Secrets lurking in the Beauty Salons

Would you go to a Beauty Salon if you knew this?

For middle-class women across the world, the simple affordable luxury that a salon visit provides is nothing short of desirable indulgence. Accessibility to inexpensive salons is a testament to how times have changed. Once reserved only for the elite, personal beauty services are more attainable compared to even two or three decades ago. The idea of paying around $35 bucks for a pedicure and a manicure together is enticing for a majority of women in America, and for many men too!

Thinking back to my mother’s time, women didn’t really frequent salons all that much – maybe for a wedding or a special occasion. For example, I lived in India for the first 17 years of my life in the 80s and 90s, and my mother never went to salons and so didn’t her friends. Though she moved to the US nearly two decades ago, she dismisses the idea of styling oneself to conform to the worldly beauty standards. She often asks me why I prefer wasting money at a salon when I can give myself a pedicure at home.

Beauty treatments and female bonding

The cultural and economic norms around “appearance management” have changed since I was a young girl. When I was younger, “beauty knowledge” was handed down to me by my mom and my aunts. I remember over the summer vacations, I used to cook vats of wax with my aunts. Cousins would gather around to wax their arms and legs together. And that knowledge stuck with me – I know how to cook wax! I appreciated how my aunts demonstrated the art of creating loose beach tassels by sleeping with wet hair at night in a braid, or how to shape the perfect brow – not too thin and not too thick.

Like other women, I do appreciate the regular visits to salons for basic upkeep. However, on more than one occasion, I have been confronted with uncomfortable working conditions in salons in the U.S. and in India.

Secrets lurking in the Beauty Salons

I wanted to share a painful story of a young woman at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi India. On a warm summer day, I was traveling through New Delhi and craved a nice foot massage and a pedicure. I went to a massage place in the terminal itself and was happy to meet Pooja (name changed upon request), a kind and a happy young woman in her early 20s. Pooja had completed her 12th grade and came to New Delhi looking for work. She was employed full-time at the salon for nearly a year and made barely enough to sustain a life in New Delhi. With hopes to make a decent living wage, Pooja continued to slave away her nights and days.

During the course of the work day, Pooja was solicited by many customers – men and women both. Some talked to her poorly asking her to massage them harder and earn her money! Some placed their feet between her bosom to seek sickly momentary pleasure. Others asked her inappropriate questions about her rate for the night. Most didn’t bother tipping her for her incredibly generous and talented services. By Madhatrk CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Credit:\/4pdoJk, By Madhatrk, Attribution – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The problem is pervasive across borders. Our readers may have read the shocking findings from the 2015 article by Sarah Maslin Nir exposing horrific exploitations immigrant workers were subjected to, by salon owners in the New York area. Workers were underpaid (way below minimum wage), overworked (7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day), and certain ethnic minorities were discriminated worse than others (Hispanics treated worse than Asians). Sadly, the salon owners felt they were doing a favor by hiring and retaining undocumented workers, rarely stopping to think about the hardship their labor practices were causing the workers. The year+ long study helped bring awareness to salon goers, and highlight issues around poor labor practices. But to assume that the problem has been addressed is definitely hoping for utopia in this loosely-governed and exploitative industry.

How can you help?

Affordable luxury can skew the power dynamics between the service provider and the client, especially in social constructs where personal services are not regarded a prestigious profession.

Sadly, self-regulation does not usually work in industries with lax governance, monitoring and evaluation standards. Fair wages, harsh working environments, and exploitation of workers – particularly women will continue being an issue because we – the clients, addictively demand low-cost personal services.

Manicure in beauty salon soaking nails spa
Credit:, By FoundryParkInn, Attribution – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

However, the subject is painful for all of us who care about the well-being of workers in any industry. We can be of help by:

  1. Boycotting the salon industry, especially salons that offer exceptionally cheap services
  2. Supporting salons that provide workers at least the minimum wage
  3. Helping workers in other ways by being a voice for their stories and journey – helping workers get connected with Department of Labor (not to be confused with the Department of Immigration Services)

Lastly, regardless of where the readers stand on the issue, it is always gracious to handsomely tip those in the service industry. After all, it’s their respectful and caring hands that provide us the much needed comfort.

What are your thoughts about personal beauty services? We are eager to hear your thoughts about your experiences.

Read More:

  1. NY cracks down on nail salons that exploit workers
  2. The Price of Nice Nails
  3. DIY Natural Sugar Wax for Hair Removal and Smooth Skin

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