Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The power of the stylist

Women and their hair. It's a complex, strange relationship that extends unreasonably beyond the self to include others. We talk about our hair to friends, sisters, mothers. Aunts, cousins, coworkers. And, of course, our stylists.

This is not something shared by the males of our species. I've never, ever heard a guy say, "Wow, those are great highlights. Where'd you go?" or bemoan the fact that their barber just doesn't get it anymore and they're gonna have to find someone new.

Women, though. Yeah.

I lamented months ago about finding a new stylist since I had left my place of employment and wasn't about to go back. I pretty much choose my stylists mostly based on whims. I found one by driving by a salon, getting stopped at a red light outside, and seeing the guy through the window. Sometimes I ask total strangers with cute haircuts who they see, and then try that person. This is not rocket science for me. Changing stylists for most women, though, is a Big. Damn. Deal.

Stylists are important. You trust this person with your head, the most visible part of you. A bad cut or color can mean months of agony and cringing in front of any reflective surface. When you find someone you like, someone who gets it, you stick around. When you stick around, you find yourself confessing things to your stylist that you might not tell your best friend. It's therapeutic or something. Maybe it's because there is already perceived intimacy with someone touching your head and making your hair look pretty. Maybe it's because you see this person every four to six weeks and typically, that person doesn't touch any other part of your life. Your stylist becomes equal parts beautifier, confessor, counselor.

This, then, means you have now developed a relationship with someone. Which means when you want to leave, you find it damn near impossible because of the guilt. Self-inflicted, we know, but there nonetheless. Someone I know likened it to breaking up with a boyfriend. It's that bad. You know it's the end, but you just don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

In the past week, two women whom I admire both confessed that they are in a bit of a pickle with their stylists. One thought she was off the hook when the stylist announced her pregnancy. Her plan was to simply disappear during the maternity leave and never return. Sounds perfect, except that the sneaky stylist decided to take only four weeks off in order to avoid losing any clients. Damn. Foiled.

The other woman recently bought a Groupon special for my new salon. Since I had seen Ruth I felt comfortable recommending her to my friend. My friend went last night, and today her hair looks fabulous. Good cut, fantastic color. She lamented about it to me in the parking lot at Zo's school this morning. "She did a great job. Now what do I do? I feel like I have to go back to my old stylist but I really like the new stylist!" She's gone 'round the bend with this, and gotten herself beholden to not just one stylist like most of us, but two at the same time. Her story is complicated by the fact that she cannot simply disappear from the old stylist with no repercussions: her mom and sister go to the old stylist, and the stylist even showed up recently at her mother-in-law's funeral.

This woman, a working professional with a college degree, told me how she sat in Ruth's chair last night and lectured herself, "When she asks if I want to book another appointment, just say no. Just say no. Just say no. Say you'll have to check your schedule." As she was getting ready to leave, Ruth asked her if she would like to book another appointment. Her response? "Sure!"

She said she sat in the chair at the beginning of her appointment and watched Ruth take 15 minutes to figure out the perfect color, holding up color swatches to her face and checking the texture of her hair. She thought to herself, "Wow, she really knows what the f*ck she's doing. Damn." We laughed this morning about it. "Well, shit. She's competent!"

My trick to dealing with changing stylists, now that I've left the salon (and before I ever started working there), is to just disappear into the night and find a new stylist when I'm sick of the old one. When I was at the salon, though, I was a complete coward and would jump through hoops to change stylists. I would check schedules and book a last-minute appointment with the new stylist on the one day the old stylist was off, then I'd hide in my office after the cut just to avoid confrontation. Most of them were professional and never said anything. I caught some flack from a few, and would mumble something about being desperate and, well, "You weren't around, so..." Which made it sound like I fell into an open appointment rather than obsessively checking the books every day for weeks.

My friend this morning said she once tried to leave a stylist by using my "disappear into the night" tactic, only to find that the woman started calling her regularly, leaving messages and questioning why she wasn't coming back.

This, to me, is crazy. I mean, I get that we all have to make a living, but a.) it's my hair, not hers, b.) it's a free country which means I get to pick who does my hair (I think it's right there in the constitution, implied maybe, after the whole "pursuit of happiness" thing...pursuit of happiness and good hair) and c.) harassing me is definitely not going to make me want to come back.

But, you know, the relationship is there. And the added bonus of knowing that your stylist has mouths to feed based on your services and your tips. You're not just walking away from your stylist, you're abandoning her family for gawd's sake. And since you think of your stylist like a relative (because you've confessed to her that you stash Thin Mints in your nightstand so no one else in your house will eat them), that makes her children almost like your own children and for the love of all that is holy you wouldn't starve your own children, would you?! Would you?

Eh. It's just an interesting phenomena I've observed due to two women in my life dealing with it right now. What about you? If you're female, let me know if you have "stylist break-up" issues. I'm curious to see just how far this goes. (And, not to discriminate, if you're male and you've had stylist break-up issues, we'll listen to your story, too.)(Freak.)


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