Anyone who’s had a great haircut knows that sitting in the salon chair can do more than just provide a superficial result. There’s also an uplifting, emotional benefit that can come with personal care services, especially when it comes to gender expression.
That’s why more beauty business owners are making it a priority to offer services and treatments for gender-diverse individuals, ditching the divide of prices and services for men and women and committing to providing safer spaces for the LGBTQ communities.
Cultural norms at salons and spas vary around the world. At the Friedrichsbad spa in Baden-Baden, Germany, which opened in 1877, a co-ed clientele is used to mingling in the buff in its Roman baths. But in Canada, most spas are set up with separate areas for women and men, often with their own amenities including changing spaces, steam rooms, saunas and whirlpools. Treatment menus are usually divided along similar lines, offering services with names such as the “Gentleman’s Facial” for him and the “Haute Couture Facial” for her.
Breaking with these standards can cause some discomfort. When Toronto’s Hammam Spa by Céla opened 17 years ago, the King West destination made waves with its co-ed steam room. “We did something really different, especially with the Turkish bath treatments and the open, gender-neutral steam. That kind of freaked a lot of people out,” says founder and director Celine Tadrissi. In the end, however, she says the decision to open Hammam’s steam room to all has fostered a more social atmosphere for her guests, who are provided with a Turkish wrap for their visit. “We get a ton of couples, we get friends, we get a brother and a sister. It makes it more of a comfortable space,” she says.
Rewriting a service menu so that it’s gender-neutral often means getting back to the basics of what’s included in a treatment. At Fuzz Wax Bar, a waxing franchise with 17 locations across Canada, co-founders Florence Gaven Rossavik and Jessie Frampton recently revamped their offerings to only include gender-neutral services. “Individuals don’t have to book based on how they identify, they just book based on their biology,” Frampton says of treatments including the Kini, the Deep Kini and the Zillian. “It’s a very huge assumption on our end to assume that guys come in with more body hair,” she says.
Hair salons have long operated with separate pricing for men’s and women’s cuts. When Corin Berry opened Toronto’s Salon Soap in 2017, she priced her services based on time spent in the chair, not the gender of the person sitting in it. “I hate to say it, but we were charging men way less and I was still taking an hour to do their hair,” she says, explaining that this practice dates back to when it was customary for women to have their hair set for the week and men were visiting barbershops more frequently. With time-based pricing, Berry says she’s better positioned to cater to individual client needs. “Making sure that we have a safe space for anybody who comes in and that we can provide a gender-affirming haircut – that’s so important.”
But for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals, equalizing the salon experience is more than a financial matter. “This is not about a haircut or getting your legs waxed, quite frankly. For many individuals, this is life-saving, affirming care,” says Anna Murphy, a Calgary-based advocate for LGBTQ and women’s issues. Research has shown that gender-affirming care, practices that have been designed to reinforce individuals’ gender identities – including a visit to a spa or salon, greatly improves the mental health of gender diverse, transgender and non-binary youth, a group that experiences higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. “To affirm an individual is to recognize an individual, is to accept an individual, is to validate – is to humanize – an individual,” Murphy says. “Their very existence is debated.”
Kristin Rankin, owner of Toronto salon Fox and Jane, founded the Dresscode Project in 2017 to help hairstylists and salon owners understand how they can make their spaces safer for those who identify within LGBTQ communities. Working with Toronto organization the 519, Rankin developed a guidebook on gender-affirming services at salons, which includes advice on everything from language to social-media presence to creating a welcoming physical space.
Salons are asked to offer non-gender conforming washrooms as well as prices based on either time or hair length, for example. Communication also plays a huge role. “Make sure that your social media and your website reflect inclusivity and diversity for trans and non-gender conforming individuals,” Rankin says, pointing to simple additions such as including pronouns on an Instagram account or a rainbow flag on a website.
To further connect with the LGBTQ communities, Rankin created a database where clients can enter their postal code to discover nearby salons in the Dresscode Project network. The growing list includes about 350 businesses across North America.
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