Getting paid to write about beauty is pretty dreamy as far as jobs go. It sure beats pushing paper at your standard desk job.
The beauty industry, however, is an exhausting place to hang out. Between reading several emails an hour offering to "fix" a barrage of flaws I didn't even know were flaws ("Are your feet too ugly?" "Do you HATE your small teeth?" "Ever wondered how it would feel NOT to be a total garbage monster?") and photographing my own dumb face every day, I get pretty worn out on the whole idea of beauty. Who even cares about beauty?
Julien Farel cares, and it was a day with him at his Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa in Manhattan that reminded me why I care, too.
Walking into the salon, I was a bundle of nerves. Impostor syndrome racked my brain as I climbed the stairs to a bevy of polished, beautiful women in black and white. I had worn a simple black jumpsuit, hoping to evoke the confidence I couldn't muster, but all I managed to evoke was sweat, courtesy of a late summer heat wave in New York.
I bet they can tell I don't belong here. I'm such a doofus. I should just turn around, email my editor an apology, and apply for a job in HR, or something, I thought, in an inner monologue that even Hannah Horvath would find overdramatic.
"Can we help you?" a beautiful face asked me. I responded with what I'm pretty sure was a series of random words, strung together by "um"'s and heavy breathing.
"My name is Rachel...I have an appointment...I work for...xoVain...and xoJane....and stuff... I think this is the place..."
She looked up and smiled. "Yes, you're meeting with Julien. He'll be right with you."
At this, a gorgeous girl named Amanda, with a cascade of enviable golden brown curls, handed me a white robe and led me to the leather sofa where I could sip my ice water and overlook the Upper East Side. On the windowsill sat glass vases, filled with tennis balls. Julien's the official hairstylist to the US Open, which was finishing up its last few matches. I looked around, still wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I tried to remember everything I know about tennis.
Uhh... love means zero, I thought, before totally blanking.
From behind me, someone said my name and I turned around to see Julien. He was at once impressive, warm, welcoming, and assuring. He shook my hand with both of his, and said, in a French accent that sounded like a symphony to this Mississippi girl's ears, "I hear you're going to spend some time with us today."
I melt, y'all. I melt.
Where I expected the pretension and snobbery I've come to expect from the beauty industry heavy hitters I've encountered so far, I was met with only kindness and sincerity. Julien and his team were attentive, curious and energetic. The conversations flowed easily, and my wariness slowly fizzled. I began to think I might actually know what I'm doing with my life until Julien asked, "So what are we going to do with your hair today?"
"Oh. Well, you see," I started to reply, squaring my shoulders and focusing to keep my voice leveled, "I'm growing my bob out, and I'd like a cut that will grow out really well. So... Layers? Um.... Yeah, layers. Hmm?"
If we were back down South, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear a sweet but backhanded, "Bless your heart" thrown my way, but this wasn't Mississippi. Instead, Julien took the sad, bedraggled ends of my hair in his hands for a few moments.
"This cut is all wrong. The shape is wrong," he assessed. The word "wrong" was long and drawn out, with an extra vowel in there somewhere. It sounded almost like a compliment before I realized what he was telling me.
I wasn't about to argue, though, with a man who has styled Kate Moss's hair. He didn't say it to be cruel or harsh. Rather, he was totally correct. The cut I had -- a blunt, stringy bob -- was doing me no favors. It was difficult to style and more often than not it was harshing on my self esteem. If you've never cried because your hair looked so terrible, you're a much less vain woman than I am. Or maybe you just have great hair. I don't know.
What I do know is, when Julien said, "This is wrong," it wasn't news to me. He entrusted me into Amanda's hands for a bit, while he went to go read and respond to some of the thousands of emails he gets each day.
From there, Amanda took me on a tour of the gorgeous, 10,000 square foot salon before it was time for a good shampoo session using products from Julien's own line. I've been using his Vitamin line ever since and I'll probably use it forever.
When it was time for the cut, Julien was attentive, kind and thoughtful. At one point during the cut, he had me stand up so he could see the different ways my hair fell. Even while it was still wet, as I ran my fingers through my hair I could tell it had a different shape and body to it. My ends felt lighter, and everything felt healthier.
Senior colorist Abby Haliti added gorgeous, subtle highlights to my hair. (Julien called them "sun kisses.") I Tweeted, at some point, "This is the best day of my life," and I meant it.
Spending a day luxuriating at a salon is always a great time, of course, but for me it felt like something more. I don't think I realized it until Julien started telling me what it is about hairstyling that inspires him.
"There is a way women look at themselves in the mirror after a great haircut, and you can see they are noticing their own beauty. I think every woman really is so beautiful, and to have a chance to help women feel beautiful really means so much to me.”
Julien cares about beauty for the same reasons I do -- in some small way, in any way we can, using the skills we've got, we both care about making women feel better about themselves. Listening to Julien describe all the times he's watched women look in the mirror, struck by a sudden and obvious awe of their own beauty, it was anything but condescending or pompous. It was inspiring.
Ever since I was a teenager, I've had one career goal. I want to help other women. Over the years, my methods and plans have changed, but that goal remains the same. As silly as it might sound, I really think writing about beauty can help women.
I don't want to tell women how to fix themselves. I don't want to sell you wrinkle-erasing serums or foot creams or fake teeth. I think you're great the way you are, and I want you to think so, too.
"You look so, so beautiful," Julien told me. He passed me a hand-held mirror, so that I could see all of his work. "Don't you think so?"
"I look so pretty," I said, out loud for the first time in what might be months. When you're bored by the whole idea of beauty itself, it's a strain to see it in yourself. But here I was spinning in a white leather chair, looking at myself in two mirrors, calling myself pretty in front of strangers who scared the hell out of me just a few hours earlier.
Getting burned out happens to everyone sometimes, regardless of career or field. Sometimes it's a sign that it's time to move on, but other times, we just need some inspiration. Or a really great haircut. Julien's been working in this field (and working very hard) for 30 years, and his excitement and passion are still so obvious, it jolted me right out of my slump. Beauty fatigue, be gone! I've got better things to do, and I've got the best hair of my life.
Now, tell me about the best haircut you've ever gotten.
More on this topic from Rachel: 6 Things to Talk To Your Hairstylist About If You're Growing Out a Bob