What happens when people visit beauty and hair salons? Are trips to the salon simply about shaping how one looks on the outside, or can these spaces involve something deeper?
In my 36-plus years of experience in the beauty industry, I’ve found that salons can be spaces for clients to have intimate conversations with beauty professionals.
This means beyond technical hair and beauty skills, working in the industry involves the skill of listening and essentially embracing the client, beauty professional relationship. It’s a special relationship.
In fact, most described themselves as makeshift counsellors. One sign in a Melbourne shopfront even read: “Therapy is expensive, get a haircut instead, we’re great listeners.”
Beauty professionals can sometimes develop a “commercial friendship” with clients as they maintain close physical proximity with the customer over a long period. But they are neutral figures in relation to emotional disclosures. This relationship means clients may disclose more details about the troubles in their lives than they would to friends or family.
It’s apropriate then that initiatives have emerged to train hairdressers and other salon workers to respond to client disclosures.
In Victoria, the Eastern Domestic Violence Service has been running a program called Hair-3R’s (Recognize, Respond and Refer), to train salon workers to safely manage client disclosures of family violence.
In the US, cosmetologists (hairstylists, manicurists and other salon workers) are legally required to do formal training in domestic violence and sexual assault awareness every two years to renew their salon licenses.
As the beauty industry continues to boom – a day spa, nail salon or brow clinic on almost every Australian street corner and shopping center – we might speculate people are accessing these services for reasons beyond maintaining appearances.
While some may lay the blame on an increasingly image-soaked world due to the popularity of social media, we might also look to what kind of emotional refuge the salon is providing for a world in crisis.
In the midst of all of this, it’s also important for beauty professionals to look after their own mental health.
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