Saturday, March 7, 2009

Salon Stress

I have just cut my hair—it's what I'll call a "clean up" job. I think it's been almost a year since the last cut (can it be?), and I finally couldn't take my "recession hair" any longer. I went to a new stylist, in a salon about two blocks away from my apartment. Judging only by external appearances (not a reliable indicator, I admit), this salon seemed like a good compromise between my usual high-end stylist and the local Super Cuts type of shop. I've tried the chop shops, and I have to say that unfortunately my very straight, fine hair is not suited to their bargain techniques. Today's experiment paid off; it was the compromise I was hoping for: a lower price and maybe a slightly less sophisticated style, yet nothing that looks in the least bit bad. This blog is about memories, however, and speaking of bad . . . today's brief salon stress (the initial anxiety, when you first trust your head to a complete stranger, not knowing whether the person with the scissors can actually wield them properly) reminded me of a couple of pretty bad hair days/weeks/months. Actually, I don't care so much about my hair. I've always just known it'll just do its thing regardless of what I decide to do to it; that is, it will grow back. I have shaved it, dyed it various shocking colors, you name it. But it's one thing to give yourself crazy hair, and another thing entirely when some other person (whom you are supposed to pay handsomely) has their misguided way with you. Try this: the summer after my first year in college, I was visiting a family friend in California, and I decided I needed a haircut. I got a recommendation, an appointment . . . and some serious damage at the end of the day. I don't know if it was a linguistic problem (the language of hair care has its own vocabulary that is completely beyond me), or if the stylist was a sadist, or what. I'm sure it was probably not intentional, but why would you give a white chick like me, with poker-straight hair, a "body wave" and then chop the hair short enough to create something resembling an Afro? Was this supposed to look good? I had a feeling that something was not going right when the first bit of cutting was done, but it was too late already; it had to be even, so more came off. And of course when the hair was cut too short for the "waves" I thought I was getting, then I was left with hair that tightened up even more against my scalp. And I would like to blame my youth for the fact that I sat there in shocked silence, nodded as though I liked it, and paid some horrible price for a treatment that made me look like a poodle. When I flew back East, I begged my mom to cut it even shorter, in an attempt to just get past the damage; she agreed, since we both know it probably couldn't look any worse (it didn't, though it still didn't look good). But something about the salon experience strips away my usual assertiveness, and I've discovered that it's not just age-related. About a decade later, another disaster of a different kind: I'm sitting in another salon, fairly chichi. I've been here before, but this time there's a switch in the stylist, and I'm handed over to a woman I don't know. Initially, things seem fine. I watch her intently and can tell that she knows a thing or two about hair, style, geometry. She's a good cutter. Too good, it turns out. She's done the back, the top of my head, and moves down to around the face. Snip, snip, snip; blah, blah, blah. She's keeping up a patter, doing these little short, rapid half-snips with the scissors pointing almost straight up. Suddenly, I feel a small, sharp sting on my right cheek. I don't think too much about it, since it seems like just a small miscalculation (I've been nearly nicked before), and for some reason I've let myself forget that scissors can be dangerous (you forget that in a salon for some reason, other than the cautionary tales of scissors getting caught in earrings, but I am always careful to take mine out first). But then my cheek starts bleeding, and I see a little(-ish) V-shaped cut etched in crimson. The stylist starts blotting it with a tissue, fussing around me and apologizing profusely; she's rattled. More than I am, I think; again it seems I am in my own numbed out state of shock and non-response. The bleeding stops, and the stylist finishes the cut (my haircut, I mean, which is a darn good one). At the counter, I am charged the usual, very expensive price, and I am given some complimentary "products" as a gesture of apology. Products? I take them, pay, and leave. When I go, I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief in the salon: I have not made a scene; I have not threatened to sue the stylist or the salon; I have been silenced by some Bumble & Bumble SumoTech goop and who knows what else. I will say, it was the last time I went to that salon. I will also admit that I am not sure whether to be proud or ashamed of my lack of reaction. I am not usually the kind of person who avoids a good, honest confrontation, though I have never threatened to sue anyone, ever (a fact I am actually proud of). But these salons get me every time. The cut did not leave any kind of permanent mark, but I imagine it well could have. Lawsuits aside, did I really need to pay full price for this experience? I can only conclude that there is something about the socioeconomics here that stumps me. I suspect that in these high-end emporiums of beauty, no matter what I've ever paid to have my hair cut, some part of me has suspected that I did not belong there. Like I was an impostor, or someone trying to "pass" in a different class. You can call it a feeling of being "out of my league," or else maybe a deeper knowledge that, really, at those prices, it wasn't just that I didn't belong there: no one did. So now, although it's true my old stylist could have made me look a bit more "cutting edge" (pun intended), I am perfectly happy with my hair. I am even hoping that across the city, more and more women are having the same economic-downturn experience: liberating themselves from the tyranny of the haircut in three digits. Really, it was all too much.


  1. Ugh--B & B butchered my hair too. I didn't realize that I got off easy... Agree that it always has the potential to be traumatizing. Glad that you like your new do!

  2. Oops, I realize I should clarify, lest I accidentally spread bad rumors (or get hit with a defamation suit!):
    The salon where the stylist cut my check was NOT Bumble & Bumble... that's just the product they gave me in compensation for the drops of bloodshed. I have never been to B&B for a cut. And actually, the hair paste or whatever it was called (it wasn't gel, it was maybe pomade, or who knows... I call it all "goop") was pretty good. If I were a person who spent money on hair products, I'd consider buying it.