[Spa Stories] Gina’s Hair is Perfectly Warm

If you think back way before your turkey coma set in, you’ll recall that two weeks ago, I kicked off a brand new series round these parts called Spa Stories, where we’re going to share various close encounters of the beauty salon kind. Now I’m back with the next installment, courtesy of reader Gina in Boston, MA. But first, a little clarification, so you can get your submission all ready for me.

What this series will NOT be: A place to rant about the hair stylist who cut three inches when you totally said one. Or the manicurist who filed you square when you clearly indicated oval. Or insert similar tales-of-customer-service-woe here.

What this series WILL be: A place to share how your relationship with beauty (your own or other people’s) evolves when you spend time in a salon or spa. And by “you,” I mean consumers, sure — as you’ll see from Gina in a second. But I’m also talking to you, salon workers. If you read the comments on my Slate story, you’ll see a lot of folks feeling highly anxious about what to tip and why it took me two hours to do all that waxing. It’s one thing for me to keep regaling y’all with Beauty U tip stories, but clearly, I cannot speak for the whole industry! So hair stylists, estheticians, nail techs — I want your stories here.

And when I say “stories,” this can be an epic saga spanning years (like Gina), a quick life-observed moment from a comment made by a client last Tuesday, the tale of your first brush with waxing and other extreme beauty sports, or… You get it. Email it to me at beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com.

Now here’s Gina:

The year is 1998. I find a quaint little beauty shop close by my college campus.  I love it immediately because the stylist/owner B. has a great Italian accent and she quickly wraps me into her web of products and techniques.  I get an introductory hair cut for a steal of a price, but all the while the  B. insists that my hair is an “ugly color.” At first, this doesn’t sound so bad with her magical Italian lilt. I giggle at her, and admit that it is a kind of boring brown, but assert that, “at least it isn’t grey.”
Her negative talk continues through the haircut: “Gina, your ‘air it needs-a-wurmth!”  She continues with the cut as she is tsk-ing and sighing over my mousy brown locks.  She pressures me to dye it a “rich chocolate brown.”
I cave in, and let her dye my hair.
This is the first time — of sadly, many — a beauty worker persuades me into getting a service I didn’t think I needed. I feel embarrassed for not realizing that my hair is unforgivably ugly and of course, needs to be dyed pronto!
I walk out of the salon feeling like a million dollars but the effects of freshly dyed hair only last so long… And there it is, I am hooked. I quickly become addicted to the salon routine, going every six weeks and spending at least $100 dollars plus tip every time.
Until, one day my friend who also frequented the salon reported that the hairdresser had told her the exact same thing. The only problem was that her hair was not mousy brown at all, but a luxurious auburn that I honestly coveted. B insisted, of course, that my friend’s hair also needed “wurmth”and had done the same routine of shaming her into a color she didn’t want. We laughed about it, at length, often impersonating B.’s accent and playfully insulting ourselves over again.
I never returned to her salon after my friend and I talked about it that day. But I did dye my hair. I didn’t really ever get over the idea that my hair color was ugly, because even in my own  non-magical New England accent, it sounded like the truth.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that my hair is “boring,” or “mousy brown,”  to other salon workers to have them expertly color it away.
Flash forward to the present day for story #2. It is the eve of my 30th birthday and I treat myself to a blowout and makeup application before going out with friends and family. I am so excited to indulge even though I have a hair cut coming up in a couple of weeks. There is something wonderful about someone else blow drying your long hair!  I go to my regular salon.  I drop in, as they allow, and get an unfamiliar  stylist.
New stylist is, decidely, a non-smiler. She is very abrupt, as she escorts me back to the shampoo area. Grimaces, and rolls her eyes as she complains about how slow business is while shampooing my hair.  In fact, the entire time she is working on my hair, she switches between complaining about her job, to informing me how limp and unhealthy my hair is. She also shares that she is “dying to cut it off,” but relents when I tell her that H. is my regular stylist and that I already have an appointment with her in a few weeks. I politely commiserate with how fine my hair is. I reassure her that I am looking for sleekness, not a lot of volume from my blowout.
She blows my hair out without using clips to section it off. This may not sound like a big deal, but may hair is really, really, long. So she’s flopping my wet mop of very long hair back and forth, over my face, over my ear, over my other ear, back to my face for about 20 minutes. She shouts over the blow dryer, “This would go quicker if you cut your hair shorter!”
I stick it out, and for what it is worth, it looks much better than what I come up with at home on my own. Really.  I got compliments all night. I pay, tip her well, and move on to my makeup application (which was wonderful and I was treated exactly as I hoped to be treated).
How many more times I am going to allow a salon worker to continue a service that is not going well without saying something? Is 30 old enough to advocate for myself in the salon chair? Apparently not. I think I would self-advocate over correct sandwich making more than over what someone is doing to my hair/me.
Both these stories make me feel a little disappointed in myself as a feminist and as a consumer. I still love my local salon and H., my stylist. I will go on tipping because it is the fair thing to do, and hopefully next time I will speak up when made to feel uncomfortable. Let’s see what happens for my next birthday. Maybe I’ll ask for the clips.
VA again: I read this and had myself a little ah-ha moment. Because why IS it so much harder to speak up if you aren’t happy with the way a salon service is going than if someone forgets the pickles on your sandwich? Are we just afraid to hurt people’s feelings? Or is it weirder because it’s so up close and personal? Anyone else experience this? Discuss.

PS. Oops, almost forgot a quick standard disclaimer on the Spa Stories: I choose what gets published (and probably won’t be able to publish everyone’s or in a super timely manner, so be patient!) and may edit you lightly for length, spelling/grammar, or clarity. ‘Kay, thanks.


Filed under Spa Stories

9 responses to “[Spa Stories] Gina’s Hair is Perfectly Warm

  1. Brianne

    I’ve had similar issues at salons. The last time I had a blow out, the stylist kept complaining because I have a lot of fine hair so it takes awhile to get it all dry. While I looked great, it was tough to tip someone who huffed and sighed throughout the service.

    My regular stylist is awesome though. She’s always wary of cutting off too much or putting in highlights that she knows I don’t really want. (My husband, mother, and mother-in-law all convinced me to go blonder for the wedding.)

  2. Gina’s post is the story of my hair-cutting, salon-visiting life. I go in, feel that the cut or style is adequate but not up to my standards, and come home and re-do it. Or at least touch it up. My senior year in high school, I went in for a styling before prom. I didn’t have in mind exactly what I wanted, and the stylist convinced me that a severe pull back with a duck-ass in the back would be an excellent choice. I came home and washed all the hair spray out and had to start from scratch, in a last-minute panic because my date was soon to arrive. Anyway, I find it so hard to speak up for myself in these situations, mostly because a hairdresser’s work feels so personal–like she is sharing part of herself with me. And I tend to take responsibility for lots of things in this world, including the feelings of my stylist. Now I go to someone I love (which means she’s better able to interpret my vague wishes or read my mind) so it’s less of an issue. This means that I can never move (and she can never move or retire).

    • Dana: A) You speak the truth. B) “Severe pull back with a duck-ass in the back” made me laugh so hard I snorted my seltzer. Amazing! Why on earth wouldn’t you love that look?!

  3. I found myself quietly cheering inside by the time I got toward the end. Brava to you for finally speaking up for yourself/your hair/you wants for your hair. There is a fine line between trusting your beauticians expertise and surrendering to them.

    Not sure why it is so hard to speak up for ourselves, but whereas once upon a time I went home from hair appointments only to REDO my hair after knowing IN THE CHAIR that I hated it, now things are different. Well, I have a very happy salon marriage now and they know what makes me happy but if I ever have a substitute I am not afraid to speak my mind.

    I guess it takes time. Here’s to us now/new and improved. 🙂
    Great story. And great series VA! xoxo

  4. anne

    YES. I am afraid to hurt my hairdressers feelings. The woman I am with now is responsible for fixing the “crooked chop” I received 11 years ago when I spoke up to my former hairdresser….I waited hours after the cut and had a mini panic attack before I actually called her back and told her she messed up. So, I changed course and found a great hairdresser through my young daughters friends mom. I’ve been going to her ever since and consider her a confidant/therapist/semi-friend. She actually has almost always given me a really good cut/color that I’m happy with. I can honestly say the few times when it wasn’t ” quite right” I didn’t think it was worth saying anything because my feeling is “who gets it right all of the time anyway?”
    Nobody’s perfect… I’m happy. Now, if she can just get my 40ish hair thicker, stronger and with tons of volume!!! I miss the 80’s!!!

  5. Why IS it so hard? I had a headshot taken a couple of years ago and scheduled a blowout at an unfamiliar salon beforehand. My goal: Sleek but not stick-straight hair, which tends to just look flat on me. Basically, blowdry it with a round brush. Thanks. When this woman finished with me, I looked like I was about to compete in a beauty pageant in 1989. HUGE, bouncy hair. I saw it happening, and I didn’t say a word. “It’ll lose volume later,” I said. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as I think it is,” I said. I paid her, tipped her, and then spent the next half hour with a spray bottle of water and my own hair dryer, trying to fix the damage. It was ludicrous.

    Why didn’t I speak up? Maybe because I hoped that a Manhattan stylist wouldn’t think ANYONE would want the hair that she gave me. I told her I was having professional photos taken. Maybe she got confused? I have no idea. But next time I’ll definitely say something, because honestly, that was absurd.

  6. Rebecca

    Maybe we’re more reluctant to speak up over a sandwich than a haircut because we view the hairstylist’s work as a kind of artistry. I wouldn’t feel bad about telling the kid at Subway they forgot my black olives, but if an award-winning chef made me a dish she told me was going to be “amazing” and spent a half-hour preparing it – I’d feel kinda guilty pulling out the anchovies in her presence.
    Also, a big part of what many people like about spa experiences is the chatty relationship aspect. When you expect the stylist to care about your life and thoughts, you create a situation in which you also care about what he or she thinks and feels. It’s a byproduct of introducing emotion into the experience — which I promise you, my brother doesn’t do with his barber.

  7. YES! I’ve been searching for the perfect boring straight bob for the past decade or so, and never with the same hairstylist twice! It’s so HARD to just say, “Super! But…angled more?” or, “Awesome! But…I asked for bangs?” I always assumed I was just some crazy neurotic super-politeness-disabled person. For me, it’s definitely about not wanting to insult someone’s work. I find myself absolutely unable to say anything other than, “Great job! I love it!” And the chatty-friendly aspect of most salons definitely makes it harder to speak up, for me, too. If this person was just a hired technician, I could say, “The wire should go there!” but if they’re my GIRLFRIEND giving me a lady-makeover, then I feel like I can’t correct them.

  8. Julie

    In college, I got a haircut at one of those cheap supercuts-type places. I asked for a bob (I can’t remember if it was a trim or a big change; this was ten years ago). The lady cut one side and the other, and I was looking in the mirror, and after awhile I got up the courage to say, “I think it’s uneven.” She kind of fluffed it and said, “No no, it’s equal, it’s fine.” I didn’t know what to say after that and sat there stewing for the rest of the cut. I had that awful pit in my stomach, feeling helpless. I still felt the need to tip, too, even though I mostly felt that someone who cuts your hair UNEVENLY and then DENIES it may not actually deserve a tip.

    Speaking up was difficult and it didn’t even help! And I walked around for months with one hank of hair longer than the other–and not in that post-modern on-purpose way either!

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