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The claims swirling around—like beauty school is a “backup” or “second option”—are incorrect. We’re doing a huge disservice to ourselves and to the people coming up behind us if we allow these myths to persist.
Milady | May 10, 2023 | 10 min read
OK, answer this honestly: Has anyone ever tried talking you out of pursuing a beauty career? Or have you ever found yourself avoiding conversations about beauty school because you didn’t want to deal with negative reactions, eye rolls, or people making ignorant claims about the industry? Have you shared your beauty school aspirations with a family member or friend, only to have the person dismissively say, “That’s not a real school”?
If you answered “no” to all of the above, consider yourself lucky. Because the reality is that even now, in the twenty-first century, too many people still don’t take our profession seriously.
For a long time, beauty pros have simply turned the other cheek. After all, if you’re a beauty pro happily following your dreams, what does it matter if some ill-informed person doesn’t think much of the profession or your choices?
But here’s the thing: It DOES matter. It matters precisely because the claims swirling around—like beauty school is a “backup” or “second option”—are incorrect. We’re doing a huge disservice to ourselves and to the people coming up behind us if we allow these myths to persist.
That’s why we’re saying NO MORE. It’s time to proclaim—loudly and proudly—exactly what it means to be a beauty professional. To own our choices. To remind the world that our dreams matter. And to show people that the work we do goes well beyond skin deep.
So what does it really mean to be a beauty professional? Read on.
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If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: The beauty industry is thriving. It currently generates over $100 billion worldwide and is projected to surpass $120 billion by 2025.
Plus, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a strong outlook for beauty professionals. Overall employment of barbers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists is projected to grow 19 percent this decade.
Of course, facts don’t always convince the naysayers. No doubt, some folks will still poo-poo anyone’s decision to enter this industry, claiming it’s not a respectable career or that it’s merely a backup option when someone couldn’t do what they really wanted to do.
Ida McLean, a licensed cosmetologist, cosmetology instructor, and Milady implementation and training specialist, scoffs at this notion.
“Most people I know are not doing what they originally set out to do,” she says. “They started school, changed majors, sometimes changed again, possibly finished the degree and then couldn’t find work in that field, maybe opened their own business and it flopped. Everyone is seeking their path, their passion. So really, a lot of professions are second choices/backup plans.”
McLean goes on to share her definition of what it means to be a beauty professional. “It means that I am a licensed, skilled professional in one of the oldest, strongest industries in the world. An industry that is not easily affected by environmental factors such as technology, economy, political, or global factors. No matter what is going on in the world or with people’s personal lives/finances, they continue to come to me for their beauty needs. My livelihood lies solely in my own hands, and I am in complete control of my schedule, my services offered, and how much money I want to make. I get to go to work every day and change people’s lives. I transform my clients using their vision and my hands/knowledge. I feel accomplished at the end of every day and cannot wait to come back tomorrow.”
Take that, critics and skeptics!
One of the coolest things about this industry is that you can truly chart your own trajectory. With a license in hand, the only limits are what you put on yourself. Do you want to run your own salon? You can do that. Do you want to work in Hollywood or on fashion photoshoots? You can do that, too.
No, we’re not suggesting your dreams—whatever they are—will manifest overnight. Or that they won’t require hard work. But the beauty industry is so much bigger than some narrow-minded people might think.
Traditionally, when people heard the words “beauty school,” they thought “hairdresser.” (This has been reinforced in the media, too. “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease, anyone?) Their tone of voice suggested this job was somehow “less than.”
The reality: Being a hairstylist is a fabulous career with lots of different directions you could go in. For example, stylists can work for themselves, work for others, own a salon, own a chain of salons, work out of their home, work on cruise ships or for celebrities, travel to clients, dictate their hours and how much they make. You get the idea.
Jessica P. is a cosmetologist with A Beautiful Escape Salon and Day Spa in Decatur, Alabama. She says, “There are not many jobs where you can set your own hours and prices. Many people make more than a living doing this, and sometimes by only working part-time. I love doing this as it allows me to work on my family’s schedule as well as my clients’, and I am able to cater to their needs, both time-wise, mobility-wise, and monetarily. A lot of professions aren’t as flexible, creative, and caring.”
And the position isn’t static, either. Maybe the stylist starts out renting a booth in a salon. But when that salon owner retires, the stylist buys the salon. Maybe she begins teaching at a local cosmetology school. Maybe she launches a passion project—like gorgeous, stylish wigs for cancer patients.
Again, you get the idea. And we can apply this scenario to other disciplines, like nail technology, barbering, and esthetics.
Karen Harris, one of Milady’s senior account managers, echoes these sentiments. “Beauty professionals are entrepreneurs and have the ability to choose their own career trajectory in life,” she says. “They are passionate, laser-focused, and want to see their goals and ambitions come to fruition. Imagine going to work every day, doing what you love. It isn’t work anymore—it’s a dream come true. And who wouldn’t want to live out their dream?”
Bottom line: If you can dream it, you can make it happen. Sure, it all begins with beauty school. But that’s simply the starting point. Where you take your career next is truly up to you.
Ours is a feel-good industry. We help our clients feel better in their own skin. And this, in turn, can provide beauty professionals with immense satisfaction.
Helen Burch is a cosmetologist with Hair Guitar Haircuts in Roseville, California. She says, “We touch our clients’ lives anywhere from six to fifty times a year, more frequently than they see their relatives. We make them feel special and change their lives by giving them our attention, unconditional acceptance, courage, confidence, validation, encouragement, care, and a hairstyle. The list goes on. We have the tools to transform the self-image of a person sitting in our chair.”
Stacy Thompson, an implementation and training specialist with Milady, agrees. “Imagine having the ability to change a person’s mirrored view,” she says. “That is the power of being a beauty professional. This profession gives our guests, students, and schools the ability to see their own inner and outer beauty with one visit. We do not just transform their looks—we transform their lives.”
Many beauty professionals often cite a quote from the author John Steinbeck to reinforce this point. The quote is attributed to his book Travels with Charley in Search of America. And while recent debate has suggested Steinbeck might have fictionalized some of his travels, his sentiments about the beauty profession still ring true:
“It is my considered opinion that the hairdresser is the most influential person in any community. When the public goes to a hairdresser, something happens to them. They feel safe, they relax. The hairdresser knows what their skin is like under the makeup; they know their age; they don’t have to keep up any kind of pretense. People tell a hairdresser things they wouldn’t dare confess to a priest and they are open about matters they try to conceal from a doctor. When people place their secret lives in the hairdresser’s hands, the hairdresser gains an authority few other people attain. I have heard hairdressers quoted with complete conviction on art, literature, politics, economics, childcare, and morals. I tell you that a clever, thoughtful, ambitious hairdresser wields a power beyond the comprehension of most people.”
The beauty profession is an intimate profession. Beauty pros get up close and personal with clients—we touch hair, nails, and skin. This sort of intimacy requires a certain level of trust—and this trust often leads to bonding. Some clients will tell their beauty providers things that they haven’t told friends or family. This is a common experience.
Jessica P. agrees. “You get to be there for others during some big life changes,” she explains. “We are there for our clients for dance recitals, first dates, proms, weddings, breakups, all the way to shaving heads for cancer and caring for those who have gone on ahead of us one last time. We get to share in their joy and sorrow and build bonds that others might not make, as there are not many reasons to be as up close and personal as we are.”
Ida McLean feels similarly about her clients. “We become part of their lives. We are there for every first date, celebration, victory, birth, death, illness. We experience it all with them and feel so privileged to do so. We change their lives, and they change ours.”
This up-close-and-personal contact also puts beauty pros in a unique position to notice when a client might be vulnerable and at risk. With proper training, the professional can even learn to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and human trafficking—including what to do next and how to provide ongoing support. Talk about a meaningful job that can have a profound impact on someone’s life!
We shared our thoughts on what it means to be a beauty professional. But only you can define what it means for your life. Don’t let anyone else define it for you—or tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t enter the industry. Or that you must focus on a different type of education—or have a different type of dream. It’s your life. Your dream. How you define what it means to be a beauty professional is totally up to you—as it should be.
Go get ’em. You got this. (And we’ve got your back.)
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Milady is on a mission to prove that a career in the beauty industry can lead to professional success and personal fulfillment. Our job is to create forward-thinking education that reshapes the industry and uplifts the next generation of beauty professionals. Let’s change the face of beauty. Learn more about Milady, here.