As a girl with long hair that I’m trying to grow down to my waist, I have a natural suspicion of hairdressers and their gleaming scissors anyway. When I was younger I would go to the same village hairdresser every six months to get my hair done, the perma-tanned stylist nattering away with my mum whilst she merrily hacked at my naturally bushy and curly hair until it resembled a triangular garden hedge. Nowadays it’s not quite so bad, but I still find the hairdressers an unpleasant and stressful experience.
First of all, the wash. The poor girl who ends up having to wash my hair usually balks in alarm on first sight of my thick crazy curls. One time I walked in and the assistants eyed each other knowingly, before giggling and shoving one sacrificial victim forward. It’s got to the point where I wash my hair the day of my visit to the hairdressers so it’s slightly less ridiculous looking. So if that isn’t humiliating enough, I have to crane my neck backwards in possibly the most uncomfortable position known to man while this girl battles with the thick hair using the tiniest comb ever.
Then, the actual cut. Being uninitiated in the complicated world of hairdressing terminology, I am asked a bewildering array of questions about what I want, and I end up nodding helplessly at anything that sounds as if they won’t cut too much off. The stylists themselves are always perfectly well-meaning and ask a lot of friendly questions, but as an awkward and shy person, I don’t have the ability to chat freely like a normal person with a stranger. Let alone raise my naturally quiet voice to the pitch needed to be heard over the din of hairdryers and chattering customers. The conversation therefore comes to a stuttering halt and the stylist carries on in exasperated silence.
Finally comes the ‘reveal.’ This is the moment when your haircut has finished, the product has been dolloped into your locks and they ask you what you think. Now let’s all be honest, the finished result is never how you imagine it to be, is it? The fringe is always a little too short or you realise that maybe you should have asked for longer layers. But you can’t turn around and say that you hate it. That’s not hairdressing etiquette and so you tell yourself it’ll look better when it grows out a bit. Which it usually does.
But at the present moment, your heart sinks a little and as the stylist shows you the back of your head with a mirror (which is incidentally pointless and the only time you’ll ever see that particular place) you smile and nod. Just smile and nod…the motto of my life.
Originally published on The Yorker 23rd August 2010