Hannah McCann presented the ‘First Fridays’ Seminar Crisis, Treatment and the Role of the Beauty Salon at Deakin Downtown on 6 September 2019.
About the seminar
While visiting beauty salons is frequently understood in terms of “care of the self”, there has been little attention to who is tasked with performing the emotional labour of care in the salon space. Since 2011 the number of people working as beauty therapists in Australia has increased by 25 per cent, suggesting a steadily growing demand for salon services. This so-called beauty boom is not unique to Australia and is a worldwide trend. The growth of the beauty industry is attributed to a rise in women’s disposable income and an intensification of ideals of beauty, feminine consumption and self-maintenance. Furthermore, salons have been frequently understood within feminist analyses as spaces for the production of bodily anxiety, and normatively feminine and masculine gendered bodies. For these reasons, popular media reporting on the beauty boom presumes that the primary driver is bodily dissatisfaction. However, these interpretations forgo consideration of the social and emotional aspects of salon encounters. Attention to the social and emotional aspects of salon work from a feminist perspective yields a clearer understanding of what beauty services do for people beyond aesthetic transformation, to ask: to what extent does the salon act as a makeshift “refuge” for emotional support, when other support and welfare services have diminished? How is this work distributed along gender, race, and class lines? In 2017 over 35,000 people were employed in hair and beauty work in Australia, yet the role of these workers in the emotional lives of their hundreds of thousands of clients is greatly under-discussed. Drawing on interviews conducted with salon workers in Melbourne in 2017 and 2018, this seminar explores the role that hair and beauty workers play in providing informal social and emotional support for their clients. Salon workers encounter clients experiencing family violence, mental health issues and suicidal ideation, grief and trauma, terminal health issues, and gender transition, and frequently describe themselves as “makeshift counsellors”. This seminar considers how salons address deeper affects (emotions) in combination with surface effects (aesthetics) – labour which is performed by a workforce that is highly gendered, raced and classed, and occurring within a global context of increased precarity.