7 ethical dilemmas of a freelance beauty professional
It’s easy to think about conscious beauty as being just about the products and tools we use – but it’s more than that. As professionals, as artists, as individuals, we face ethical dilemmas daily. We experience them throughout our careers. Whether you are just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro, here are seven ethical dilemmas of the job, and our advice on how to handle them in good conscience.
The fashion and film industries may seem glamourous to those looking in from the outside, but if you’re an insider, you know that this industry is not all air kisses and rosé. While it may be exciting and creative on a good day, on a bad day, it’s a hard, fickle industry riddled with exploitation and questionable ethics. Gone are the days of old where a veil of mystery covered what goes on behind the scenes. Social media means the world can see when you’re not living up to your IG bio. Today, the trajectory of your career comes down to more than just your talent. While talent is what will get you noticed, it’s your professionalism and principals that will keep you in the game for the long term.
On accepting Work
“I know who I am; I know what
I can and can’t do. I know what I will and won’t do!”
– Dolly Parton
Should I work for free?
Firstly, define the scope of the “work” and then determine what “free” means to you. It doesn’t always have to equal money.
It’s easy to lump the physical act of doing hair/makeup/beauty treatments as work; however, many of us have become artists because of our love for the craft. Because of this, it’s easy to accept free work
a) for the promise of exposure/paid work in the future or;
b) just to have a creative outlet.
As a rule of thumb, you should not work for free if:
- the “work” is for commercial purposes (i.e. at least one party will be using the images/film to sell goods or services) – regardless of the size of the brand or company (by all means, adjust your rate accordingly to the size of the brand);
- everyone else is getting paid except you;
- they promise you paid work in the future (it very rarely comes).
There are always exceptions, of course:
- if it’s for a charity organisation (although, most large charities are obligated to pay a set fee for marketing material. In the UK that’s usually £250 for hair and makeup);
- if there is a mutually-beneficial exchange of the product/service. Many smaller brands will have no marketing budget at all, but will happily give you products in exchange for your time. Just remember to agree on a financial value on the product exchange upfront and negotiate if that is at cost price to them or the RRP of the products. It’s also worth taking into account if the products/services are suitable for you. Do you like the designer’s garments? Do the products suit your skin/hair? Might it be something you could gift to a friend or loved one that you might have to lay out cash to purchase anyway?
- if it’s a mutually beneficial shoot for the entire team and the images aren’t going to be sold by the photographer/filmmaker at a later date.
Questions to ask yourself: Is it a brand/business that is likely to benefit financially? Is it a “play-date” with other creatives? What is the benefit I get out of investing my time, expertise and product?
Top tip: Have a set of t&c’s that you get the client/producer/photographer to sign before you confirm the job.
My friend/colleague passed on a job to me s/he couldn't do, and now the client wants to book me again. How do I manage this?
First and foremost, remember that you cannot “steal” work from anyone – unless you have knowingly and intentionally undercut them – and that is unethical.
You are being rebooked because the client was happy with what you did, or liked your attitude on set, etc. Sometimes it’s because your aesthetic is right for a brief, or your friend/colleague was unavailable, so they have reached out to you again. Or you are simply top of mind. It’s usually a combination of factors. If you’re feeling uneasy because of it, politely ask the client why they reached out to you instead of their regular person.
If you do get rebooked by a client for a second time, it’s always good to contact your friend/colleague and just let them know – out of respect. Obviously, it’s not always easy for the person that might have lost out on work, but it always helps to understand why – so if it’s a professional reason, we/they can ensure to up their game in the future.
My regular client has dropped the rate for a regular gig. Should I still work with them?
In an ideal world, rates should never go down, but they do. Marketing budgets fluctuate depending on how well the company is doing and what they focused their ad spend on. I’d expect that when we can get back to work after this pandemic has passed and it’s safe to do so, this is something we will have to consider a lot.
Much like deciding whether to work for “free”, this will really depend on you and your personal circumstances. If it’s a client that you enjoy working with or they book you regularly enough to warrant a small drop in your fee and/or would like to maintain a good working relationship – then you might consider working for a reduced fee. Instead of reducing the rate, let them know that you are prepared to give them a discount on this occasion. Be sure to reflect your usual fee and the discounted amount on your invoice. This way, the next time they ask you to work with them, the price will be based on the regular fee and not the discounted one!
I disagree with the ethics or value of a brand that is wanting to book me but they are paying good money. Should I take the job?
If you can afford to say no, then do so. We are facing a climate, ecological and social emergency. Working for companies that continue to mistreat people, and the Planet means you are still part of that value chain.
The price of saying yes to working with a brand whose principals don’t align with your own might bring you some short term financial gain – but could cost you in the long run. The cost could be to your own sense of self, guilt, or even to your reputation if you are positioning yourself as a conscious creative.
Of course, you need to pay the bills, so a flat out “no” is not always feasible for your own financial sustainability.
Spend some time writing down your personal values and setting some boundaries as to what kind of brands you will and won’t work with based on their ethics. Realistically, not working with brands you don’t share common values with is unfortunately not something that can be achieved overnight, but having clear goals about the legacy you want to leave behind will help you steer clear of the worst offenders.
My dream job has just come up, but I already have a confirmed booking. Can I cancel on my client?
Obviously, it’s not good practice to cancel a confirmed job. There are, however, times when we need to. If you do need to cancel a confirmed (outside of illness);
- first, find a suitable replacement/s who is available on the shoot date/s and willing to work to the terms of the confirmed job;
- next, contact the client and let them know the situation. Explain that you have found a suitable replacement – or provide them with a few options. Ask them if, under the circumstance, they would consider releasing you from the job. Be mindful that they might not agree to it, in which case you should honour the original commitment.
Bear in mind, that they might agree to a replacement, but you may lose the client in the long term. So it is essential to weigh up all your options before you cancel on a client, as that dream job may not, in fact, be so dreamy after all.
We may be artists, but we are also human beings. We have a responsibility to ourselves and others to stand up for those who can’t speak up and acknowledge those who have come before us.
Someone is being mistreated on set, what can I do?
If you see anyone being bullied, or unfairly treated or inappropriately spoken to and you can see they are upset, you can take them aside at an opportune time and let them know that you’re there for them. Sometimes that is enough, other times you should absolutely escalate it to the most senior person on set.
In the instance that is the most senior person on set doing the bullying or mistreating, just make sure the person knows they can come to talk to you during the day should they need too. If, for example, the photographer is asking the model to do something they are clearly uncomfortable with or falls outside the scope of the shoot brief, you should voice it aloud to the photographer and the team. Also, escalate it the model’s agent if need be.
If you are being bullied or mistreated, (and it’s appropriate) take the person aside and let them know that you won’t accept this kind of treatment in your work environment. Most bullying comes from people who are incredibly insecure – or just have an inflated ego. By standing up to them – in a professional way, of course – they will learn their behaviour is unacceptable.
If the situation doesn’t allow for you standing up for yourself (it doesn’t always), find an ally on set and go speak to them. Let them know what has happened so you have support – and a witness, should you need one. If you have no support on set, call your agent or a colleague and explain the situation, so you don’t feel so alone. We all have a right to feel safe at work.
While this may mean that you fall out of favour with the photographer/client, then so be it. Do you really want to work with/for people that treat others that way?
Dealing with plagiarism.
We live in an age where we are constantly bombarded with imagery. In fact, we see upwards of 5000 ads a day! Be that on in print, on television or digitally like on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook or just browsing the web. The originators of the works often aren’t credited in the image files that eventually get added to our moodboards.
We might not even realise we have seen something, but a little seed has been planted in our brains. It’s easy to see something and have it inspire the work we create without being aware of having seen it. Other times ideas are in the zeitgeist, and people’s attention is focused on the same things, resulting in similar ideas and outcomes.
The ethical dilemma comes in when a poignant work or style of another artist is replicated without credit or acknowledgement. If a client asks you to replicate another artists work, suggest some small changes you could make to the look to ensure your own integrity, while still fulfilling the brief. It’s also always nice to tag or reference the artist who inspired you the look in the first instance and acknowledge the source of the inspiration. You never know, they might even share your post.
This will undoubtedly happen to all of us in our careers – on both sides of the conversation. How you handle a situation like this shows a lot about your own character.
The age-old saying “always treat others like you would like to be treated” rings true. At the end of the day, you need to decide if you’re in this profession for the long game or you’re just buying some time. A sound reputation gets you far in this industry, and a strong moral compass is becoming all the more important as we navigate our way into a new world order. Remember, we are not just artists, we are our own brand, and we run a business – albeit a ‘one-person shop’. If you want clients to treat you with respect, you have to respect yourself enough to act not only professionally, but ethically too.