Work Will Ruin Your Body


My Nana was a beautician for fifty (million) years. She ran a beauty shop from her basement on the south side of Chicago. She managed to keep the books, order chemical and supplies, and ‘do’ hair — all while raising three kids and taking care of my grandfather. Not easy. That side of my family is high maintenance.

Even though I liked cutting and coloring my own hair, Nana told me that I wasn’t allowed to be a beautician. It’s tough on the knees and causes long-term back problems. And she was right. By the time she died in 2005, her body was shot.

I think about that all of the time. Nana wasn’t working a construction job. She wasn’t a plumber. She didn’t work on a fishing boat. She stood. She gossiped. She cut hair. Like a factory job. And I look around and see a million other ‘factory’ jobs.

  • Retail
  • Corporate offices
  • Fast food
  • Government
  • Grocery stores

These jobs are everywhere — and it’s not like you see a tremendous amount of money being invested in efficient or safe work spaces. You see some money in preventative programs (usually outsourced) but more money invested in dealing with injuries and chronic absences. And often, workers will quit (or get fired) before they really even know they’re injured.

I often think about the kid who folds pants at The Gap. Or the chick who makes my milkshakes at Cook Out. Or the social media manager who sits in his cube and monitors brand awareness and engagement via his iPad.

Dang if those people don’t need to watch out for problems later in life.

You can stretch. You can readjust. You can take breaks. But I wonder how much you can really do for someone like my Nana who cuts and colors hair for over 50 years? I always assumed the permanent wave chemicals would give her cancer. Who knew the biggest trouble would come from standing?

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