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The Goddess Speaks

By Rosemarie Bernardo

Tuesday, January 9, 2001

A hair-raising

WHENEVER I watch the classic movie "Grease," I get a kick out of Frenchy who, after suffering dye problems causing her hair to turn cotton candy pink, became a beauty school dropout.

Like Frenchy, I, too, was a beauty school dropout. And I took Frankie Avalon's advice of going back to school at the University of Hawaii.

Before abruptly leaving beauty school, I was encouraged by my mother to finish so I could have some marketable skills to fall back on if my new choice of a career, journalism, didn't work out.

My mother is a professional hairstylist who owns a salon in Waipahu. After graduating from high school, it seemed natural to follow in her footsteps and pursue cosmetology. I had no direction of my own.

I was committed to 10 months of cosmetology school but from the beginning, I never took the trade seriously. I went through the motions of learning how to perform manicures, perms and apply makeup. For two months, I studied and practiced haircuts on non-complaining mannequin heads, other cosmetology students and friends willing to be victims.

As soon as I passed the practical test in class, it was time for me to be thrown into the school's salon to serve real clients. Each brave soul was required to sign an agreement form acknowledging that they knew they were putting their locks, looks and well-being into the hands of a student who might scorch their ears with a curling iron or color their hair ocean blue instead of auburn.

Chemically destroying women's hair or teasing it up into sophisticated French twists was fun. What made me squeamish were the pedicures. Kneeling down in front of a client and cleaning every crevice of their toenails, scrubbing their calloused soles with a pumice stone and massaging their feet was not exactly how I wanted to make a living.

Sure it's fine when you groom your own toenails, but doing it as a service for a stranger made me feel like a slave.

That was the last straw.

I was one month shy of receiving my cosmetology degree before dropping out. My mother was upset after I left school. She later forgave me, but every now and then she brings up the past and still wishes I had stuck it out long enough to receive my cosmetology degree.

As I observe my mom who's been in the cosmetology business for more than 15 years, I see her playing the role of friend, mother and at times, amateur psychologist for her regulars.

FOR those in the cosmetology business, I commend you. It takes a special kind of person to deal with clients with impossible requests and problems without solutions.

The job requires a lot of patience, understanding and sympathy, especially for those who come in with hats, pleading with hair technicians to repair an uneven home-style cut or an overprocessed perm.

The cosmetology business will never go out of style. Everybody needs a helping hand to make them look good and someone who will listen to their woes about split ends and dry, fly-away hair.

Even with the problems of shrinking readership faced by newspapers today, I think I'm better off as a journalist. Or at least, anybody in need of hair care is better off.

I have to admit that I did accidentally burn a woman's ear with a curling iron for a millisecond while I was in beauty school. I was lucky that she had a sense of humor and didn't have me arrested for assault with a hair-styling instrument.

For all you clients out there, you're safer now that I'm writing about cosmetology rather than performing it.

Rosemarie Bernardo is
a Star-Bulletin reporter.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
quirks and quandaries. If you have something to say, write it and
send it to: The Goddess Speaks, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O.
Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802, or send e-mail

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