media platforms such as Instagram, but we should also consider that there’s also the importance of the salon’s role as an emotional refuge in a troubled world.
In order to determine if there are any such actions that can be implemented to support workers in the field, there should be an in-depth investigation into what can be done to support workers who may become unintentionally untrained social workers without community support or recognition.