Hairdressers do not bite. Nor do they yell, spit or lunge at me. I’m pretty sure they do not even laugh behind my back. So why then, my ongoing fear of them and the salons they vacate?
It is not an obvious answer. Until you look at my history.
I am three years old when disaster first strikes. My dad is taking me and my brother to get our portraits taken. He insists on nice clothes and a haircut. Even at three I know the importance of looking your best for the camera. I know that I am cute when my blonde hair curls at the ends of my two perfectly placed pigtails. I also know that a hairdresser’s sole purpose is to lop those curls off. I want none of it and let my dad know it the only way a three year old can; through temper tantrums and tears. Regardless, my hair is cut and my photo is taken. Posterity will forever see my tear-filled eyes, grimacing mouth (twisted into what could almost be construed as a weak smile), and Shaggy inspired haircut. My brother is there too; happy as can be with wispy, golden locks and donning a soccer t-shirt. Too late to save myself, my tirade, apparently, is useful in saving my brother from the same fate.
The eighties soon arrive and traumatizes almost everyone who has ever had a ponytail protruding from the side of their head, bangs teased back using an entire can of aerosol hairspray, or sported the ever popular hockey hair (or if you prefer, mullet). Still, I have it worse than most. I have a mother whose best friend is a hairdresser.
Through evasive action and plain old pre-teen bitchiness, I am able to avoid this woman’s scissors entirely. My mom is not so fortunate. She spends many years undergoing cruel experimentation in the form of perms, crimping and bleach. In what I can only imagine is a night filled with booze and scissors, my mom comes home one memorable night with half of her head buzz-cut short (to go with their alcohol induced buzz I suppose) while the other side remains long and loose.
Thankfully for my mother, and all inflicted with unforgivable hair and fashion, the nineties arrive. Unfortunately for me, this also marks the awkward teenage years of braces, acne and slow to develop breasts. I long to be ‘cool’ but I am not. As consolation perhaps, my step-mom decides to treat me to a trip to the salon. Here it is decided a perm is the best way to accentuate my features. It does just that. My pimples, big nose and silver mouth stand out now more than ever. It will be my first, and last, ever perm.
It was almost my last trip to a salon also. After growing out the perm, and my bangs along with it, I insist a $10 trim at the local barber will suffice from now on. The money saved goes directly into my college fund; booze, fast food, and movies.
Upon graduation (I do manage to graduate), I move to Korea and quickly discover that beyond the language barrier, there is a profound cultural difference also. No barber will touch my hair. I am a female foreigner who has wandered in, unaware and confused they presume. Ignoring my please-trim-my-hair sign language that looks as if I’m playing rock, paper, scissors, they direct me to the nearest salon.
Overwhelmed with talk of layering and style and cuts in English, it is almost a relief when I enter a Korean salon and nobody expects me to explain what I want. My blonde hair is a novelty here and after a full day process of tea, massages, multi shampoos and styling, I walk out with what looks suspiciously like a trim. Still, for the first time in my life, my salon experience is an enjoyable one. Regardless of the hairstyle I walk out with, the Korean people tend to inevitably tell me I look just like Meg Ryan anyways.
They probably would not be so kind upon seeing my most drastic haircut since I was three, however. It is not due to the clichéd break-up that I get my hair cut short. Rather, it is a result of a break-up, reconciliation, and subsequent decision by the two of us to backpack for 5 months, separately, on opposite sides of the world. Simply put, it is time for change. Just days before boarding the plane for Lima, Peru (and my boyfriend to Bangkok, Thailand) I walk into a mall hairdresser and on the spot, get my locks chopped off.
The results are okay. No dramas. No tears. I have a trendy, stylish haircut but, as I quickly realize once on the road in South America, lack the blow dryer, styling products and time to keep it up. I long for the practicality of a simple pulled back ponytail. Instead, I tie a bandana around my head and nobody sees my hair for months.
Somewhere in a tiny village in northern Peru, my hair begins escaping the confines of the bandana and I realize I need a cut. Forget dodgy bus rides, pick-pockets or the Shining Path guerillas, a haircut in the middle of nowhere is what truly terrifies me. But it has to be done.
While wandering the dusty streets looking for something that resembles a salon, I peer into a darkened room with a hairdresser’s chair. The shopkeeper (I refuse to call this person a hairdresser) waves me in, commands me to sit, and sprays my hair wet. Only then do I realize that this ‘salon’ does not have any power. Having no idea how to say “What the fuck? Ever heard of a blow-dryer and light fixtures?” in Spanish, I stay in my seat. Ten minutes later I look like a six year old boy whose mom put a bowl on his head and cut, then the bowl slips and she cuts on anyways.
I do not visit a hairdresser, salon, or barber for the next two years on the premise that I am growing my hair out. Really I am just petrified. Of what I can not precisely say. If it is that I care too much about what other people think, then having no highlights, no style, and split-ends must still be worse than a bad cut at the local salon.
There is no impending evil, danger or pain that allows me to be rationally fearful of the hairdresser. Just a bad history of frightful hairdos. So bad, my dislike of the hairdresser has turned into a full blown phobia. A persistent, irrational fear and avoidance of the salon. A Salonophobia if you will. It could be worse I suppose. I could have Oenophobia- a fear of wine or Genophobia- a fear of sex. Even Lutraphobia- a fear of otters (yes, there is such a thing) would be worse. Regardless, one of these days I will make it back into the salon. My dried-out, thick, overgrown locks will demand it.
Let’s just hope the much anticipated visit will not happen to coincide with Retro Hair Day.