During the COVID lockdown, one of the most frequent questions among my friends (from the category of first-world-problems, that is) has been, “When will hair salons re-open?” They need a trim or to have their roots and highlights retouched. When I’ve Zoomed with these women, they look lovely, and their hair looks the same as when the salons were open. Luckily, my friends are law-abiding types; none of them is breaking lockdown or protesting the hardship of life without a hair salon, like that gal shrieking from her truck during a mass protest in the US, “Look at my roots!” Those are not my people.
The temporary shut-down of hair salons has made me grateful that I gave up colouring my hair. It’s been five years now, and I am totally at ease with the silvery hues and streaks in my hair. As for needing a trim, well, that’s more complicated. You see, I possess an almost pathological fear of hair salons. I hate them. I would take a dentist appointment any day over a hair appointment. With hair salons in lockdown I feel liberated.
I realise I am at odds with my sisterly tribe on this. Most love the pampering that comes with a salon visit, of having someone wash their hair and massage their head, then escort them to the big chair, perhaps ply them with the offer of a drink. It sounds like the lead up to an execution, does it not? When the hairdresser arrives, brandishing a pair of gleaming scissors, my friends greet them with a smile and chatty conversation while nonchalantly leafing through a glossy magazine. That is so not me.
I can survive the hair wash and head massage but once I’m in the chair I become a white-knuckle customer. I’ve tried to lose myself in a magazine only to be repeatedly told by the hairdresser, “Please look up and straight ahead.” I want to scream: “And face the mirror? No!” Once the ordeal is over, I do my liar’s best, professing eager agreement on how much better my hair looks, and how delighted I am with the result. I’ll say anything as long as I can get the hell out of there. It was one of the reasons I stopped colouring my hair: to shorten the time I must spend in a salon.
When I arrive home from the salon, my husband will invariably say, “I thought you were getting your hair done.” I manage not to burst into tears.
There are several theories for tonsurephobia, the Greek term for a fear of having a hair cut:
It begins, as most things do, with mother. She constantly criticised my hair and tried to tame it, and when her ministrations failed she was brought low with sobs at how unruly it was despite her attempts to perm it, colour it, and take scissors to it. She had many talents but hair dressing was not one of them.
Another reason is the atmosphere in most salons, choked with hair-sprayed air and gossipy shrill chatter bouncing off all those mirrors and shiny, glossy surfaces. The presence of so much pink reminds me of the time I begged to have cotton candy and when finally given it I gobbled half of it and promptly threw up. Admittedly, the salon I currently patronise (on occasion) lacks the pink aesthetic: it has brick walls and industrial décor, but it still has mirrors.
The third problem is not knowing how to ask boldly and specifically for what I want, which is essentially for a new head of fully cooperative, bouncy hair. When it doesn’t materialise after shelling out a small fortune disappointment follows.
I have not always avoided salons. Hair goes through many styles. I’ve had super-short hair and long hair. When I was younger, my hair was full and naturally wavy, but with age it has become finer and straighter though some days it catches a sort of second wind and returns to a full and wavy state. This never happens when I want it to. Still, it doesn’t stop me wondering: ‘What should I do about my hair’? Do I look better with short hair or long hair?’ I do not possess the wherewithal to know this myself.
Lockdown, however, has relieved me of the pressure to care. I was booked for a hair appointment a few weeks before my book tour in Toronto, but when COVID cancelled all the events I was able to cancel the hair appointment without an iota of regret.
As the weeks have progressed, I have breezily gone through the days not giving my hair much thought. I wash it every second day, as you do, and I usually blow dry it because my hair is fine and prone to a fly-away condition if it is not reined in by a round brush and jets of hot hair. But the other day, I noticed that it has become long, longer than it has been in decades. Well-passed-my-shoulders long. And I don’t mind it. It is easily tied back or clipped up if it gets in the way or if the weather gets hot. The only serious mistake I have made was trying to cut bangs. I followed all the instructions on youtube and still messed it up. As I tried to incrementally correct my error a voice inside kept yelling, “Just put down the scissors!” Which I finally did. It will grow out eventually.
It’s true, that with my semi-feral hair a part of me feels like I am slipping dangerously into Patti Smith territory, but then so what? She’s obviously not fussed about her hair; why should I be about mine?
Now, 12 weeks into self-isolation, hair salons are ramping up for the re-opening. Naturally, I feel sympathy for those hairdressers who have been laid off for months, and I wish them well when salons reopen. Many clients will be relieved, clamouring for their skills,. Bless them. But I feel no need or urgency to join the queue for an appointment. I don’t have travel plans until October (providing we can travel internationally by then) so I can put off a salon visit until the end of September. By then, the second wave of COVID will have struck, forcing salons to another shut down. I can’t imagine I’ll be disappointed.