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Spa WarsThe Ugly Truth about the Beauty Industry
By Lora Condon
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Lora Condon
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSpa Wars
Let me start by saying this; I love the beauty industry with all its flaws. It's kind of like a dysfunctional family. It's yours, it's fucked up, and you love it just the same. Of course for your enjoyment, I'm relating most of my horror stories and all the negatives. I have had many, many positive experiences in this industry and thus the reason I continue working with people. I absolutely love it, and this is where much of my heart resides. I love healing people. I love teaching people how to take care of themselves and their loved ones. I love making sure that a teen with acne will learn the proper techniques to take care of their skin, and not make it worse or have scars. I love helping someone learn to love themselves and appreciate their own valuable gifts they bring to the world.
There are plenty of books written about the touchy, feely good stuff going on in a spa, but nothing about the reality of how that is accomplished. In a restaurant, you might sit at a cozy table, with an attentive waiter who was supposed to go home an hour ago. If you go back into the kitchen, people are sliding all over the wet floors, banging into one another, dropping food, burning their hands on hot plates, and people yelling at the cooks to hurry up with their order. The chef is cursing up a storm in English and Spanish, in order to speed up the whole process. It has to look flawless and effortless, once anything or anyone leaves the kitchen door. All you know is that the wine is fine and the food comes on time. You have a great meal, leave a generous tip, and tell your friends all about what a great time you had. This is basically how the spa industry works except there is a little more cursing and just as much food!
People are funny: the ones I have worked for and the ones I have worked on. One of my favorite lines from clients is, "This must be the most relaxing job ever!" I would say, "Honey, I'm not the one getting the massage!" They would always look at me and say, "Oh yeah, I guess you're right." I'm happy that I can make people feel so good, that they think everyone else feels good. Hopefully, this book will give you a clear understanding of what really goes on, in order to give you five minutes or five hours of spa and salon services. I'm about to give you all the spa–tacular details of the beauty industry. This book includes my experiences from day–spas, cosmetic counters and freelancing as a makeup artist.
For over ten years I worked in the spa industry as an esthetician. For those of you who don't know, that's someone who does facials, waxing, makeup and other treatments in a spa or salon. Most of the places I worked catered to a high–end clientele. Celeb's, ladies who lunch and other various scum with a black Amex who think you should jerk them off for a bigger tip or any tip at all. Many times, the richer they are, the cheaper they are. The one exception tends to be white men in business suits. They almost always tip well. My most generous (and most appreciated) tips come from blue collar, or blue–collar moral people. They respect someone who is hard working and actually appreciate the fact that I make my living trying to make them feel better mentally, physically and even spiritually. I have nothing against the rich, trust me. I want to be one of them. I just don't understand how someone becomes so oblivious to everyone else around them because they have money. Ok, enough preaching and lets get this story started.
My Life's Work. Mistake Or Destiny?
I guess I'll start from the beginning of how I ended up in this crazy industry. I was working on my master's degree in drug and alcohol counseling, at night; therefore I needed a full time day job. I got a job as the admissions counselor for a cosmetology school in New Jersey. The school was run down, and had not been renovated in at least fifteen years. I should have known then, but ignorance is bliss, I guess. At that point, I never had a massage or facial. I'm not sure if I even had a pedicure. I'm sure I must have had a manicure, but I honestly don't remember ever getting one before working at this school. I soon learned, cosmetology schools only teach students what the state board requires them to teach in order to pass the test. They only teach the bare basics. It's just like certain public schools, where they teach you to only pass the basic skills test. Ultimately, the students became disillusioned and angry at the lack of education provided. The teachers were so beaten down, that they no longer tried to teach new techniques for fear of rocking the boat. It's a shame, because there are many talented teachers and students that are never allowed to "be all they can be."
One day, while working at the cosmetology school, the esthetics teacher needed a model so the students could practice doing a facial. I was dying to get a facial and see what the heck I was selling! At this time, I had no idea what really went on during a facial. That day I entered the dark facial classroom. It smelled so good and the dim lighting set the mood. I put on a robe and got under the sheets. As the student esthetician put her hands on my face to start cleansing, the heavens opened up, and I suddenly knew my destiny. Finally, in my mid twenties, I had a vision for my life. How could it have taken me this long? By mid facial, I think I was snoring and dreaming of putting my hands on anyone who would stand still long enough. I wasn't allowed to attend the same school I was working in, so I started my search for another school in order to attend night classes for esthetics. Since the esthetics license was so new, I had to wait around a few months for a school to start a night class. I obviously chose the only other school that had night classes at that time.
To get a hint into my past, I was groomed to go to college, work at the same job forever, get married, have kids and retire. My mom had her heart set on me becoming a lawyer working 9–5, pushing papers, and pretending to like safe office work. My mom always said, "You can do anything you set your mind to. There are all different types of law!" To think about becoming an esthetician, which most people can't even say, was close to blasphemy. To have a safe backup, I found a completely horrific job in the billing department of a law firm and that's about as close as I would get to ever becoming a lawyer. This job was during the day and it paid every Friday. Perfect. I went to work Monday through Friday until 5pm and then Monday through Thursday I drove 50 minutes to school (assuming there was no accident on the parkway). School started at 6pm and ended at 10pm. I then drove home about 50 minutes. I did this for 10 months straight. When I told everyone what I was doing, they thought I was completely insane.
This particular school sells you on the hope of assisting in the owner's spa, then finally working there. It sounded good to me. I haven't even started and already I am assisting. I was so excited on the first night of class, and then I learned that my teacher never even gave a facial. In fact, she never worked in a spa as an esthetician. She took a mini–update class at another esthetic school, and was now qualified to be a teacher? I think we had around 6 girls in the class. There was never a full class, so I can never remember how many students actually enrolled. My teacher thought that because she wore MAC make–up and went to a dermatologist, she was an esthetician. She didn't even know how to pronounce major skin conditions. She called rosacea – ROSA–sia. She taught us full time until the end of our training. The revolving door of teachers was unbelievable. The products we used for learning were far from sufficient. Queen Helene, Mint Julep Mask can only take a girl so far in New York.
One of our many next part time teachers was a young girl. She was great and actually worked in a salon, which helped us with practical, applied knowledge. She eventually quit teaching because the school was so bad. It was great to have someone teach us, who actually worked in a spa and could tell us what was going on in the real world. We then had another teacher who was completely amazing. She had a huge medical esthetic practice in New Jersey and actually taught plastic surgeons about areola restoration. So for me, she was close to God, and everything I wanted to become. She taught us the real way things were supposed to be done. I gave her a facial once, and she told me I had butterfly fingers. It was then, that I got the feeling that I might be on to something, and I made the right decision to become an esthetician.
Unfortunately, this teacher didn't last more than a month. One night during class, someone from the corporate office called her out of the room. They told her that they wanted us to reuse the rubber gloves for extractions, and to only teach us what was in the book. They told her not to teach us anything advanced. This was totally unreasonable because while doing extractions, one is supposed to wear rubber gloves because of blood, pus and other contagious goo that comes out of the pores. According to the Board of Health and general common sense sanitary regulations, when you're done with the extractions, you throw the gloves in the garbage. That is unless you go to the school I went to, where the owner actually told us, and the teachers to reuse the gloves. How disgusting, not to mention illegal. I can't imagine the Board of Health telling us to try and sanitize bloody gloves. Obviously, this great teacher was aghast when she heard this, walked out, and never returned. I guess she never saw Norma Rae! She quit, and I went back to my misery of making hundreds of cotton pads for facials, which my old teachers considered learning.
Our next teacher was this old, fat woman, who would sit at the desk and snore while we practiced on each other. On one of the rare nights where she was awake watching me give a fellow student a back facial, she leaned over, looked at my friends back and said, "Oh my God, that's a boil on her back!" I leaned over and said, "That's a pimple." She proceeded to argue that it was a boil but it was just a small typical back pimple. The student I was giving the back facial to started freaking out, thinking she had a boil on her back. We laughed about this for months. We had no choice, but to go to the corporate office and tell them that the teacher was falling asleep in class and knew nothing. She didn't even know how to use a steamer. That was the last night we ever saw that teacher.
Many nights we just hung out in the manicuring room talking and bitching about how much money we paid for school and what we actually got for it. Most nights my boyfriend came and hung out with us. He actually had a better attendance record than most of the students. One crazy Moroccan girl rarely showed up, and when she did, she was coked up. All she talked about was her men and how they would buy her anything she wanted, including her boobs. She was the typical hot, crazy bitch that men couldn't wait to get abused by and abuse them she did. She never finished taking the class as far as I know.
One other girl in our class quit before the halfway point, and transferred to another esthetic school. We started with five or six girls and only two or three actually finished the class. I think I'm the only one who ever went to work in the field though. We were halfway through our class, when they started the second night class. There was no teacher on their first night of class. We told the girls all our horror stories about the school and how many nights there is no teacher. Every single girl immediately quit and we never saw them again. Word got to the owner and he was livid. We were so proud of ourselves. It was not the first or the last of my "Norma Rae" moments, as my mom would call them. Deep down, I knew some of the teachers thought it was great. We said and did what they couldn't, without losing their job. It took me years to learn how to keep my mouth shut, and I guess in writing this book, I still have a lot to learn. I just can't take injustice no matter what the situation. I especially can't take the BIG corporate machine taking advantage of the unsuspecting honest "regular Joe." At the end of my schooling, I wrote a letter to the owner, but for some reason he never responded. Maybe he was too busy washing bloody gloves.
The First Job
I attended esthetic school at night and worked during the day in the law firm. Friday night and Saturday morning I worked as the receptionist in a salon and day spa. This is probably the worst and hardest job in the salon or spa. The receptionist is the person that everyone complains to about anything and everything. The receptionist gets blamed for wrong appointments, lost money and tips, unhappy clients, clients that are lost in the salon, someone not getting coffee fast enough, or having someone on hold too long. The list goes on and on. Receptionists are the most abused people in a salon and spa. From a receptionist's point of view, here are a few annoying things NOT to do:
1. Don't call the last minute for an appointment and keep asking if the receptionist is sure there aren't any available appointments. The receptionist is not lying to you when they say "No! There are no openings." People think they are the only person calling for an appointment for 10am, Saturday morning. These are probably the same people who get off an escalator, stop at the bottom, and think about which direction they want to go in. Yes, I am the person behind you that pushes you, and makes the decision for you! 2. Don't call a salon without a backup date and time if your first choice is taken. If your first choice is taken, don't take another 10 minutes to figure out what other day you might want. This is when the receptionist puts you on hold so you can figure it out, and goes back to the 3 other lines with people trying to figure out when they want their appointment. 3. Don't ask to speak to the stylist so they can squeeze you in. This is so obnoxious and makes you look like you think you're important. If you were really that important, they would cancel someone else, and that only happens for beauty editors and celebrities. The goal of a spa or salon is to take clients in order to make money. There is no reason someone would not book you, unless you are not welcomed at that establishment. 4. Don't expect your spa person to do something you wouldn't do. Don't expect them to stay late at their job and not take a lunch, if you wouldn't do the same. Sometimes we will stay for clients who tip very well or if we really need the money. I have to admit, I have also stayed late for hot, single men.
I'll Have a Bloody Bikini, Waxed Not Shaved
"The pain passes, but the beauty remains." – Pierre August Renoir
Halfway through school, I got my permit to work in a salon. I stopped working reception, and got a job working Saturdays at a salon in a ritzy north Jersey town. The owner was a Turkish woman, who was a bit crazy, with big frizzy brown hair. At this point, in the history of my beloved New Jersey, big frizzy hair was no longer "in" at least above exit 130 on the Parkway. She was about 5'3 only clearing 5'0 without the hair. She was a little chubby and always wore black spandex pants with a tight animal print shirt. This salon also had a little punk rock girl who cut hair and one older gay guy. One gay man a salon does not make. I don't remember how I got paid, but it was probably just 30% straight commission on services. Here, I discovered I was a pretty good sales person, because I sold $30 cleansers like hot cakes. The facial room was an old boiler room. It had pipes going up the wall and all. There was no door to the facial room, just a curtain as a door and a curtain covering a cutout in the wall that opened out into the salon. You basically got a facial with all the noise of a hair salon. But hey, people went for it and I needed experience.
Excerpted from Spa Wars by Lora Condon Copyright © 2011 by Lora Condon. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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