Last week my boyfriend and I succumbed to the popular pandemic trend and decided to do an at home haircut. I was tasked with learning and executing the perfect haircut – short on the sides and longer on the top, and fade it all so that all the lengths blend seamlessly together. Easy right?

So I set out on my mission to learn to become the most competent hairstylist I could in just a few hours with a little help from my trusty friend YouTube. Tutorial after tutorial, I thought I had it all figured out. I was prepped and ready to make hair magic. 

Now, the haircut itself came out superb (if I do say so myself), but that wasn’t the most transformative part of the experience. Along with learning to reduce the weight of the hair on the sides and create lines to cut and so on, I also learned a valuable lesson in what it takes to be a hairstylist. 

And let me tell you, it’s not nearly as easy as it looks!

This experience, along with some research I conducted after it, made me realize that being a hairstylist is so much more than just understanding which haircut or style is great for each face shape. It’s physically and emotionally burdensome and really, really hard work.

What you don’t know about hairstylists

They work incredibly long hours

Although I only worked on my boyfriend’s hair for an hour or so, an average work week for a hairstylist is about 41 hours. Though that may seem manageable, many hairstylists admit to working a 12 hour shift on a daily basis. That’s 12 hours on their feet, needing to maintain a keen eye for detail and entertain their clients’ stories. Not only do they work long hours, but they also have to work unconventional hours. Most clients get their hair done when they’re not working, which means lots of early mornings, late nights and yes, weekends.

It takes a toll on their body

I was only up on my feet for about an hour but by the end of it all, my back, my feet and my arms were done for. I also learned to become an acrobat and twist my body in ways I couldn’t previously imagine. It’s safe to say that next time I will limber up before starting. I can only assume, based on what I’ve read and experienced, that 12 hours of this leaves hairstylists in a worse condition. Especially as they need to keep up appearances and often wear clothes and shoes that are more fashionable than they are comfortable.

Hair gets everywhere

It goes without saying, I know, but hair really did get everywhere. Not only all over the floor, but all over my hands and arms, my clothes, in my mouth, between my fingers, etc. Then I read about hair slivers (or splinters). This is a side effect of dealing with cutting and styling hair, where the hair embeds itself inside their skin and needs to be pulled out or extracted in some way. These can be painful and get infected, and the main cause? Skin that’s exposed to hair. Easy for hairstylists to avoid, right? And don’t get me started on the clean up! Luckily I had to do it once, but hairstylists have to clean up the hair between clients and make their space feel clean and presentable for each one, and that’s a lot of work in itself.

They become a psychologist

As soon as I turned on the clippers, my boyfriend started talking and sharing things that I didn’t expect. Think about your experience with your hairstylist – what do you talk about? For many reasons, we feel inclined to share some of our deepest secrets with our hairstylists, leaving them to carry some heavy weight in the form of secrets. Experts say that the position of the hairstylist (behind the client) rather than being in front of the client, and speaking through the mirror cause a distance between the client and the stylist, allowing for more room to open up. In addition, the amount of time clients spend with their hairstylist in one sitting enables them to get to know each other better. Being someone’s confidant often comes with its own hardships and can be emotionally draining.

And on top of all that…they’re running their own business

At some point in their career, whether they are renting out a chair or owning their own salon, a hair stylist will have to run their own business. They not only have to worry about growing their business and clientele, while also maintaining budgets and running a cost effective business – they also have to give you their undivided attention and ensure clients are leaving happy. It’s a balancing act: servicing clients while keeping up with the demands of the business, and keeping track of the latest trends, products and competition. It’s a lot for anyone, let alone someone who has to deal with all the other items on this list.

Thank your hairstylist for me

Cutting my boyfriend’s hair taught me a valuable lesson: hairstylists are much more than just that. From being a psychologist and a business owner, to taking on grueling hours and demanding working conditions, it’s an admirable occupation. Next time you’re at your hairstylist’s be sure to be kind, courteous, and thank them for the amazing work they do!