She ran her hands through it, tipped her head back and felt it sliding deliciously over her skin. I watched my small daughter watching herself in the mirrors that surrounded her and I marvelled. Three months shy of her eighth birthday, and already she understood. Already she had grasped the gift of a great haircut.
Last week Jane wrote to me of her neighbour, a woman who is dying. Jane was puzzled why, when death was imminent, you would bother getting your hair cut in a radically different way as this woman had. Until, she said, she realised that while every other joy, every other choice was being stripped from her; going from dark to light, from long to short, here was something her neighbour could still do for herself.
For most women I know, having their hair cut is a significant experience; the power to change, for better or worse, their sense of self. From an early age we are told our hair is our "crowning glory". We envy those with "good" hair, bemoan our "bad" hair, and pity those who struggle with the shame of losing theirs. We see our mothers pulling out their grey hairs, hiding them with dye, until, with a gradual grieving, they finally let them be.
It is not only the result of visiting the hairdresser that we attach importance to, but the process itself. Xenia described herself as a "rushing woman mother", and apologised for the errors in her email. She was, she wrote, at the hairdresser's, which for her is a "newspaper-in-hand, precious kid-free moment". In salons, those steamy, perfumed dens, we are capable of revealing extraordinary intimacies. As they knead our scalps over the basin, touching us with a familiarity a lover does not always enjoy, we come to think of hairdressers as confidantes, counsellors, friends even.
It is this bond that has led to Anna's dilemma. She writes: "I have been with my current hairdresser for over 15 years - longer than I have known my husband. As I see her on a very regular basis, it's fair to say we have developed a relationship which is one of friendship. We share photos and details of our lives. But for a couple of years now I have been less in love with my hair and feel the need to change hairdressers. I don't know how to do it though. It feels like a break-up. I could walk away and never see her again, but that's not very mature or fair and I know that I would probably see her around and it would be awkward. Besides I want to keep her in my life. I wonder about proposing that I still go to her for treatments and the odd blow wave? But maybe I just want to have my cake and eat it too?"
Oh Anna, what to do? When we pay someone for a service, and then complicate the transaction by opening up to each other there is much at stake. For her your departure would mean not only the potential loss of your friendship but a chunk of her income. In your shoes many would just walk away, however you are obviously a loyal, thoughtful person, and so some sort of explanation on your part is necessary. When I tried to imagine that conversation, though, I squirmed. And so I wondered whether you should say nothing, stay put, and instead gently try and steer her in a new direction with your hair. But I sense you have moved beyond that, you hunger for a change. So I took the liberty of sharing your story with my own hairdresser. She winced. A look of pain crossed her face. It is a situation, she said, that rises inevitably and unfortunately in her line of work. The client who leaves without explaining can cause much hurt, nevertheless she cringed uncomfortably at the thought of a face-to-face conversation. The best option, she believes, is a card. Thanking her, informing her of your decision, and clarifying briefly why. This is what one or two clients have done with her, and, she said, though it still wounded, ultimately she forgave. When I suggested perhaps you could still go for the odd treatment, she visibly flinched. "That," she cried, "would be excruciating."
So there you go - make the cut honestly, cleanly and kindly, although not directly, and the friendship might yet be saved.
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