So, as I confessed a while back, I work in the beauty industry. More specifically, I am an aesthetician and makeup artist. I perform beauty services such as facials, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, waxing, pedicures, manicures, makeup, and body wraps. I’ve spent most of my 12 years in this career working in a spa environment.
SO, my job is pretty much all about reinforcing patriarchal conceptions of beauty and femininity. Sure, lots of people come to have pedicures because they work on their feet and it feels great to have someone rub your feet, or because they get ingrown toenails that need fixing up, or they have painful cracks in their heels, and lots of people come to have facials and chemical peels to treat acne and sun damage and learn how to care for their skin to avoid such problems. Some people just need to relax, and all these things certainly can feel great and help you de-stress. But for the most part, it’s all about consumerism and femininity – the two seem to go hand in hand, more so than masculinity, it seems.
So, I’ve written before about how feminine beauty practices are inherently meant to be markers of inferiority and submission. I’ve also written about women and ageing, and how the beauty industry (including cosmetic surgery) seems to be causing and playing to a fear in women about ageing. Today, however, I’d like to start a discussion about another facet of the beauty industry – the intersection of gender, class, and race in regards to beauty.
I would just like to say that there was a recent study done in Canada on the gender wage gap, and one of the reasons for the gap seems to be that women are choosing careers that are traditionally female jobs, and that those careers pay poorly in comparison with jobs that are traditionally male jobs. I can certainly tell you, this is a career that it is very difficult to make a decent living doing. It’s pathetic, actually, how little the job pays considering that it is physically very hard on the body (small repetitive movements in the upper body combined with hours of uncomfortable positions and difficulty finding an ergonomic setup = torn discs, limited range of motion and constant aching in the neck/shoulders/back/pectorial muscles, carpal tunnel syndrome, and declining eyesight, to name a few), which of course makes it difficult to work a lot of hours. It is so totally not worth it. AND, I’ve really only met a handful of male aestheticians, none of whom live in my city, and all of whom were treated like a great novelty and were extremely popular for performing services with a higher potential for sales commission earnings. Something about women clients, they seem to look for male approval of their appearance (surprise!), including from their beauty therapists. They’d rather have the opinion of a male than that of a female, in many cases – even a female spa therapist who practices femininity perfectly and has achieved exactly what the client is seeking to achieve. All of the male aestheticians I have met were gay. I don’t know what that means or might indicate, but there it is. Also, the vast majority of clients are women. Male clients comprise only about 15-20% of spa clients in general.
I’ve been doing this for 12 years, and I don’t personally know a single Black aesthetician. I did a quick poll of the women I work with, and only two knew of a Black aesthetician, and one doesn’t practice anymore. I know one aesthetician who is Asian. I know one who is Lebanese, and a couple who are Greek. That’s it. I’m sure that in larger cities, there are more aestheticians who are women of colour, but for this demographic, we actually have a fairly large black population. They’re just not going into the beauty industry as a career.
Also, the vast majority of women who come to have services done are white. I’ve had a handful of black clients over the years, and a small number of women from or with ethnic roots in India, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran. I’ve had maybe 2 clients who were Asian, and none who were First Nations.
Of course, spa services are expensive. (very expensive, considering how little those who are providing the service get paid, and how little the products cost to do the service. Believe me, it ain’t much.) So some women are going to be limited by their ability to afford to have spa services done. The beauty industry is very elitist.
So, what does this say? What do you think?
I read lots of blogs by women of colour, and sometimes I see a complaint that white feminist blogs are overly concerned with matters like beauty and femininity. Sorry to contibute more to that trend, but I’d like to know why that is – because it seems to me that that matches up with who is involved in the beauty industry both in terms of clients and in terms of providers of beauty services. Is it that women of colour have more pressing concerns? Is it that beauty is defined in terms of whiteness? Is it that class and race seem to go hand in hand in this culture?
What do you think?