I last had a haircut in January 2020.
It’s not COVID concerns that are keeping me from going back to the hair salon. Rather it’s what transpired at that appointment. Like a bad breakup I keep replaying it in my mind. But it’s not a broken record at all. It’s one I select on occasion for the record player — pausing at points, coming back to it again weeks later, trying to make some sense of what lesson is intended for me.
Women, and men for that matter, are keenly aware of the challenges of finding adequate stylists for their grooming needs. The beauty industry is quite the behemoth as we all know. So, why is it that finding someone you like and trust can be a years long journey when the industry is saturated with options?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it boils down to communication — the two-way kind: to express and to receive. Which is hard as F in relationships. Romantic ones, friendships, and familial. So why do we think we’re going to be successful in having a person we see once every few weeks understand us, our desires and needs?
Lindsey and I had a good thing going. She was calm and mature, still a good 5+ years younger than me. She understood my lifestyle of wash and go, she understood my hair texture, she understood my likings, and I felt great in her chair. But she moved to Denver to be with her long time boyfriend. Ugh I was so happy for her. Thus, a referral to another stylist at the salon was in order. The New Girl was someone that I had used prior for a blow dry or two. She seemed solid enough. I was hopeful.
By the time my second (or third?) haircut was approaching, I realized I wasn’t happy with how my hair was growing. I wondered why it had these short layers in it that I initially didn’t notice. Show of hands for anyone that likes short layers? Yep, no one. Well, I imagine there is a cut for that to be fair (please do tell). The time between appointments was purposely extended to allow my hair to grow out and to schedule around an international trip New Girl had on the books. I decided I will tell her that my layers are too short and causing my hair to look scraggly, and I have worked very hard to grow healthy hair. I’m talking no highlights for years, minimal coverage of gray and toner for old color still present at the tips. I had a plan, and I felt fine about it.
I plop down in her chair after a few pleasantries. I tell her that I want to keep the look long but I’m ok with a 1 inch or even 1.5 inch trim because my hair does not feel healthy on the tips. I expressed I’m not sure how to work around the issue of my layers for my desired result. When she did not seem to acknowledge, I lifted a layer from the crown of my head to illustrate the challenge. “They are short, huh?” She locked eyes with me in the mirror with a look that seemed like I was being ridiculous and said, “They are fine for your overall hair’s length.”
I should’ve known then. But next she bent close and said, “I know what you like.” And flashed a quick smile.
We head to shampoo and back, start up a conversation with me asking New Girl about her recent mission trip to Nigeria, her second that year roughly. We had chatted about how amazing the first trip was in preparation for her return.
She was less thrilled this time around. Like anything in life a new experience lights up the brain waves eliciting an excitement and awe that can never be replicated. Which is why us humans hang on to a lot of firsts this and firsts that. Meanwhile, New Girl has cut a significant few inches off the perimeter of my hair. She’s deep into talking about her trip and everything she has going on with her classes, etc. I think to myself ok, I told her I wanted the LOOK of length so she must know her method to accomplish that. She’s sharing how the group she traveled with included a few people that impacted the dynamic. I’m mm-hmming along as I observe the length of the dark masses on the tile floor. Now she’s pivoted to a reference example to ascertain her experience — a friend who was in Poland on another mission trip (I think? Dark piles of hair. Do they have mission trips in Poland? Maybe it was a layover.) told her a Black girl in their group claimed the people at the cafe were being racist toward her. She stops cutting my hair. Literally stops.
She holds the scissors in her hand in a sort of gesture, locks eyes with me in the mirror again and says, “Come on, why would they be racist to her there? Some people, really.” She concludes with an exasperated eye roll.
Verbal nodding has stopped. I stare back at her in the mirror with a glazed expression. Shock. There is so much running through my brain. Here are the stream of thoughts in the closest order I can remember them: oh man, how must have the Black girl felt when she shared her experience and was not legitimized by her group? Did they show her they didn’t believe her? Wow, that sucks. Hello!! Of course they were racist to her!!! How are you questioning the validity of HER experience? Is New Girl for real telling me this shit like it’s ok? She can see I’m not White, right? So does she think racism is an American thing only? Does she not have an understanding of world history and imperialism? And its colonizers? Specifically, how that impacts race relations all over the world for Black people? For Brown people? For any people that are not White? She did just go to Nigeria, right? And this is a Christian mission, right? Wouldn’t the message of this faith and a freaking trip to Africa give this girl some compassion and knowledge? Not that I’m one to make a blanket association of religion linked to a kind heart (or an open mind), but all the assumptions were coming up as the streams of thought took over.
Neither of us talk now. She is relaxed, quietly shattering my hair shafts. When I come to, I realize she has taken the blade of her scissors and is scraping off chunks of hair from my crown to thin it out. I am in horror. I see my hair that was full and healthy getting destroyed. For anyone that has experienced this, it’s taking strands of hair and essentially razoring it with the scissor blade so that it starts off normal texture at the top of the hair shaft and tapers at the bottom weakened in thickness or cut off entirely.
<Feel free to skip this part. I needed to write it down forever for any other haircut ever.> My hair is thick and I have a lot of it, tempting new stylists to get rid of the weight. A slight thinning does help, but the only way I’ve preferred is where it’s on the under layers of my hair. Not the top portion of my hair. This is the opposite of what should be done to someone with thick hair that tends to frizz because it creates a huge puff with the appearance of layers all around as short as where your jawline starts. Long length requires the subtlest layers that are almost invisible.
I cannot tell her to stop though. Nor do I know if I care. I just want it to be done.
As I’ve replayed this entire appointment in my head pre-coronavirus, pre-Red, White, Blue Lives matter just as much as Black Lives Matter bullshit, it’s akin to a break-up where you didn’t get to say what you wanted because you didn’t know what to say. I realize that my inability to speak was tied to many things, firstly the shock that I felt at the story she told me. Then, the confusion of her actually being comfortable enough to tell me. And the overarching dismay that New Girl and her friend actually believed the perceptions of a difficult Black girl playing the race card to be a normal thought process at all.
I’ve been told by partners, friends, and family many times in my life that I don’t express myself well and don’t communicate my feelings or what I want. There are reasons for that of course. I’ve never disagreed. I’ve believed this about myself. That it’s me. That someone doesn’t understand me because of me. That someone does not see me because of me. That I’m the problem.
In a very bizarre way that I did not expect on a Tuesday afternoon, I finally realize that it is not me. Yes, I have been afraid to make people feel bad in the past. Yes, I’ve been too vague in my requests. Yes, I’ve shown detachment instead of true emotion. And yes, I felt tremendous guilt for not speaking up in that specific moment and questioning the assumptions being made of someone neither one of us knew. 8 months later as I wash up for bed and find myself still obsessively examining my damaged hair, I understand that it’s her.
And it’s people like her — people in every industry and in every home — that are committed to misunderstanding you. That are committed to seeing through only their lens. That are committed to their protective ego identity that makes them feel they are right regardless of what you express. You can scream from the rooftops and sure, they hear you. For a second. But they revert back almost instantaneously to their interpretation versus being open to receive what’s in front of them. She was not able to question her understanding of that Black girl’s experience, she was not able to decipher which client was sitting in her chair that day to share such a story with, and she sure as hell didn’t accept my concerns and dissatisfaction with my hair when I entered that salon. And I am done believing that the blame lies with me.