We’ve all been inside for some time now, no matter where you are, so let’s use our imagination for a second. 

Imagine wearing a mask, a neck guard, a protective helmet with a down visor on front, a smock, an apron, disposable shoe covers and gloves. In short, imagine going to work dressed like an alien autopsy.  

Your new client (who is similarly dressed) is now greeted not only with a welcome but with a temperature check and a barrage of medical (and personal) questions. 

While servicing your client you attempt to make a joke about how difficult it is to interlock, retwist, and braid hair while wearing medical gloves, awkwardly trying to get a chuckle to ease the tension.

After the laugh, you hear them clear their throat, and you try to hide your uneasiness. Oh, and let’s not forget that there's the constant annoyance of the conditioner you spray for the client’s hair that keeps getting on your plastic shield and it’s not easy to get off, so this causes more of a distraction. 

Your phone is constantly ringing and a myriad of questions are imploding in your mind; Do you use the gloves to answer? Do you take off the gloves to answer and put on new ones after? Did I remember to wipe down the chair? Did I remember to wipe down the door? Have these clips been sterilized? Is this the client that I’m going to catch it from? You sigh long. 

Reassuring yourself that you’re good. You’re safe. Everything’s fine. 

Then you walk past the mirror and realize you’re still outfitted like you’re going to visit Chernobyl. You sigh again. 

You’re a hairstylist in Georgia, and you’ve basically been asked to pick your safety or your livelihood. The threat is real. This virus is real. The death toll is real. 

The Gamble.

Georgia stats of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have sky-rocketed over 20,000 and are still rising. Governor Brian Kemp announced that gyms, barbershops, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and hair and nail salons would be allowed to resume operations. Since this announcement, Georgia has now become the new “preview of life after lockdown.” This announcement has put businesses and workers across the state in a difficult spot: Go back to work and risk your health, or stay home and risk your income. For the clients, the news came as maybe a hopeful horizon to return to some small piece of normalcy. The choice to manage and protect yourself inside of one more environment, for a temporary amount of time, seems a reasonable gamble. As any person, in the current climate of an active pandemic, going anywhere should come with considerable forethought. However, the constant calling and email notifications to their stylist that they were “ready to be serviced” signified consequences weighed and choices that were already made before dialing or typing those emails. 

The choice for the stylist is a far more dangerous one. To some, those phone rings are life. Rings are sales. Rent. Food. Clothes. Lights. Unfortunately, opening up appointment slots now could be like playing Russian roulette with your chair. If you think this sounds overdramatic then just talk to someone in the healthcare field. Here’s an underlying, unofficial tag line for the novel Coronavirus, “simple to protect against, even easier to catch.” 

The Reality

Overcrowded hospitals, low supplies and absolutely not enough tests available for everybody is the reality. With no vaccine or treatment in sight, it’s an understatement to say it’s not a good time to need any type of medical assistance. Definitely not the time to put yourself in a situation to get something that, once onset, you may never recover from. 

Most stylists don’t meet the criteria for state unemployment or the requirements to file for temporary assistance claims through the Department of Labor. A large portion are working through business groups who, as a company themselves, have to apply for assistance to then assist their contractors. That process is not a quick and easy one, even in these times. While waiting and choosing to shelter-in-place is probably the safest course of action, the bills are still ticking onward. 

For some the reality is, they have to go back. But how does one social distance whilst doing hair, you ask? Well, that’s the joke. You can’t. It’s even funnier when you read it in the COVID-19 Guidelines shared by the state of Georgia on how to safely reopen and operate your salon space. (*Spoiler alert* - it’s says six feet apart... except when servicing a client). 

So what precautions are stylists and barbers doing since they “must” go back?

Creating Longer Appointment Times

Stylists and Barbers are spacing out their  appointments to include cleaning sessions between each client. All those who enter the salon or suite must wash their hands before being serviced. Masks must be worn at all times. Some have offered gloves as well as footwear protection when entering the salon. When it is time for lunch, they close their salon or suite due to hygienic purposes. Sometimes they dine in their car, or in a nearby park, or home if they are close (remember there's no more inside casual eating on the go).  

Master Cleaning Measures

On the hunt like most businesses and facilities, stylists have to accommodate the extreme measures of taking temperatures, doubling of utensils (to have at least a swap out pair), changing out a new cape for every new client, providing clients with gloves, facial mask, shoe shields, and more. On top of the product supply they normally must maintain to keep up with servicing their clients, the cleaning supplies to help with sanitation measures has increased. Causing more expenses. If hospitals and doctors offices are having trouble finding and keeping cleaning supplies - where will all of the supplies on the list you need come from? They must hunt like the rest of the businesses and facilities.  

Only Servicing Current Clients 

Some stylists/barbers are only accepting their current clients and not accepting new clients. If you're a well known stylist/barber there are several people who often travel for your services from different states. And with those new clients, this brings more income which could help with the new expenses you’ve incurred. But there is still great risk involved? Are you willing to pay with your life? (This guy with the dramatics again, I know, but here me out) We salute the stylist who has gone back to work, some eagerly and some who were not so ready. There are a great many stylists who are fortunate to not have to make that decision right away. When the gamble was made to re-open, it was also the go ahead for expenses to restart. There is no misunderstanding that bills need to be paid. To all stylists and barbers across Georgia, if it’s not required for you to be behind your chair, this is the one time you should skip out on the bill. I agree that - our hair, our appearance, and how we feel go hand and hand. In this time of uncertainty and crisis, feeling good is essential. Stylist - You Are Essential. You are out there now, on the front line. But the price is way too high. 

The Greater. 

I’m sure you’ve seen the alarming statistics. According to CNN and John Hopkins University on March 20th cases in the U.S. were around 16,000 with a death toll of 215, in 7 weeks that number became 1.2 million cases and over 77,000 deaths. A high price. 

My only hope is that we treat this situation with the respect it deserves. That we think long on all of our decisions. If you’re a stylist/barber, I’m sure your phone has been ringing. Let it go to voicemail. I can imagine it feels like gambling with your money. But this is the time to make the greater decision. So, what is greater? Life. Life is greater than money. Because with life you can always find a way, or have a chance to gain more. Life is greater than this economy. Life is greater than how bad you feel when you let people down. Life is greater than any other choice - because living ensures you get to make more choices. 

Life is greater than vanity. 

Life is greater than inconvenience. 

Life is greater.