People of Conejo: How COVID Affects a Hairdresser

By Deidre Fisher as told to L. R. Ames

On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 18, my whole world changed.  That day, I learned that I—along with millions of other working people—would be prohibited from going to our jobs.  

Just like that, starting the very next day, government orders had shut down “nonessential” workplaces because a virus had come to us.  

My immediate response was one of great fear.  I felt then—as I do now—that shutting down was a catastrophe.  Our country’s economy had been the best it had been in decades, and this now seemed like a portent of previously unknown, future disasters. 

At first, I agreed with health experts that we didn’t know what we were dealing with, so when we were asked to quarantine for fourteen days to “flatten the curve,” the mandate didn’t seem unreasonable. But in my gut, I just knew it would never be for just two weeks, and in my worst moments, I fretted that something else was really occurring. 

When people ask me, “Why is such and such happening? Nothing is logical!” or, “So, why is doing this okay, but doing that has been deemed unsafe?” I have no good answer. So much of it seems arbitrary.

Losing Our Freedoms

That’s what’s frightened me: losing our ability to control our own lives. That thought sent me spiraling into a deep depression where I envisioned losing the freedom I have always loved.  It was such an abrupt change in lifestyle, a shocking cessation of forward momentum in the pursuit of my hopes and dreams.  Further, it gave me a vision of the possible downfall of this great country that I love so dearly.  

Surely, other Americans, as well as people all over the world, must be having similar angst.  Sometimes, I think I am overreacting.  But upon reexamination, I keep hearing Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

I would like to believe a large number of the people in this country are convinced, like me, that the shutdown was mishandled.  Many lay people, as well as medical professionals, economists, and political analysts, believe that those people exceeding a certain age and/or with preexisting health issues should have been quarantined—not the healthy.

There was good news on June 1 when Governor Newsom allowed the beauty industry to open up again after that ten-week shutdown.  In my salon, we spent weeks prior to this reopening trying to figure out  how we could make our salons even cleaner.  When we finally received guidelines about what it would take to satisfy the state’s requirements for safely reopening, we realized that we were already practicing a great majority of the mandates.  Yet Governor Newsom shut the beauty industry down again on July 13.

I am very disturbed that the Board of Barbering & Cosmetology didn’t lobby Sacramento on our behalf and make it very clear that we could operate safely.  Instead, they allowed our industry to be totally devastated.

Governor’s Mandate

Spawns an Underground Industry

Do I believe any part of the spike in cases came from hair salons?  No. Do I believe some people were being careless by congregating in crowds without face masks and not observing social distancing, either in social gatherings or in street “protests”?  Yes, I do. 

I have colleagues who were very strict about keeping their business shuttered during the first shutdown.  They wanted to help the community, and so they complied.  But the second shutdown caused untold economic hardship. 

As a result, I don’t know a single hairdresser or other beauty professional who did not work “underground” at some point during the shutdown, desperately trying to keep their practice afloat and their bills paid.  Most stylists who are independent contractors still have to pay for the rental of their station, even when it’s unused, because the salon owner still must pay on the building lease.

Later, Governor Newsom allowed some businesses to push their operations outdoors.  This was possibly advantageous for barbers—but for hairdressers, whose work is probably 90% chemical-related, this was a deal-breaker; it wouldn’t work.  Doing our job was impossible without access to water.  

And a new problem arose for hairdressers: the clients didn’t flock back like we thought they would!  They had a lot of fear that COVID-19 was still out there looking for warm bodies.  Yet, how can we blame them?  There has been so much conflicting information regarding whether masks actually work to protect us or if sanitizing surfaces will actually prevent transmission.

Many People Have Now Decided to “Make-Do”

This pandemic seems to have taught many people to “make-do,” and so I think beauty professionals like myself who decide to stick with their line of work will feel as though they are starting out all over again building up a clientele.

Some clients request services to be done at their homes.  I have had friends doing hair on people’s patios in 90-degree heat.  The client won’t allow the stylist to enter their home to shampoo their hair or even to use the bathroom facilities. But beauty industry professionals are licensed by the Board of Barbering & Cosmetology and mandated to only to work in licensed establishments.  

When all this is over, I will tell you, many professionals will have left the industry.  Salon owners will have to break their leases because of their inability to pay.  Beauty industry specialists who have practiced for decades will have to retire early.  The shutdown has put the nail in the coffin of their careers. 

Now, as our industry opens back up, our clients are not flocking back into the salons.  We are not slammed with the appointment requests for which we were hoping.  The fear of catching this virus is still very much present. 

 I can only say to you who are still not revisiting your beauty professionals, please be assured that we care about your safety and are taking extraordinary precautions to guard your health. We not only care about your safety…we miss the joy of helping our clients look their very best!

Please return to us—we miss you, personally as well as professionally!   

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