An Achilles Heel in the cosmetic world

Last Updated 27 September 2013, 18:44 IST

More often than not, working as a cosmetic sales assistant is more of a glam sham than a rewarding career, finds out Tarannum

The beauty sales business is indeed on the rise, as it creates employment opportunities for scores of young women, who have no qualms about working hard, even as they look good and get paid for it. In fact, according to a recent survey, more than one lakh young women across India have found employment as sales assistants (SA). They may be going through family issues, may be tired or angry, but they can never let their personal problems come in the way of their work. For they are the face of the brands and their business on the ground. Of course, talking to some of them does reveal the other, or rather, the 'ugly' side of this otherwise 'beautiful' business.

Pretty gets ugly

Lucknow girl Sakshi Soni, has been working as SA for the last six years. Fond of cosmetics, like any other girl of her age, Soni was quite excited initially over having signed up with a famous brand. Thus began Soni’s tryst with the beauty industry.

Since she had a good complexion, she was trained as a makeup expert to begin with. Later, however, long hours of wearing makeup started taking its toll. “Even to show off one’s porcelain skin and say that we use the products that we are selling, we need to put on makeup. With frequent touchups the stuff stays on the face for over 10 hours, which does have harmful effects,” remarks the young woman. This was just the first indication that everything was not right with her “dream job”.

Next, she quickly realised that standing for about six to seven hours at a stretch – without any lunch or restroom breaks, was also not going to be easy. A bad lifestyle and heavy makeup led to frequent bouts of acne. “But even then, since I had to look good, I continued to use makeup.” Ultimately, when she ended up with a major skin allergy, she had to finally take a break from her job for three months. When she returned, she switched over to work as a behind-the-counter SA even though it meant a lower salary.

Achilles Heel

Like Soni, Divyaroshni Singh, who lives in the bustling temple town of Varanasi, is another unsuspecting victim of the beauty industry. Singh ended up with swollen feet almost every day after she started working with a reputed beauty company as a SA, some three years ago. “As a part of our slick-looking attire, we had to wear five-inch killer heels. There were two girls at the counter, so we alternated between standing and sitting on one of the wooden boxes that stored our supplies,” she recalls.

However, the constant standing in heels for the whole day spelled doom. “My feet used to swell up and I was in acute pain. When I consulted a doctor, I found that there was some lesion tear. I finally had to quit my job for eight months.”

Thereafter, Singh chose another company where wearing heels was not compulsory.

Glam be damned

Working conditions are a little better for those associated directly with the brands rather than function as SAs hired by agents. These agents are basically employment agencies that hire youngsters and, based on their skills send them to different cosmetic companies for a commission.

 These SAs are not on the company rolls. It might be that international brands have a reputation to protect, so they tend to take care of their staff.

Unfortunately, while the beauty industry is growing with each passing year, there are hardly any regulations in place for the large labour force it employs. Dr Smriti Singh, a women's rights activist based in Lucknow puts it this way, “Only the basic labour laws like timings, eight-hour shifts and safety are being implemented. Since on the face of it, these jobs don't look hazardous, they are not perceived to be so. But one doesn't realise the pain behind such glamorous looking professions. Some strong regulations need to be followed, keeping in mind the kind of work these young girls are doing.”

The beauty industry certainly has a lot of potential to become a major employer for young women, but then its ‘not-so-pretty’ side needs to be addressed urgently.

(Published 27 September 2013, 18:44 IST)

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