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My capricious relationships with hairstylists

It’s a tricky thing, a relationship with one’s hairstylist – or hairdresser, if you prefer the term. It requires a great deal of intimacy and an even greater amount of trust. This person is in control of the thing you have to wear every day and the thing you cannot hide.

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By Amy Van Veen (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: March 20, 2013

I have had three long-term relationships … with hairstylists.

It’s a tricky thing, a relationship with one’s hairstylist – or hairdresser, if you prefer the term. It requires a great deal of intimacy and an even greater amount of trust. This person is in control of the thing you have to wear every day and the thing you cannot hide.

Every ounce of vanity is sitting on top of our heads. A bad make-up job and you can just wash it off and start over. Even a botched eyebrow job can be fixed with a certain deal of penciling in and brushing through. But a bad haircut? That can only be survived with swallowed pride, headbands, bobby pins and copious amounts of product.

My first relationship was awkward, as they always are. I didn’t really know her very well, but she cut my mom’s hair and as a pre-pubescent girl who wanted to start feeling grown up, it was the logical next step to sit in someone’s basement hair studio instead of in the middle of the bathroom where my mom would blunt cut my long locks.

The hairstylist was friendly enough. I was, of course, too insecure to ever say anything, so she mostly looked past me and talked to my mom while occasionally trying to get me into the conversation. But my chubby face remained stoic as I saw the one or two inches fall down the black cape I sat under while I twiddled my thumbs and did my best to be the bonsai tree she groomed.

Until one year I spoke up. It was the seventh grade and I was in high school. I was in the big leagues. I wanted a change. Despite the fact that I had moved at this point, I kept up the long distance relationship. It was getting a little dull and I felt I needed to spice it up. Solution? “I want short hair.” She smiled and nodded in that patronizing way that adults have with pre-teens.

I wanted to be Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. I wanted to be Meg Ryan in Addicted to Love. I wanted to be Meg Ryan in I.Q. Okay. I may have just wanted to be Meg Ryan. However, the trust wasn’t there with me and this hairstylist. We couldn’t survive a drastic change.

The thing about round-faced seventh grade tomboy me wanting to be a 30-something actress with cheekbones was that I ended up looking like my brother. At the time I thought I looked hot to trot, but I look back now with a head hung in shame. It built character, I tell myself now. It gave me enough delusional confidence to survive middle school.

It also left me not requiring a haircut for a year and a half as it grew out. And by that time me and hairstylist number one had both realized we weren’t right for each other. No phone calls, letters or MSN messaging was needed to confirm that which we both knew.

However, my foray into hot tools left my hair looking a little distressed, so I was left to find another stylist. I followed my mother to another basement studio where I struck the perfect deal: I would babysit her two kids for free haircuts every few months. As with any new relationship, I made sure not to make the same mistakes I made with the last one – which meant no drastic changes. Long layers and trims were what I opted for. When my friends started to get bangs, I timidly asked for non-exciting bangs – the kind you can sweep aside or pin back or pretend don’t exist if you want to. This was my haircut all through high school. These were not exciting times for me and my hairstylist, but they were secure; they were reliable.

After graduation, I got the same itch for something new that I had in middle school. I was in new territory. I was an adult! (Or so I told my foolish, deluded self.) It was time for something new. It was time to leave hairstylist number two behind. It was a messy break-up.

I started seeing someone new. She worked in a salon. I got my hair shampooed in the fancy freestanding sinks instead of the wash basin originally meant for laundry. It was glorious having a disposable income and perfectly coiffed hair instead of the free wash-and-wear. But it was also awkward when I would continue to babysit for number two, and she noticed the new flip and bounce. We parted our ways with an unspoken, “it’s not you it’s me” shrug.

My new hairstylist was amazing. We just clicked. She knew what my hair needed, she knew what I wanted. She nodded and listened when I came in with big plans for a bob. We had a good talk about if I could handle it or not. She was there every step of the way and it turned out perfectly. Every six to eight weeks I would come back for the same bob maintenance. Every six to eight weeks she’d chat, I’d listen. And then that moment came when we both knew it was time for a change. We stared at my hair in the mirror. We both agreed it was time. No more bob. We stayed together as I went from the short hair to long hair category.

We stayed together for a long time.

After I moved away for half a year, I went back to her almost straight out of the airport. But the spark was gone. The time had changed us. There was something missing.

It might be something time can heal. Maybe we just need to get back into the swing of things – get out of this awkward patch.

Or maybe, heaven forbid, it’s time to see how many other hairstylists there are in the Valley.

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