As a kid, if I draped my magic blanket over my head, I was invisible. Popi loved the invisible game and wagged his tail alongside me, barking as I bumped into doors and other real-world objects. Realizing I could never be invisible no matter how hard I tried, I outgrew my magic blanket. Then, as I turned 60, I became invisible again when the salon stopped offering me walk-in clients.

I felt I was doing my best hair. I was still teaching trend styling at major shows, plus I had a great relationship with the reception team, yet the walk-ins dried up. The rationale? I was 65 years old and should be set for life; therefore, I didn’t need new clients; other stylists were more deserving. Besides, I was risky; what if I suddenly decided to retire? OMG, what would happen to the clients?

Scout’s honor, I’ve never looked to the receptionist to build my clientele. The quality of my work, not favors from receptionists, brought me clients. Polished consultations and my good work on the street made it happen. But ageism? After a lifetime of gay and Latino stealth exclusion, my gaydar should pick up any bias— but it went right over my old head. Nobody was rude to me; everyone was nice, yet silently, I was denied opportunities awarded to anyone younger. Ageism is sneaky and includes biases like younger stylists give the salon a better image, clients prefer younger stylists, and they only do old- fashioned styling.

I did address this bias, not for my fair share of walk-in clients. Nope—this one was about taking one for the team to build a better industry. One day you will be where I am today. I bet you will want an industry that respects your abilities and allows these to shine on an even playing field. You will want a salon where all ages openly perform their best with grace and sensitivity. I shared the information below with management and the receptionists. To my surprise, they were totally unaware of ageism and how it affects older stylists, clients, and the salon’s reputation. Here it is for your salon:

What is ageism? Are you aware of it? What are the signs?

Discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age works both ends of the age bracket—you can discriminate against the old or young. It’s about how you think, feel and act towards anyone based on age. Truthfully, someone older is probably the only person who doesn’t believe they’re old. And despite federal and state law protection from age discrimination, the law doesn’t guarantee your desirability.

Being excluded, not asked, told, warned, considered, nor invited, is at the heart of ageism. The cruelest aspect of ageism is to have to show up pretending everything is alright.

The beauty industry struggles to tackle ageism on a broader scale because of the inherent fear of any aging conversation. Salon professionals shared that they find it distasteful to talk about ageism--like surrendering to an old enemy, one that should remain unmentioned. Really? Keeping ageism in the closet is like attempting to cover the sun with one finger. We need to bring it out and create workplaces where it’s cool to be any age.

Ageism is Systemic

After working for years with women to look and feel their best, I have first-hand knowledge of how ageism is particularly cruel to our women. Starting with the media that would have us all believe a woman’s beauty melts rapidly with each passing year. Except for Shakespeare, who said, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety,” the rest of us are doomed to wither away, bombarded by messages that aging is a disease to be prevented with miracle solutions from an anti-aging industry.

Stand Up Against Ageism

Let’s celebrate getting older and create a guarantee our salon is for all ages. Let’s polish our awareness and avoid the small, well-meaning actions and words built into society. Let’s remember these actions are offensive to our older clients and coworkers. Take the ageism quiz below for more insights into how you truly feel about ageism. If you don’t want to come along, do this: always acknowledge and include a senior present and treat them the same as everyone else. If they need special consideration or attention, they will ask you.

Take the Ageism Quiz

Well-intentioned actions and words offend older clients and coworkers daily. Which statements below are correct or incorrect for you:

  1. I compliment older people on how well they look for their age.
  2. If an older client has an ailment, I think that is to be expected at their age.
  3. Older people should retire and make way for younger people.
  4. Older workers are less effective than younger ones.
  5. Older employees cause more accidents in the salon.
  6. Age is irrelevant, and hiring is about whether you can do the job regardless of age.
  7. “Old dear, sweetie, honey” are affectionate terms that can be used without any problem.
  8. Older people should avoid specific tasks because they will fail.
  9. Spare older adults’ feelings by hiding the truth from them.
  10. Always talk louder and slower to older clients because of their age.
  11. It’s okay to joke about older people’s age to make light of their advancing age.
  12. Always repeat what you say to older people without them asking.
  13. Older people shouldn’t be allowed to work because they are slow and fragile.
  14. It’s best to decide what to have done for an older salon client in the salon.
  15. Explaining styling options and giving advice to older salon clients is a waste of time 16.. Every elderly lady can usually look good and wear the same cut and style.
  16. Senior clients don’t want to hear anything but the price of salon services.
  17. It’s best to speak to a mature client without references to their age at all.
  18. Always speak to a younger family member about the senior client’s styling needs.
  19. A qualified older applicant for s job probably can’t handle the tasks.
  20. Older stylists usually can’t take instruction, especially from a younger boss.
  21. If a senior stylist has the skills and attitude, they should be considered for the job. 23. You can legally ask someone’s age in an interview, but it’s rude.
  22. You can’t use age as the basis for deciding on a job, promotion, or opportunity.
  23. Older stylists are less likely to create trendy styles than younger ones.

Answer Sheet:

  1. False: compliment them but leave out the “for your age” part.
  2. False: many seniors live a healthy ailment-free life until their passing
  3. False: older people can remain working if they are qualified
  4. False: older workers are equally efficient plus have experience
  5. False: statistically, older workers cause fewer accidents in the workplace
  6. True: employability is based on qualifications and attitude, not age
  7. False: the term connotates frailty, vulnerability, and inferiority and should be avoided
  8. False: older people perform tasks equally well as their younger adults.
  9. False: lies may only be used in cases of extreme dementia to avoid injury or fall
  10. False: unless the person suffers hearing loss, speaking louder is condescending
  11. False: joking about  any personal characteristics is offensive
  12. False: see #10
  13. False: see #8
  14. False: give older clients exactly the same service as younger 
  15. False: older clients are just as interested, if not more, in their styling options
  16. False: use standard adaptability and hair analysis techniques for styling older clients
  17. False: the final result is of equal value to cost for older adults.
  18. True: avoid “sweetie,” “honey,” “darling,” when speaking to seniors
  19. False: direct all your communication to the senior client first.
  20. False: interview the applicant’s qualifications, experience, and attitude like all others
  21. False: older adults will usually follow the lead, especially with new tasks.
  22. True: qualifications are the basis for hiring anyone
  23. True: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) says the question itself is legal. It’s illegal to use the response as a basis to determine employability or decide to fire, pass up on a promotion or opportunity. See below:
  24. True. hiring should be based on qualifications and attitude.
  25. False: a stylist’s creativity depends on their interest and education.
Ageism in the Salon
Ageism in the Salon

Carlos Valenzuela is a bilingual raconteur, success coach, ex-salon & beauty school owner, author of the award-winning novella, Letters to Young Carlos, about a gay boy’s struggles growing up along the US/Mexico border in the 60s. Visit his writings at

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