I dread getting my hair cut, with a type of feverish passion that could spark a national revolution.
Why? I have a hard time accepting that I do not have flawless, long, naturally wavy hair that is both gorgeous and easy to maintain.
I haven’t had a good experience within the chatty confines of a hair salon since a visit to California two years ago. That young, hip stylist commented on the good aspects of my unruly mini fro as opposed to being so distracted by dry roots and dead ends.
She didn’t command me to have my hair shampooed prior to her doing her work, nor did she slam expensive products that I knew wouldn’t make a bit of difference down my throat.
She talked sweetly and softly about her previous client while I stared at my dried out mop in the mirror. Within seven minutes she was done, trimming up what she could, allowing me to pay and leave without a single negative comment.
My hair looked virtually the same, albeit shorter as I walked out, but I was calm, and there were no tears or otherwise dramatic aftermath.
That is not typically the case.
I had a mullet when I was a little girl. I think everyone had a similar awful cut as a youngin’, but I specifically remember this burning hate rising up within me because the unruly natural curls that drew attention to my less than all Caucasian mix were overwhelming and unmanageable.
I had a poof in the front, a frizzy mess in the back, and a self worth of negative 27 until my junior year of high school. No, I didn’t dare rock a mullet until then—I simply figured out how to pull it back with enough goopy product and hair spray that it would neither move nor expose me.
When I turned 17, I chopped off eleven inches and let my ringlet curls be free, frizz and all. It was a shock to my white friends as we all met in the gym for the first of many all-student presentations that fall, as it seemed it was the first moment anyone distinguished me as that different, out loud.
My face was not hidden behind the poof, and in that moment, I felt comfortable enough to let me be me. I let it grow a bit, creating my own asymmetrical fro, dyed the pitch black mess deep purple, and went about my life. It defined me for a while, and I quickly accepted that in an effort to push aside my laundry list of insecurities.
At some point between my short stint at a traditional university and today, I’ve fallen back on hate with my frizzy friend. There are days I want to stay in bed, hat perfectly cocked to one side, hood up hiding what stresses me out the most about my appearance. I can handle chubby, I can handle a break out, I can even handle a less than flattering wardrobe. I cannot, however, handle a bad hair day.
I walked into the den of doom this morning—the salon—promptly 10 minutes late for my scheduled appointment. I was hoping my diva dresser would have been so upset with my tardiness she would reschedule our therapy session. I haven’t been feeling beautiful lately, and this wasn’t going to help. Alas, I knew I was almost a month overdue, as my hair was starting to refuse to cooperate in any sense of the word.
To my surprise, she greeted me with a huge smile and said she was excited to see me on such a beautiful Friday morning, her tone genuine. My shoulders relaxed down from attack position, and my heart rate noticeably slowed. She walked me over to the death trap also known as her station and asked what we would be creating today.
Creating? I laughed in my head thinking, girl, if you can just make me less of a hot mess, I’ll tip you well. As she started to separate out the to-be-highlighted portions of my rat nest, I looked up and noticed something amazing in front of me. Not two feet away was my untanned, make-up free face.
I sat there quietly as the hustle of the salon swarmed around me, staring into the eyes of someone with an old tattered soul and sad gaze reciprocated. She looked a bit tired, with puffy dark circles highlighting the faint freckles that were scattered across pointy cheek bones, and the pull from the stylist on her damaged and dry hair made the sparkle in her eye catch the light above the mirror more than usual. Lightly colored specks littered the dark brown heart breakers, and naturally curled black eyelashes perfectly framed the stern but oddly subtle look she shot back at me.
Able to examine my own face in a way that I had not done in years, I saw something new. Beauty, simply put. My salon trips are drenched in chaotic emotion, not necessarily directly correlated to my challenging curls, but emotion nonetheless. I generally sit picking at my cuticles—a task I’ve taken to over the years as a way to pass time when I am uncomfortable in a situation I cannot escape—staring at anything other than my reflection.
I have a tendency to point out the flaws, which in my mind are countless, but today, that reflection and I had a brief moment of understanding. The sadness that came through those eyes was directed only at me, obviously based on the very true realization that I rarely see what others do. People say that to me often, but I brush it off as a nicety and move on without paying it any mind.
Don’t get me wrong—I have moments where I catch a quick view of myself, usually in a suit, strutting in the city on my way to a client meeting where I feel both pretty and powerful, but those are few and far between. Today, though, there was no escaping her gaze, and she ultimately won. I felt beautiful, even with hair tangled up in foil drenched in chemical and nothing more than a slight powdery cover of foundation on my face.
I caught a glimpse of what those around me see on what I would assume to be a fairly regular basis, and I felt content.
My hair turned out the same as always—bluntly colored an off shade of plum, and shorter than when I arrived at the salon, but the true magic of a morning of pampering came as I sat staring, probably awkwardly, at my own face—drowning out the ever present noise around me and focusing in on what was important in that moment.
Hours after I got home, I was back to normal: stressing about what to wear that evening and the tasks I had put off for the week that needed to get done before the weekend truly started. My moment did not last as long as I would have hoped, but the fact that it happened, in mind my at least, is a beautiful and powerful thing.
Here’s to more revelations for each of us, both in and out of the salon.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons