Australia markets closed

A Sydney eyebrow salon owner says the government's COVID-19 lockdown rules, which allow hairdressers to remain open but not her business, are biased and gendered

Jenni Ryall
  • Popular eyebrow salon owner Kristin Fisher has called out the government for what she believes is their "unfair" treatment of salons.
  • Fisher and a cultural studies expert believe salons are not allowed to open due to a gendered bias from politicians.
  • The NSW government has said some businesses are not able to open still due to health concerns.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

Eyebrow salon owner Kristin Fisher, who runs Kristin Fisher Eyebrows in Sydney's Double Bay and has a list of famous clientele, has called out the government over what she believes is biased and gendered treatment of her business.

Fisher expressed her frustration on Instagram on Monday, where she has an audience of 41,000 followers, saying her salon's hygiene standards were "in line with medical clinics". She claimed it was unfair that hairdressers and barbers are allowed to operate without social distancing rules enforced, but beauty salons are required to adhere to impossible social distancing requirements.

"Here is my salon. Eight private rooms. Enormous waiting area. Sterile AF. We penetrate the skin, therefore we have to hold extremely high hygiene standards, in line with medical clinics. I am not having this rant because ‘I’m sooking because I want to reopen’. I’m having this rant, because the health minister has no clue what he’s on about if he is allowing hair salons to trade, and not beauty salons," Fisher wrote on Instagram.

She said she was bothered by the lack of consistency around what has been defined as a "non-essential service" by the government and claimed that she could implement the necessary safety requirements provided by NSW Health, outside of the social distancing measures. This is due to the close contact needed for eyebrow treatments.

"Hair and beauty come under the exact same classification with the ATO," Fisher wrote. "We know how to keep our environments clean. Far cleaner than any supermarket that’s for sure! We will happily ask all clients to download the covid app. Have their temps checked. Wear pm2 masks and gloves for each client."

In COVID-19 restrictions, hairdressers and barbers are considered essential services by the NSW government, while beauty salons have been classified non-essential.

Hairdressers and barbers must only allow one person per four square metres, while the prime minister clarified in March that "personal contact during the patron's visit should be minimised wherever possible."

Currently, the NSW government advises beauty salons can only open to sell physical products from their stores, but cannot offer any treatments. A beauty salon "must not provide services on the premises under any circumstances," NSW Health advised Business Insider Australia via email.

The underlying bias with barber stores being essential, but beauty salons non-essential

Fisher believes the reason behind shutting beauty salons but leaving hairdressers and barbers open is due to a gendered bias. She said in her Instagram statement: "Hair salons have been given preference over beauty, because men want their weekly barber cut."

Hannah McCann, a lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Melbourne, agreed, arguing closing beauty salons while allowing barber shops to operate may have a gendered element.

"There is a cultural assumption that beauty treatments that women seek out are frivolous, unnecessary, and a 'luxury'," McCann told Business Insider Australia via email.

"The gender bias that sees men’s barbering as more important than other beauty services – which may be more generally frequented by women – stems from a failure to understand the complexity of the role salons play in our lives in the first place. This is not to suggest that all salons should have remained open for this period, but it does suggest that more equitable decisions ought to have been made for the sector as a whole."

McCann said the initial 30-minute window for haircuts allowed by the government – it was reversed in March – supports this claim, as it clearly has a bias towards men's barber stores and the time it takes to cut short hair.

"The original 30 minute rule suggests the government only had men’s services in mind, as barbered cuts generally take a shorter period of time in the salon," McCann said.

"The decision also suggests that barbering should be considered 'essential' while beauty services should be seen as 'non-essential'. However there is no clear rationale why, for example, having one’s hair groomed is more important or essential than having one’s eyebrows groomed."

McCann also told Business Insider Australia another part of the issue is the belief that women can take on the labour themselves, while men need to outsource the labour.

"Perhaps the assumption is that beauty services are unnecessary and these practices can easily be done at home," she said. "What this entire situation suggests is there is an assumption the labour of women’s grooming can easily be domesticated – women can take on beauty labour they would usually outsource at a salon. And further, the assumption is also that men should not have to take this labour of grooming on themselves, that being able to outsource men’s grooming labour is 'essential'."

The government is concerned with face-to-face contact at salons, but not at barbers

Fisher's salon, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, provides mainly eyebrow treatments, which involve face-to-face contact. The face-to-face contact seems to be a particular issue the government holds with beauty salons – but believes this is not a problem for hairdressers and barbers.

Business Insider Australia has asked NSW Health for clarity, which referred us to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) guidelines it is following. The AHPPC noted in advice to the national cabinet on March 24 the following services should close:

"Highly discretional services that require close and prolonged personal contact between the service provider and client, including beauty therapy, nail salons, massage parlours, body piercing services and tattoo parlours," it read. "Hair dressing is excluded but ... the salon should observe the one person per four square metre occupancy rule."

It is unclear how a hairdresser maintains the one person per four square metre rule while cutting a client's hair.

In relation to hairdressers and barbers remaining open despite the need for close contact, the Federal Health Department noted to the ABC hairdressers have limited face-to-face contact.

"For the majority of the time when cutting a client's hair, the hairdresser is behind or to the side of the client, minimising continuous face-to-face contact from the front which poses a higher risk," a department spokesperson told the ABC.

"Facing the client from the front should be brief and any services offered by hairdressers that require more than 15 minutes face-to-face with the client from the front should be avoided."

In a press conference on Tuesday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told retailers they could "have a go" and reopen if they adhered to the social distancing restrictions. She noted that some businesses were still deemed unsafe by health experts.

"If there are plans you want to submit to the government with those restrictions in place for your industry, please come and talk to our health experts," the premier said. "For other practices, there are various health reasons experts have deemed them to be, at this stage, unsafe ... I don't want to go through the pattern of opening and shutting things down because that doesn't give anyone any certainty."

For Fisher, it seems she may not wait for restrictions to be lifted on beauty salons. She advised on Instagram she was reopening her salon to clients on Tuesday night, with all safety measures in place outside of social distancing.

Business Insider Australia has reached out to Fisher for further comment and to the hairdressing, barbering and beauty industry association for comment.