I’ve just come back from the hair salon wondering if I suffer from tonsurephobia. No, that’s not quite the right word; it’s not a fear of having my hair cut, more a hatred. Although that’s not quite right either – hatred is too strong a word. Strong dislike, maybe. A bad hair day to me is the day that I have to get a haircut, and I regard going to the hair salon as more a necessary evil than a pleasure.
Because it is such an unpleasant experience I don’t go anywhere near as often as I should which then brings about a Catch 22 situation, as the first thing that makes the experience unpleasant is that on entering the salon I have to endure the disapproval of the hairdresser as they look disparagingly at the state of my hair, and ask pointed questions about how long it has been since it was last done.
Then comes the dreaded question – “what would you like done?” I find this question almost impossible to answer in any way that satisfies the hairdresser. I can say “cut my hair please” and can even roughly describe how much I want cut off – but this never seems to satisfy them. They launch into lengthy inexplicable hairdressereeze, and I have never found a dictionary that can accurately translate this. The vocabulary of hairdressereeze contains many words which seem to have completely different meanings to that of plain English. Do I want feathering? Layers? A choppy graduated bob? Feathers come on birds, layers I can understand in a millefeuille, and choppy and bob are words I associate with being at sea which is how I feel in the salon, so maybe they are appropriate. Not being able to accurately describe what I want or to be able to translate hairdressereeze inevitably results in my disappointment with the overall result. I’ve tried taking photos in of what I want thinking that if I just show the hairdresser the photo they will know what I want thereby removing the need to put it into words, but this has either been rebuffed with further hairdressereeze that I think translates as “your hair won’t go into that style”, or they have simply agreed to do it like the photo and yet the resulting style never looks anything like the picture. I’ve only once in my lifetime had a haircut that I actually liked. I took a photo of it and thought that this would solve all my problems and I would never have an issue explaining what I wanted again – I had found a style that suited me and a hairdresser that could make it happen. Only the next time I rang the salon to book that hairdresser I was told that he had left. And despite my showing that photo to every single hairdresser since then it has never, ever been done the same – or even similar! I’ve given up and now just say “do whatever you think would suit me” but this is not only defeatist but a recipe for disaster.
Once a style has been settled on, the whole business of actually cutting or colouring the hair starts and the experience gets even worse. I think I must have an extremely sensitive scalp, as no matter how gentle the hairdresser is small hairs inevitably get caught up and pull making me wince in pain. Today I found myself not only gritting my teeth but also clenching my fists as the junior tried to wash my hair and it was constant agony. And I don’t like having other people wash or even touch my hair. It seems such an intimate act that I don’t feel comfortable with a stranger doing it even though I have given consent by being there.
Then there is the whole business of The Conversation. Why, oh why, does the hairdresser always feel the need to enter into The Conversation? Don’t they get fed up of asking where you are going on holiday? Or chatting about the weather? Or in Walthamstow, the ill-fated Mini-Holland traffic-calming council scheme? And this is where it is weird; I’m normally a gregarious person that enjoys chatting away and can chat to anyone and usually find things that we can talk about. But once in the hair salon, I become the most introverted of people, cringing and silently screaming about the invasion of privacy and desperately wanting to shout out “it’s none of your business where I’m going on holiday; just leave me alone”. Perhaps it is the feeling of vulnerability that goes with the sensitive-scalp-hair-pulling-pain and the feeling of being a fish out of water and all at sea that results in a complete change in personality for me. But there is no way of saying “please don’t talk to me – I would much prefer to sit here in silence”, or answering their questions with monosyllables without seeming rude. And the last thing you want to do when you have your head in someone else’s hands is to offend them. Especially when they have sharp scissors to hand.
I hate it so much I always insist that they just cut or colour my hair and let me leave without any blow-drying or styling – just cut and run. I hate that “just walked out of a salon” look anyway, and would much rather let my hair dry naturally.
Then after the torture of the haircut comes the torture of paying the bill. And this is really where it sticks in my throat as the gender disparity is so strikingly unfair. In my local salon, women have to pay almost twice the price as men for exactly the same service! A woman’s haircut with short hair costs £42, with long hair at £46, yet men only pay £24. I guess this harks back to the days when men used to have simple short back and sides with a razor that took about 10 minutes, whereas women used to have more complicated time-consuming cuts. But nowadays, men often have equally complicated styles with gels and spiky bits sticking up. And a woman with long hair who just wants an inch taken off all round has to pay £4 more than a woman with a short hair-style to have a complicated cut. Hardly seems fair at all. I’m always tempted to tell them I’m transgender and to ask what the price is for me. And the women’s cut comes with a blow dry as part of the price – even if I leave without the blow dry which I do every time, I still have to pay for the blow dry. And men’s cuts come with a “finish” not a blow-dry, even though the hairdresser uses exactly the same hairdryer on a man’s hair. Inexplicable. Mind you, this did provide some valuable material for Dave Gorman in his brilliant sketch about queuing and haircut pricing in a men’s barber.
Does any other woman think like me? Does anyone else dread going to the hair salon and regard it is their ultimate bad hair day? If they do, there is a market out there for a hair salon which charges the same amount for men and women, that doesn’t speak employee people who speak hairdresseze and where the hairdressers will cut your hair in silence whilst listening to Radio 4 which plays in the salon, perhaps as you sip a cold beer or glass of wine. Just open it in Walthamstow – please.