Hair Today—Gone Tomorrow?

When my husband needs a haircut, he says, “I think I’ll go get a haircut.” He breezes out the door and is back in an hour.

For me it’s a life-altering decision.

When I’m dissatisfied with my hair, it colors my entire life (pun intended). Bad hair puts me in a mood to match. So, back in the fall, when the haircuts weren’t working, they left me in a perpetual state of agitation.

But oh, change is tough. A woman develops loyalty to whoever puts scissors to her hair, let alone colors it, and rightfully so. Talk about trust issues. When the time comes for a change, it feels like betrayal. Just asking my friends for recommendations or browsing the yellow pages or scouting salons online felt like I was sneaking around.

Drastic measures

Changing hairdressers requires much soul-searching and justification, tallying grievances that make a drastic move not only desirable but also necessary. Here are a few of mine:

  • S/he cut it too short.
  • S/he didn’t cut it short enough.
  • S/he was running late.
  • S/he was distracted.
  • S/he talked too much.
  • S/he didn’t listen to what I said I wanted.

And so, after agonizing for weeks and then acting on a whim (if I didn’t act on a whim I would never, ever pick up the phone), I called a hair stylist a friend had recommended. I figured it would be weeks before I could get in, but NO. He had an opening the following Saturday. “Noon,” he said.

“Noon?” I repeated, stupidly.

“Yes. Noon.”

“I’ll take it,” I said.

For two nights before that appointment, I had nightmares about haircuts gone bad. I vacillated between guilt and terror. What had I done? Well, I had betrayed a perfectly good hair stylist, that’s what.

It’s only hair.           

When Saturday came, armed with my photo of Helen Mirren with short hair, I set out. I gripped the steering wheel hard. I had sweaty palms. It felt like a trip to the dentist. I told myself, it’s only hair. 

The salon was small and quiet, only a couple of customers on Saturday at noon. I tried to appear nonchalant, like someone who tries out a new hair stylist every other month or so, but I must have been ashen because the stylist zeroed right in on my case of nerves.

“It’s going to be okay,” s/he said, like a parent reassuring a kid with a skinned knee.

I considered bolting, but I didn’t. I wondered, sitting there, waiting, why haircuts make me so nervous. And then I remembered.

The monstrous machine

The Bad Perm
The Bad Perm

When I was a little girl, I had really pretty hair. In most photographs, it’s shiny and clean and nicely curled, usually with a big bow. But my mother must have gotten tired of taking care of it. That’s the only explanation I can fathom for why, when I was three, maybe going on four, she took me to the beauty parlor over the drugstore, up the same stairs to where the doctor’s office was. I had been in that beauty shop before with my mother. Somebody had probably trimmed my hair. I’d seen women sit under the permanent wave machine, a monster of a thing with long tentacles that attached to their heads. I’d never dreamed it could happen to me, but that day, it did. My mother apparently wanted my hair short and carefree. Somebody cut my long hair off, and then I sat under that machine, breathing in the awful permanent wave solution fumes, those fumes and fear and humiliation making me cry.

I remember that, when we got home, I refused to look in the mirror. I don’t remember ever looking, although at some point I must have. I couldn’t have avoided mirrors for the long time it took for the awful frizzy perm to grow out. You can see for yourselves in the photo how bad it was. 

What possessed my mother? I have no idea. Whatever it was, she must have felt guilty because by my fifth birthday, my hair was long again, and pretty.

Back to the present

Of course, the encounter with the new stylist wasn’t perfect, either. There were a few problems:

  • S/he was running late.
  • S/he cut it too short.
  • S/he talked too much.
  • S/he didn’t listen to what I said I wanted.

I’ll stick with this stylist for a while, though. After all, I’ve made the break, and making up is just too hard. I’ve already gone back a second time, and this time, I let this new person, this person I hardly know, color my hair. Now that, my friends, is trust. And, would you believe—I like it!

Do you have hair horror stories? If so, share them here!

22 thoughts on “Hair Today—Gone Tomorrow?

  1. I had long hair to my waist as a child. My Mom would braid it every day, carefully combing out the snarls and tangles–which I hated. She tried to get me to take care of it myself in 6th grade, but I wasn’t interested, so she took me to a stylist to get my hair cut. We drove all the way to Los Angeles, which was a very big deal in the days before freeways. When the stylist took the rollers out of my newly shorn locks and arranged them, I burst into tears. I looked exactly like Little Orphan Annie, barring the orange hair and white eyes. It took me years to figure out how to deal with my fine, curly, unruly mop.

    • Oh, how sad. But you *did* figure it out, I bet. I struggle with my hair still; I’m vain, I suppose. I’m amazed by the stories in the comments to this piece! Thanks for sharing yours.

  2. I had long beautiful hair when I was little also, until it was time to start school. Then my mother decided it would be too hard to fix in the morning so she took the scissors to it 😦 She didn’t use a bowl, but that’s what it looked like. Ohhhh how I hated it.

    • I remember being sooo upset over my short hair and perm. I was younger than you; cutting a child’s hair when she starts school has some logic to it, at least. Mine was long again by first grade. But my dad picked me up and took me home for lunch every day. Apparently, I would come in all bedraggled and dirty (played outside at recess, maybe?), and Mother would change my clothes. She got tired of doing that after a while and gave it up, so then I was more like “normal” kids. I was very overprotected! We could all start a bad hair memories group, I guess, Susan! Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. i went through a stretch of stylists who one by one became pregnant, quitting their jobs. I think there were 5 or 6 of them. Started thinking I was the preggers fairy or something. I now have a girl named Paris who is adorable, doesn’t talk endlessly, listens … and feeds me cups of tea and freshly made cake. The haircuts are okay, too.

  4. I’ve always had long hair, and can relate. I went 2 years without having anyone touch my hair (and finally cut it myself, in frustration) at one point just because the woman who had been cutting my hair was so *mean* I could not bear to go back. No one believes me when I say that, but I still remember how — once I was trapped in her control, hair half cut, I could not get away from her passive-aggressive nastiness. It took a good recommendation from a friend to go back to a salon again. Definitely there’s a comparison between dentists and salons — you can feel so much at their mercy!

    • Oh, Elissa. I found myself in the middle of a political rant once between my stylist and another client (let’s just say their leanings and mine are poles apart), but I dared not say what I thought because SHE had the scissors!!! : )

  5. My terrible, horrible, 1/4 inch bangs could have given your bad perm a run for the money. What were our mother’s thinking? But you hit that cheating on your stylist thing dead on. Jim, our two boys and two girls and I have used the same hairdresser since 1977 with the exception of two times when I was talked into trying someone else and then had to drag back into my stylist’s shop with my bad hair. Even now our daughters who live, one in CT and one in CA still try to get an appointment with her when they are in town. The daughter from CT says, “Those northerners just don’t understand southern hair.” LOL

    • Maybe that’s it, Leigh; southern hair! I once drove from Jackson to Mobile because a stylist had moved “down there” and a friend and I made a road trip to get her to do our haircuts! The lengths we go! (Do you think your stylist could work me in? Sounds like a winner!)

  6. This article sure did peak my interest! I can’t remember who cut my hair when I was little, and then in high school and college I let it grow to my waist…and probably a friend trimmed it. But, for me, it always gets back to the hair. My Gram said so. I can remember feeling so uncomfortable in pricey salons I used to go to. Got great haircuts, but the experience left me cold enough, that I never returned. Once I went to an expensive place, and the haircutter loved my hair, and wanted me to represent them in a beauty contest. Ha. I dressed up, went back and they took tons of photos. My husband was down below and looked up seeing “bombs bursting in air” the camera flashed. When the photographer said, “give me your Cheryl Ladd look”… I was done. Not my thing. Now I cut my own. And am waiting for it to grow out a bit so that I can I try my new Barber Shears. ;0) Thanks for the chance to remember and laugh as well.

    • Another great story, Beth. But I would love to know *how* you cut your own? Smoke and mirrors? : ) I wish I were that brave. That must take more courage than going to the salon. This new person is at least kind, and funny, so that helps! Thanks for the comment!

  7. Gerry, my bad hair stories could fill a book! My mother forced me to cut all my hair off when I was in fourth grade because she was tired of managing it. Then came a succession of horrible shapes on top of my head (curly hair is different from straight hair!), attempts to partially straighten it, more short cuts, and now I feel like I finally have the confidence to tell stylists what I want and how I want it, and I feel fewer twinges of guilt about changing stylists. But oh goodness! The 25 years before I figured it out were a nightmare!

    • Well, Larissa, maybe at my age, I should just give up! But I refuse. It still matters. I have just enough curl to make my hair and our Mississippi summers not get along. Doesn’t work to perm it, doesn’t work to try to straighten it. Ah, me. : )

  8. Oh Gerry, that was a great story! I didn’t know what to do with my hair for months. 8 months. I miss my stylist in Vancouver, and have yet to find a replacement here. So it grew, and grew, into one giant dreadlock. When I was on the cruise with my family, I had enough, and got a stylist on the cruise to cut it. I was so nervous. What if the boat suddenly moves? But the hair cut was great. I just won’t ever see that stylist again, unless I travel to Scotland.

  9. Gerry, I had one of those perms and it was upstairs in Pontotoc somewhere. Wonder if it was the same place. Reminds me of what I would visualize an electric chair looks like. I envy nothing anyone has except good hair. They can have all the riches in the world and that doesn’t bother me. I just want good hair and I have never had it. When we were in school, I would sit in the floor between my Mother’s legs at night and she would roll by hair in pin curls. She would always say that as thin and fine as my hair was, I would be in terrible shape if it were not split on the ends.. Looking forward to our 55th class reunion in June.

    • Oh, Charlene, you tell it better than I did! That machine did look like an electric chair. And sleeping on pin curls . . . Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate it!

  10. My hair stylist (she really only cut it, but for a while she highlighted it out until it finally naturally turned white) retired a couple months ago. She had been my go-to-girl for 23years! I tried another and she did okay too, but price went up. I called her for another appointment and she had left. Tried another, price increase again, and have been to her twice. But it’s not the same. I feel your pain. Guess I’ll stretch out the weeks between to get my money’s worth. Same happened with the nail tech. But that’s another story. Oh what price beauty!!!

    • “What price beauty!” Love it, Jane. Yes, I’ve stayed with hair stylists long after the relationship should have been over–either that, or like your long-term one, they left me! Thanks for the great comment.

  11. Oh, yes. I hated getting my haircut as a child. One of my older sisters, they took turns, would put a bowl over my head and use it as a guide to trim my hair. None of them were talented in that arena. Then everyone called me the Campbell Soup Kid until it grew out. But a perm for a kid? Outrageous.

    • Gale, that would be really funny if it weren’t so sad! I don’t know what got into Mother, unless, as I said in the post, she got tired of rolling. it. up. every. night. And that’s basically what she did! God bless her.

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