I am a barber, a self-made shop owner, and a community leader. I understand more than many how important a haircut is, but given my history, I also understand more than many that it is not essential.
me with my 2 younger boys in 2020
Barbering is my life. It is my passion, and it is my social outlet. I don't know if I would still be here if not for this career. In many ways I believe it saved my life, and I also believe that as a barber I have helped to save others.
I'm also a single mother of 3 who risked everything to dedicate my life to this career. It became clear a couple years in that as a barber I could do well, but my family would never thrive with me working in a salon, and I couldn't find a barbershop in my area that I felt safe in. I fought to the death to become a business owner when I had no schooling in business, no assets, no family contributions, and not a dime to my name.
So don't think for a minute that I have nothing to lose by closing my business, but I still have the gift of perspective.
I spent most of my life living well below the poverty line. I come from teenage parents. I like to use the phrase "living in other people's basements poor" to describe a good part of my childhood. When I did live in a stable home, there were 6 of us kids, and my stepmom was an epileptic suffering from serious grand mal seizures. My dad supported the 8 of us as a roofer earning around $35,000. My stepmom sewed, cooked from scratch, and was great at being frugal. I learned a strong DIY spirit.
In fact, that is where I learned to cut hair. My dad would cut his own and everyone else's hair until my stepbrothers learned to buzz cut themselves. For the girls, Dad would cut a straight line across the back, and around age 14 I started pulling my hair forward and cutting layers in it like I had seen stylists do. I got very creative.
My first experience with using clippers was sophomore year in highschool when I started helping my brothers with their 90's "fades," (they weren't really faded, more of just a faint line around the head.) My older brother was a bit of a playboy and VERY into his looks, and he said I made the line straighter than anyone else. This is where I developed my technique of using reference points that I still use today.
Beauty was very important to my mom. She loved trips to the salon. I remember this very well. I often went with her and I loved watching them cut and color her hair. This is where I learned to layer my own.
She eventually wound up working reception in a high end salon as one of her two jobs and was able to get the services for free or very cheap. I too, enjoyed the pampering, and as a barber I see first hand why it is important to a person's self value. I have no judgment about this.
There were times when our power was out and we had no food. There were times when we were homeless. There were times when we were not safe.
There was a time when I was homeless and alone at age 13, and I slept at a playground under the covering at the top of a slide, worried that the bad guys were going to get me, and sometimes the bad guys did get me.
I can tell you without hesitation that food, shelter, health, and personal safety ARE essential. Haircuts, no matter how valuable, are NOT.
me at age 13, just before living on the street
I became a teen parent myself, and it took until I was well into my 30's to figure out how to make ends meet. I lived so many years under the constant threat of eviction, and there have been times where I've had to visit food banks because I completely, and I mean completely ran out of food AND money.
There was even a brief time after starting my new career when I worked like crazy and stole my coworkers's takeout leftovers in the work fridge to feed my kids.
I just knew in my soul that if I threw everything I had into this career that I could make it, and I DID!
Aside from a brief lapse of reason when I smoked (picked it up in my early 30s when I was first in barber school, and tried to be as frugal about it as possible and I still feel ashamed about it), I did not foolishly spend my money.
From age 18-30, I didn't buy alcohol, I didn't smoke or use any other substances, I cooked food from scratch, including dried beans and such, I learned to grow herbs and veggies in containers, I sold things on ebay, I tried beauty school, I took college classes, I blogged, and I ran a home daycare.
I tried so hard, but I lived with major depression and complex PTSD. I worked through it over many years of therapy. I battled obesity. I had preexisting health conditions and no health insurance. I had a special needs child. Things were HARD. I didn't get haircuts but once a year, if that, and usually with a coupon. I mostly did it myself, but when I did get a haircut, I CHERISHED it. It meant a lot to me, but it was NOT ESSENTIAL.
I still DIY everything as much as possible, which serves me well as an entrepreneur. And I'm still frugal. I still cook from scratch, and though I have a car now (after living several years without one), I still walk everywhere within a 3 mile range as much as possible to save on gas and preserve the old engine. My clients know all about it.
As I'm writing this, I live in a 2 bdr apartment with my 3 kids. The 18 year old has his own room, the 11 and 7 yr old share a room, and I sleep in the living room. (It is ADORABLE, centralized, and I'm happy here for now.)
me in 2016 wearing a mask long before covid-19
I was freezing, no car, I had to walk 2.5 miles
to and from work and cross the river
too late for the bus and no cab money
I earn enough to live a little bigger than I do, but as soon as I started having some success and making "real money," it was more important to me to build a savings account and pay off debt first. I am trying to build wealth and security, not a cushy lifestyle. I am no longer living in poverty, and I get better at making money every year that passes.
Having to shut down my gorgeous new barbershop only a few months after opening, after risking everything the way that I did was scary, and it hit hard. It's still hard, but I am no stranger to hard, and I’ve seen worse. I knew back on March 19th when I closed what I know now which is that I am going to be OKAY and so will my friends in this industry as well as others impacted by this pandemic.
We will not lose our homes to this, we will not go hungry, and though we may get knocked down, we WILL recover, and we will be stronger than ever. This is the first time in the entirety of history that hairdressers and barbers haven't been able to work, and when the smoke clears we will be busier than ever, and our bank accounts WILL rebuild.
I picked a career that is recession proof, but I did NOT pick a career that is ESSENTIAL. Stylists and barbers do not earn enough money, nor do we have the kind of benefits that justify putting us on the front lines.
I feel so deeply for the healthcare workers and those we NEED to work through this mess, and of course I am a little envious of those who are salaried and continue to work from home. But thank GOODNESS for those people because they are supporting this economy so that people like me and my kids can still eat.
Frankly, I'm disappointed at the people in my industry and other struggling industries who choose to behave in anger and demand that the government send us back in before we have a handle on this. As a PLANET, we do not know how bad things will get or what is going to happen next. We're trying, but we do not understand this virus yet.
It scares me to come in physical contact with around 200 people a month.
Even if we have PPE and a protocol, we don’t know if it will work, and we know not everyone will follow it. Every time I go to the grocery store I see people wearing their masks below their noses. Click the pic below for a NY Times article on how not to wear a face mask.
One of my ER clients told me yesterday that people are not following the instructions IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM, and they come in just assuring everyone that they know they don't have "the corona," and then they end up testing positive after putting everyone at risk. How frustrating.
And sure barbers and stylists are educated and licensed in infectious disease TO AN EXTENT, but nowhere near the level we need to be to handle a pandemic. I know people who barely passed the disease and sanitation chapters of our curriculum, and I have seen plenty of instances where barbers and stylists do NOT follow these protocols in the shop. It's too risky.
This is not oppression. This is unprecedented.
This is not an "us" vs "them." The government is full of a bunch of PEOPLE just like us whose jobs just happen to be to make important decisions for the rest of us. It's like me blaming my teen parents for our poverty, when they were underprepared and trying their best to figure it out as they went along.
The essential workers, whether they are in hospitals, court rooms, on or off of tv absolutely DO NOT need haircuts to be able to do their essential work. And if they feel they do, they can do it themselves or have their family members do it for them.
Poor people do it all the time.
I wrote a post and made some videos about how to cut your own hair. I encourage it, because I want people to feel good, and I know they will come back to me as soon as they can.
I want to work. I miss my clients. I will the minute I legally can, I just hope I'm not pushed to do it too soon for my community's safety.
We are beauty engineers. Our jobs are important, but they are not essential. Don't get it twisted.