The Hair Salon: Better Than TherapyI catch a glimpse of my reflection in the store window as I walk to my meeting. “Wow, I’ve got big hair going on today – definitely not how it looked this morning, I should have gotten it done.”   My hair barometer knows it’s a humid day in New York and has predictably expanded to peak humidity absorption levels. Every strand and follicle is plump and bursting — exploding with frizz in complicated directions. It is not even passable as yoga hair, this hair has no “intention.” It’s just random, sans style.

My inner hair dialogue (and if I am with a friend, it may very well turn into a ranting monologue) runs this assessment tape most days – bad hair day, good hair day, need a haircut, good day for a hat or a bandanna, etc.  This kind of mind chatter tends to be particularly invasive when I’ve worked through some hair product to embrace my au natural look or tried to blow dry it myself. I try to coordinate my hair and calendar commitments so that I am not caught with my wild hair when I need to look “professional” or have a special evening out .

Growing up in a household of women (I’m one of four girls) plus Mom and Nana – hair ranked in our top five most talked about topics. We all were blessed with lots of hair, lots of curls and some frizz. Looking “pretty” was directly correlated with our mastery of hair products, tools and accessories.  If we could just tame our hair we could feel beautiful.  Not surprisingly, as the years rolled onward, our hair products crammed the bathroom counters.  Vidal Sassoon revolutionized our lives with blow dryers and round brushes, curling irons and velcro sponge rollers.  No amount of product and equipment could guarantee a good result.  I didn’t possess the skill set for DIY home salon stylin’ but, I didn’t give up — and, I still haven’t given up.

While the sisters were busy in the bathroom burning out our Conair Dryers,  Mom could be found at her regular weekly hair appointment.  Relaxed, devouring her magazine, making her to-do lists – the salon was her refuge.  If we needed her, we knew that at 10 am on Thursday morning we could find her at L’Elegance,  (her beauty parlor), where she would stay through lunch. She sat under the helmeted dryer for hours and then Victor would give her a comb out or dress her up with a flip or a French twist – and it was in that salon that the inner Mom and the outer Mom merged.  Mom’s hair always made her appear dressed up and formal and she loved this image and lived her life that way as well.

Politically speaking, I didn’t like the salon – didn’t like what it represented. My reaction to her salon life was consistent with my high school rebellious spirit. Getting one’s hair “done” I believed was indulgent, extravagant, excessive and what idle people did.  It was what old blue-haired ladies did  — not cool, hip, relevant women.

Gloria Steinem, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins all had long, stringy hair – I liked their look, naturally beautiful, feminine and purposely unimportant – these women had something to say. I loved Carole King’s wild curls and Janice Joplin’s free flow – it was all so anti-establishment.  In contrast, Anita Bryant had something to say, too  (not to my liking)– and it was no surprise that she looked ridiculous, dated and house-wifey, as did Lady Byrd Johnson– her hair was teased and combed and unrelatable, as was her position on the Vietnam war.  So, I felt that way about my mom, too.  My mom’s hair felt out of touch with her children’s lives –she was going to parties and galas and we were sneaking out to political demonstrations on the streets.

It took years to allow myself to walk into a salon without feeling self-conscious. I remember the first time I gave myself permission to go the “beauty parlor” for a “blow out.”  I was 32 years old with two babies and I had a business meeting in the New York City.  I was exhausted from the kids, sleep-deprived and over worked from running my own business. I didn’t want to look out of control, which was how I felt, and I knew it would take a professional to harness and tame my wild hair.

I was beyond thrilled with the results.  I stood tall and felt a flush of inner confidence. Strangely, I was experiencing hair power of some sort.  My hair was soft and smooth and I felt sexy. All that for $25!  My salon experience was cheaper than therapy.  That’s it – I wanted in –the gates were opened and my rebellion finally over.  Sorry Mom for all my past judgments – I got it – I felt better – I looked better!

Now, I have my favorite place in my own neighborhood and I bring in my reading, and use it as my refuge.  My mom is still shuttling over to her salon each week for her appointments and I can see how much happier she is when she’s had her fix.  I’m not fighting the system anymore – why bother? My sisters are doing it, my friends are doing it and plenty of women who are better after 50 are doing it.  Did you catch Robin Wright’s hair in
House of Cards?

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