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Is that all you do?

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

True story, I’m at a bridal shower the next town over from me; it’s a little bit of a hoity-toity town, definitely a little more money than this girl was used to.

I’m sitting next to a lovely woman whom I believe is the groom's sister.

The woman turns to me and wants to make small talk. I don’t know anyone, so I’m grateful for the icebreaker. She seemed friendly, and as a true hairdresser, I always welcome a good dose of small talk.

She turned to me and said, “Hi, I’m so and so; it’s nice to meet you; what do you do?

I don’t know about you, but I always found it weird when the first question someone asked was what you do for work. In some way, it’s our job that defines us, and whatever the answer that’s all anyone needs to know.

I replied, “Nice to meet you, I’m Kim, and I’m a hairdresser.” Then came the long, uncomfortable pause, the scrunched-up face, the look of disgust or pity I couldn’t tell which one it was, and the awkward silence.

When I started my career as a hairdresser in 1986, this happened to me all the time, and believe it or not, it still happens today. You mention that you’re a hairdresser, and they’re not sure whether to say “I’m sorry” or give you a hug of condolence like your dog just died.

On the flip side, there's the person you meet who has always wanted to be in the beauty industry but didn’t go for it because they were afraid of what people would think. Or their family wouldn’t let them because being in the beauty industry wasn’t a good or stable enough career.

Or maybe they didn’t go to cosmetology school because they were convinced by society that a career in the beauty industry wasn’t worthy or good enough.

These are the people who, deep down, have always been hairdressers. They live and breathe everything about the beauty industry, and when they find out you’re a hairdresser, they want a complete haircut and color consultation right there in the middle of the bridal shower.

The sad part is that you can see and feel their passion for the beauty industry, but they were too scared to go against what society considered a “normal” career choice.

When you're a hairdresser, you know the look, the stare that says, “oh, you poor thing, you ended up as a hairdresser." You can probably fill in any other service or creative career choice and get the same response.

This “lovely” woman then turned to me with a pitying look of disgust and said, “Is that all you do?”

I replied, “As a matter of fact, it is.”

I sat there for a long time and listened to her tell me I would never make any money as a hairdresser and that spending my days playing with hair was a fun hobby, but I should consider getting a “real” job. (Her words)

She couldn’t stop word vomiting. She just had to put in her two cents and opinions about my life and career. She went on and on, maybe, just maybe, if I opened a salon, I might have a chance at life, and in her eyes, that was a giant might.

I had no idea what this woman did, and she never took a breath to give me a chance to ask.

But I was fascinated at how much she cared and invested her energy into how much money or success I could or couldn’t have in my career and life.

This was 22 years ago, and I was 32 years old. I had opened my salon seven years before I met this woman, and I didn’t tell her. I just sat and listened.

I didn’t tell her because I have always been a hairdresser first and a salon owner second. My fight has always been for the hairdresser.

My fight has always been for the hairdresser to be taken seriously, treated as a professional, and have a career, not just a job.

My fight was for hairdressers to have benefits and be able to retire. I wanted them to have a career they were proud to tell the world about. I wanted hairdressers to do more than squeak by. I wanted them to save money, budget, go on vacation, and buy cars and houses. I wanted them to do this all without feeling like they needed to find someone to “financially take care of them.” (That statement makes me cringe)

I wanted hairdressers to be treated like any other person with a respectable career, with respect.

I realized I needed to create a space where beauty professionals received the education they needed to feel valued and professional.

It was obvious to the outside world that being a hairdresser was a sad career choice, and you clearly made it because you were not smart enough to go to college, and you probably partied too much and were just one step away from jail. (Ok, that last part is a little true for me)

But In society’s mind, I had no other choice but to be a hairdresser, and fingers crossed, I would make enough money to survive and could contribute to society. (Yes, someone said that to me too)

Throw in my trauma around being adopted and being in the foster care system; I came into my hairdressing career and salon ownership with a slew of dysfunction and some serious money issues. I felt unworthy of anything, especially success.

Unfortunately, if we’re told stories about ourselves long enough, we start to believe them. I believed I couldn’t be financially successful, but deep down, I knew others could. I knew I could create an environment where I could help other beauty industry professionals believe in themselves and become successful.

After that bridal shower experience, I immediately returned to the salon and started researching and implementing a matching retirement plan for my team. This was at a time when it was unheard of to talk about saving money, never mind talk about retiring from the beauty industry.

So, I would like to say thank you. Thank you to the “lovely” woman sitting beside me at that bridal shower so long ago. Thank you for caring so much about me and my career choice.

Thank you for being convinced that not only would I not be successful, but the entire beauty industry would also fail in life.

You single-handedly changed how I ran my business, and from that day forward, I was on a mission for every beauty professional to be looked at and treated like the professionals they are.

You never know what words will be the most powerful or make a difference in your life. This woman could have broken me, and could have let her negatively change my life and career. I could have stopped believing in my career and the beauty industry; instead, she gave me the fuel I needed to create change.

I believe the beauty industry is better and finally getting the respect it deserves.

We are slowly getting recognized as professionals, creating boundaries, and charging what we should for our expertise and knowledge.

This is why it’s essential to look for the lesson in everything because sometimes what is being said or done to you is not there to tear you down but to help you learn more about yourself.

Be the change you want to see in the world, even when you're not ready to see that change yourself.


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