Bogotá Works: Beauticians

By Laura Sharkey May 26, 2017
beauticians Bogotá

18-year-olds Jesi, left, and Paola are starting their beautician careers. Photo: Laura Sharkey

In this edition of Bogotá Works, we speak to two young women who devote their days to beauty. Jesi and Paola work as beauticians in a newly opened salon in Chapinero, in their first full-time jobs after training. They tell Laura Sharkey about the highlights and lowlights of life in the salon.

Jesi and Paola only met six months ago but both say they always wanted to be beauticians. They share stories of painting nails and giving other beauty treatments to family members, neighbours, or anyone they could try their skills on.

“I practiced with my mum and then I used to go and visit my grandma. I would sit there for hours in her house while I worked on her nails, and anyone else who happened to be in the house,” said Paola.

From these early days, they stayed true to their goals and went on to study beauty at an institution of the SENA (public National Learning Service), where they met and got to know each other.

You can tell that knowing someone else in the same position has been a benefit for the pair, and a confidence booster in their first job. “I think we have been able to give each other tips and we understand each other more – I felt less nervous knowing that someone else was going through the same process as me,” Jesi admits.

The transition from studying to working life has not been too difficult for them, apart from the long hours which vary wildly from their days as students. Though they do not mind this – they enjoy putting their training into practice and they like the fact that they meet a wide range of people in their work.

The favourite part of their jobs? For Jesi, it is the fact that she can “be creative and design interesting nail patterns – when I start to concentrate on those things, the day goes very quickly”. Paola, on the other hand, enjoys the pre-painting, cleaning and nail maintenance; preparing the nails for the varnish. She knows that is unusual, and certainly not everyone’s favourite, but she says that it is the most important part for the customer.

It is a real dilemma. People want you to finish quickly but perfectly, and sometimes that is just not possible – so I always try to choose quality, even if it takes more time.

It is not all positive though – both have to travel long distances to get to their workplace which involves long TransMilenio rides from far ends of the city. They also worry about security when arriving home after long days at the salon, where they leave at around 8pm. Also, there is no guarantee that they will earn much money – they are paid according to the number of treatments they complete in a day. Salons generally give their employees a fixed percentage of the cost of treatments – so if a manicure costs the customer COP, $10,000 the employee would earn anything from COP$4,000 to $6,000.

Like most salons, this means that quiet days can be challenging and boring and they can’t rely on a fixed income. “Those days are the worst. I just don’t know what to do with myself, and then I start to worry about money. Thank god I don’t have responsibilities like children – then it would be really difficult,” Jesi said.

Another challenge for the young beauticians is the fact that there can be difficult clients – as with most public facing jobs. According to Paola, “It is a real dilemma. People want you to finish quickly but perfectly, and sometimes that is just not possible – so I always try to choose quality, even if it takes more time.”

But Jesi and Paola know that they are in a better position than some – the salon covers transport costs on days when there are no clients and provides all the equipment so they do not have to buy their own products. Also, they enjoy the work environment and get on very well both with each other and the others working in the salon, where there are five employees in total. This, they tell me, is rare – both told stories of friends leaving salons because of bullying from the other staff members or owners who exploited them.

And what does the future hold? Both Paola and Jesi are adamant that they want to continue working as beauticians; perhaps in a salon where they can put their training to further use – practicing hair treatments which they do not currently do as the salon only provides nail treatments and massages. Jesi confessed: “I really do love it all, hair is my favourite but I can’t do it here so I feel a little bit limited.” The dream, both agree, would be to open their own salon. As Paola says, “It would give me the freedom to do whatever I want – if I didn’t want to go to work one day, then I wouldn’t have to.”

But for now, it remains a far-off plan, and one that they don’t want to consider too much – the pair are simply focused on taking things one day at a time, taking what they can from their first jobs.