The Culture of Celebrity in the Beauty Industry

“I read your post on gaining notoriety in the beauty business. I really want to be known in the industry. (My goal is to be a famous stylist.) I followed all of your advice over the last few weeks. Thanks for giving me a plan! My question is: how do I approach companies like Matrix about working for them?”

This post isn’t about this particular question, but this question is what inspired this post. It came at a strange time. Lately I’ve been having a lot of conversations about “industry fame.” This week, it has come up in several Facebook discussions and many private conversations with my friends in the business. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

Each facet of our industry has its stars. Stylists have Robert Cromeans, nail techs have Amy Becker, estheticians have…someone, I’m sure.

These “industry celebrities” have gained their status through hard work, passion, and dedication to their respective industries. It’s understandable. What I don’t understand why so many professionals desperately aspire to attain the same level of recognition, no matter the cost.

They’re all over Pinterest, Blogger, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. “Look at me! Look at what I do! Look at how important I am!” They create their own little product lines. They brand themselves and hit YouTube. They bestow themselves with ridiculous inflated titles like “celebrity nail designer,” “international beauty concierge,” and “master hair sculptor.” They create artificial personalities and give themselves stage names. They struggle to claw their way into recognition and gain a following, utilizing a variety of methods.

…but why?

I’ve gained a measure of recognition through this blog that has opened all kinds of doors for me, but I walk through them hesitantly and almost reluctantly. Many industry professionals would kick those same doors down and lunge through them, jumping and screaming for joy.

Unlike these professionals, I have no desire at all for any measure of fame. I’m happy to be a weird girl with a blog. I’m passionate about my job and genuinely like to help people. If writing blog posts or giving lectures at trade shows and schools helps facilitate the spread of the right information and keeps salon owners from making devastating mistakes (or keeps salon employees from becoming victims of intentionally exploitative employers), then I’m happy to do it–no compensation, no recognition, no reward, no strings attached.

I don’t do this for money or acclaim, but because I desperately want things to be done right and for people to be treated fairly. I will never claim to be an “expert,” and if you refer to me as one, expect to see me cringe and squirm as I debate internally whether to correct you. It’s cool if you don’t remember my name, recognize my face, or follow me on Twitter. I don’t want to be idolized. I don’t need to feel the heat of the stage lights on my face or see my name on billboards. I certainly don’t need to be validated and I won’t cry myself to sleep if you don’t “like” my page on Facebook.

It makes me sad to see professionals in our business resort to this weird kind of prostitution to become “important.”

You already are important. You’re important to your family and to your clients. If you’re an owner, you’re important to your staff. You don’t need to pimp yourself out to a manufacturer or distributor to gain relevancy. You don’t need to be promoted to a career in platform artistry, have a million followers, or have a book full of celebrities to be someone. You already are.

Be who you are and be happy with that. It’s admirable to want to achieve your dreams, but do it on your terms and for the right reasons.

If you are really passionate about educating others in a way that’s engaging and exciting and you genuinely want to be a platform artist, get your ass out there and go for it–but if you’re just doing it so that you can be “a star,” stop right now.

If you’re a strong public speaker with a passion for motivating others, by all means, pursue a career in public speaking–but if you’re only in it for the money or acclaim or to “be recognized,” stop right now.

If you have a talent for writing and information to share, start a blog or write a book–but if you’re just doing it to be “industry famous,” stop.

I have always visualized “industry fame” with this mental image. Picture blackness. In the middle of the blackness is a streetlight, burning bright onto the pavement below. On the pavement, in the brightest portion of that light, are your industry superstars–your household names that exceed our industry and bleed into pop culture. Tabatha Coffee is there with Jonathan Antin and Katie Cazorla.

A few steps away in a slightly dimmer portion of the light being cast by the streetlamp are the industry-exclusive household names. These are people whose names are known only to those in our business–but they’re well-known names, like Robert Cromeans, and they’re known across industry professions.

A few steps away from them are your lesser-known but still very relevant industry professionals. These people tend to be well-known in their own facet of the industry, but not in other professional circles–I don’t know who stylists have because I left that circle long ago, but for us nail girls this would include people like Holly Schippers. A lot of stylists have no clue who Holly is, but damn near every one of us nail girls do. Your top competitors and educators are in this group.

Further still, cast in the comforting shadows but partially illuminated by the dim light of the streetlight are people like me. We’re the bloggers with small followings and the educators working in local circuits. We have a few groupies, but we’re nobody special and hardly memorable. Nobody is asking for our autographs or trying to get us to take pictures with them.

That’s where I saw myself–bordering on this comfortable level of obscurity and toeing the line between relevancy and invisibility. That’s where I tried to stay. Here’s the problem: my small following blew up.

I went from 10 followers to 100 within mere months–now (in 2017) I’m at nearly 10,000 across multiple platforms (that I can track, I have no idea how many people have me bookmarked or follow via feed readers). My page went from 20-40 page hits a day to 2,200 a day in less than a year and currently, my site has at least that many active connections constantly.

People found me on Facebook and invited me to join their groups. They called for my assistance in those groups and via email. I developed a reputation for being useful and that reputation snowballed. In the blink of an eye, my blog posts were being shared all over the place and my name was becoming “known.” Important people in brighter portions of the spotlight suddenly knew who I was. It started as a spark and before I knew it the fucking house was an inferno, burning down around me.

I tried to retreat back into my comfort level, but it turns out that damn streetlight works like a tractor beam and the darkness is full of hands shoving you towards it.

To complicate matters further, I am waging this eternal internal battle. I want to help. I feel compelled to. Nobody else is doing it. Salon owners call me for Skype sessions crying because they were blindsided by a government authority that made no effort to inform them of their various responsibilities or the consequences for neglecting to meet them. Salon employees are learning lessons about labor exploitation the hard, expensive way and many don’t even realize that they’re being exploited.

Every day more uninformed professionals perpetuating bad information regarding tax and labor laws–information that yet more uninformed professionals are relying on. There’s a legion of blind people leading other blind people, and in their midst are wolves  of various breeds–exploitative salon owners, auditors, and labor investigators–just waiting for an opportunity to gobble them up.

It makes me fucking mad. I want to fix it and save them all. I want to get on a soapbox and scream into a megaphone. I want to kick out windows and start riots. I want to smear on some war paint, steal from the corrupt and give to the deserving, drink the blood of my enemies, and lead armies of pissed off beauty professionals into battle–William Wallace style.

But I also want to run and hide. The light is too bright and it’s starting to burn. Every step taken is one I can’t take back. Roughly twice a week (usually when the daily page hits creep higher and higher), anxiety grips me and I think, “How did this happen?! How do I stop it? Should I stop it?”

Knowing that I help people elates me, but there’s also this incredible burden that I can’t even attempt to translate into words.

So no, I don’t “get” the culture of celebrity in this industry and I don’t suppose I ever will, but I’m a peculiar kind of person and my perception likely differs vastly from your own.

When aspiring “industry celebrities” ask me how I achieved this moderate level of relevancy, my response is this: Don’t seek fame. Drop your ulterior motives and follow your real passions without compromising yourself and the fame will come to you. Trust me. I didn’t want it but now I’ve got it (and the developing ulcers and maddening insecurities to show for it)–and I’m not anywhere near as close to the brightest portion of that streetlight.

What started as a trickle became a flood and now I’m standing waist-deep in slowly rising waters. I can swim, though, and for now the temperature is fine, but I’m not really sure how I feel about the progressing situation and the shore seems to be getting further and further away every time I look back for it.
Just be careful what you wish for, because once you’re out there, there’s no turning back.

2019 Update

I originally wrote this post in 2014. Since then, a lot has changed.

My following and my reach has increased substantially. I’ve had a few aggressively enthusiastic fans whose behavior didn’t quite cross over into the category of “stalker,” but came dangerously close. Periodically, a subscriber will track down my personal phone number and call me, so now I have to use an application to block calls from people who aren’t in my address book.

I had to leave Facebook and other social media platforms. I cannot really use social media like a normal person anymore—and at this point, managing online engagement is a full-time job. (Ever tried to use Facebook Messenger when thousands of people think it’s okay to obsessively message you, tag you, and call you until you pay attention to them? I don’t recommend it.)

I’ve taken a break from public speaking and appearances. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it again, to be honest. I spent four years trying to become the kind of person who could present confidently. While people have told me that I’m a great speaker, the stress and anxiety I feel while in front of a crowd hasn’t subsided over time. If anything, it has worsened. There’s a limit to how much I’m willing to torture myself for the benefit of others.

Making friends with other educators and professionals in the industry has become impossible, since those who know who I am are really only interested in how I can benefit them professionally. Everyone’s thirsty and looking for coattails to grab onto, so I keep to myself and those who knew me when this blog was a crappy little collection of posts on Hubpages.

I’ve become more cynical, which I didn’t think was even possible.

Exhibit A: I have an anti-contact page now, where I list all the ways in which I do not want to be contacted.

I’m an extremely private person, so to say I miss the days when I was some obscure bitch with a blog would be a massive understatement. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the recognition, support, or opportunities I’ve received. From the beginning, I knew the attention would be demanding and wouldn’t be compatible with my introverted personality. The pressure some of these super high-profile educators and artists must deal with is impossible for me to wrap my brain around. I don’t know how they do it.

My warning stands.

I continue to do this because I love the people in this business and the industry overall, but I’m doing it on my terms. Put yourself out there if you must, but know what you’re getting into. Be ready for it.

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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