Melissa Timperley gets to the truth about what it means to be hairdresser with her passionate, factual and inspirational argument. Although written pre-pandemic, her column is now arguably even more poignant. And let's face it, your clients have probably come to realise your true skill, value and worth in the past year more than ever before. You can share this with your apprentices, fellow hairdressers and your clients to remind them that there’s no such thing as being ‘just a hairdresser’.
“Yes, I admit it, I used to be embarrassed when someone would ask me what my job was. “I am a hairdresser,” I would say, which was often followed with an awkward silence. Being a hairdresser somehow has so many derogatory beliefs attached to it. Being a hairdresser is seen by some to imply that you failed at school and it was the only option for you. I want to put the record straight and share with you why I think being a hairdresser is a lot more valuable than most people think and why we deserve more recognition for our skills, effort and contribution.
The Truth About What it Means To Be a Hairdresser
We use scissors that are sharper than a chef’s knife or a surgeon’s scalpel just millimetres from our fingers and we move our tools quicker than your eyes can follow. Most days we cut ourselves as we work, against the clock, forgetting about ourselves because we are concentrating on your hair. We use both science and maths, combined with an artist’s eye for beauty and detail, to figure out the exact angle to cut a client’s hair so that it falls correctly time and again when our client leaves the salon and has to manage it themselves. We often put our bodies in the most straining positions to make sure we can see each strand of a client’s hair. Our work means we are standing and bending for over 12 hours straight (try it sometime) but such attention ensures our clients have perfect hair.
And what about the tools of our trade? Most people don’t realise how much scissors cost – we pay anywhere between £200-£2,000 of our own money with no payback, just to make sure our client’s hair isn’t damaged by blunt blades. We use a detailed knowledge of chemistry to create a special colour formula to work with our client’s hair. This is one that won’t work with someone else’s hair as genetics play a huge part in the reaction to chemicals and we have the courage to do what we believe is right for our client. We have to work with time that is always against us as two minutes too late will blow the cuticle in our client’s hair and underdevelopment means a disaster.
Like an artist, we strategically place colour to blur lines and create a subtle blend by ourselves in three hours, that looks uncannily like a photo our client brought in from the internet and in all likelihood was created in a six-hour session by four stylists and then retouched. It might even be a wig. We spend 50% of our working day using tools as hot as an oven, one touch and our fingertips are burned. There’s no need to moan because we are used to it – it’s just part of the job.
Every day, we breathe in fumes from hair products and get hair splinters all the time in our feet, hands and even boobs! To get the effect, try sticking a pin in your foot and stand on it for a while. We always have to look our best whether we feel it or not and right up until the last client who gets exactly the same care and attention as the other 10 clients you have seen that day. We are there for our clients through their most important life moments. Whether that’s a wedding, best friend’s birthday or even to make sure they feel ready to face the world for their husband’s funeral. We get shouted at by clients if we are running behind, when most of the time it’s because another client before them turned up late or isn’t honest about their colour history, which makes a two-hour appointment into a huge colour correction marathon.
We work even when we are ill and just want to be in bed, because we don’t want to let anyone down with appointments. We work weekends, late nights, and basically have a time-restricted social life so that our clients can look their best and we can earn a living. We talk all day and make extremely close connections with our clients, but this means by the time we get home we have spent all of our social energy and don’t want to talk to our friends or family. We don’t get the usual “holiday days” because people need us in order to feel beautiful. We don’t work 9-5 – we work from the first client to last client with no real promise of what time exactly we will finish and if we will make it home for dinner. We are often heard saying that we haven’t eaten lunch over the past three days because we’ve had no time between clients due to over-runs. On our days off, many of us spend hours researching new techniques and finding educational classes to attend.
A hairdresser’s life revolves around hair. Our brains constantly switch from math to science and from social to psychology and back to our clients. We work hard physically, emotionally and mentally – every day with few breaks and definitely no silence.
Why Hairdressing Is The Best Job In The World
Let’s be clear – hairdressing is one of the few things now that clients can’t buy online. It is a career that holds endless possibilities if you are willing to work hard and build on your natural talent. You can travel the world, you can manage a team, you can work with big names – you can follow your passion.
We are in an industry that deserve the recognition that we are not just hairdressers – we are the people who build your confidence in both the good and the bad times and help you to take on the world. Scientist, artist, counsellor, chemist, time management expert, friend, architect, diplomat and transformer.
Yes – I am immensely proud to call myself a hairdresser, with all it entails to design beautiful hair and to stand alongside all of us who recognise themselves in what I’ve written – the truth about what it means to be a hairdresser.”