(MSC 526)

While pursuing my master’s degree, I remember taking a course entitled “Managing Workplace Diversity & Inclusion” which is exactly what it sounds like – learning how and why the workplace diversity represents a significant managerial challenge and opportunities to emerging corporate professionals. It explored the current diversity issues, including gender, ethnicity, class, age cohorts, disability and personality, and identifies a range of inclusive strategies that can lead to productive teams. One of our assignments was to interview a person that was “different” than ourselves in our workplace. Luckily, I was working part-time as a Front Desk Manager at an upscale hair salon so “different” was the theme of my experience. I immediately wanted to interview one of the stylist that worked during my shifts. I wanted to share the interview in this particular blog for three reasons (1.) I wanted to blog about embracing your individuality, (2.) I wanted to share something that would make a lasting impression (at least it did for me), and (3.) This paper received an A, so I thought it was safe to share (just kidding). Anyway, I changed the name to save face but the rest is all true…

April 15, 2010
MSC 526 – Professor Galvin
Northwestern University

The Uncensored Life of a Hair Stylist

Most people consider a hair salon a luxury; a place where stylists are able to create art with color and hair. Customers walk in feeling mediocre and walk out feeling extraordinary. It is a place where people, primarily women are able to gossip, get away from their children, and pamper themselves for a day. However for one individual, a hair salon is more than an opulence. It has become his safe haven and refuge; a place where he is able to be free of social pressures, avoid stigmas and stereotypes, and truly be himself. Aaron, a 34-year-old hair stylist has been making people of various demographics feel unique and special for more than 10 years. Little does his clients know that they have allowed him to not only pursue his passion for beauty and fashion, but truly seek freedom from his own identity imprisonment. “Trio [the first salon he worked at] really saved my life,” says the ambitious, talented stylist. As our nostalgic conversation unravels, we begin to explore the journey of a young, single, anti-religious, homosexual immigrant from Poland. Aaron shares his trials and tribulations of being homosexual, the dreams of an aspiring hair stylist, and the failures and triumphs of finding his identity and acceptance in a world that is obstinate about what is right and wrong – this is the uncensored life of a hair stylist.

“As a kid I was always different than other boys,” Aaron begins the conversation. “I was not treated nice all the time. [So] I tried to avoid mean people and ignore the different treatment.” Growing up in a family and society that rejected homosexuality, Aaron felt obligated to “protect” his family from societal rejection and humiliation. Instead of trying to revolutionize acceptance, he decided to leave Poland, the country where he called home. It was the only option he could think of to fulfill his personal ambition of protecting his family. ” I came out to mom when I was in a five year relationship… I think I was 24. She took this very hard and she was blaming herself,” he says. “I [am] never going to get her side of the story [since] she passed away one year ago. She or we never talked about that issue [anyway].”

Beyond the tragic loss of his mother, Aaron’s father passed away a few years before. So, the only family he has is his sister. Unfortunately, she is described to be “close minded” and living in an “egocentric world”. Aaron sadly explains, “She does not really want to have anything to do with me, unless it involves money.” The deprivation of family support led Aaron to make choices, which he regrets today. He turned to drugs to replace the absence of his family members. “I was a drug addict and I was trying to find myself… or whatever you wanna call it,” confesses Aaron. It was not until Aaron hit rock bottom, literally that he decided to change his life. After barely surviving a suicidal attempt, he began his journey into the beauty and fashion industry.

“I picked this industry for a reason. I love beauty and fashion,” Aaron states. “I think I would be very unhappy as a construction guy or policeman, because I would feel very unsafe there.” The comparison of occupations is referring to the inability to safely and publicly announce homosexuality in certain professions. Accordingly, Aaron chose a profession that would accept and allow him to openly be homosexual. The staggering statistics of homosexual hair stylists, fashionistas, and make-up artists are in the high percentile, which is an obvious contrast to his life experiences of intolerance; this was a natural, easy transition to his professional career.

Like everyone else, Aaron faces daily challenges in the workplace. He struggles with personal judgments and prejudices with his co-workers and customers. However, it is his life experiences that bring him to appreciate the freedom and acceptance at work every day. “Judgments are a human being thing to do,” Aaron explains. “I do understand that very well…everyone does it. I just don’t care anymore. By worrying I developed addictions.” As Aaron got older, the constant worry of “looking good” began to subside. He triumphed over his drug addictions and began to find pleasure in making others feel unique and beautiful. The hair stylist began to accept his identity as a proud homosexual. “Judgments are a waste of energy,” says Aaron. “After my death, I don’t want my headstone to read ‘he was only living to look good’.”

It is this kind of attitude that has helped Aaron succeed in his lifetime. He has established friendships and built relationships with people that support his endeavors and ways of life. He continues to flourish in his career with optimism and appreciation for diversity. He ends the interview on a positive note. He says “The other day I was thinking ‘who am I as a person’ and the first thing that comes in mind is ‘I am my words’. At the end of my list is ‘gay man’. I feel more comfortable in my own skin now. The advantage of being grown up is that I can create and control who is in or out of my life. And, I think being different is so much cooler when you are an adult.”

In the midst of learning about the life of my co-worker and dear friend Aaron, I began to learn things about myself. Despite your sexual orientation, racial or ethnic background, religion, or economic status everyone has story. And the story is more similar than people give credit for. The intangible characteristics of people remain the same no matter the diverse background. People have felt sadness, anger, abandonment, and happiness since the day of creation. So perhaps, we are not as different as we think we are. We are all human. We are living on the same earth, breathing the same air. The main lesson I learned through this assignment is I am not that much different than Aaron. I may be heterosexual but Aaron and I are the same in that we both aspire to be successful, to be loved, and possesses an uncontrollable urge to help others feel all of the above. My only hope from this assignment is that the epidemic of differences will no longer tear people apart but bring people closer, to help one another, and to teach people to love each other more often. You might not be able to change the world overnight, but you can allow the uncensored story of a hair stylist to help alter your perception of differences in an instant. At least, I know it has for me.

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