The Imitation Game
Over the years as a hairstylist I’ve come to a unique understanding and appreciation for the various pictures that my clients bring in to me in order to gain inspiration for their own haircuts. Today, I’m looking at a ripped-out page from last month’s Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Other than the gargantuan wings looming behind the model’s bare shoulders and the requisite five-inch nude stilettos, she’s wearing only a satiny, shell-pink push up bra and a pair of teeny, outrageously priced matching panties. But the thing that’s troubling me about this photo isn’t the bony figure that I know I’m supposed to be outraged over but secretly envy, and it’s not the blatant overuse of Photoshop, or even how the catalogue manages to trick me Every. Single. Season. into ordering more bras than any sane woman needs. It’s not even the thirty-three dollars I’ll inevitably spend on those “outrageously priced” panties next week that’s bothering me. It’s the hair. It’s a sun-streaked golden brown and falls in thick, shiny heaps down each of her slim shoulders in pure, tousled perfection. It’s the kind of enviable “bed-head hair” that doesn’t come from actual sleep as the name would entail, but instead roughly four or five hours of intense salon treatment, including but not limited to; anywhere from four to six hours of meticulously applied human-hair extensions, an ungodly amount of hairspray, a small army of variously sized curling irons, and at least one fresh-out-of-hair-school stylist’s assistant waiting in wings.
I hand the torn page back to the client sitting in my chair, I look into her eager eyes and then to the small, pink hair tie holding her pinky-finger sized ponytail in place. It’s a hair tie undoubtedly borrowed from the toddler she left screaming at the door as she raced to the car in order to make it to her thirty minutes of quietude at the salon. I notice an all-too familiar look of desperation to her eyes. I’ve been there. I know. Her lips are telling me, “I need something new and fresh” but the subtext is “I have not slept in six months for more than three hours straight. I pulled hardened Playdough out of my hair before I came here and if you smell poop, it could be from any number of issues from this morning, but it is most definitely coming from me.” At that moment I vow to myself that if I have to individually tease every single strand of hair her head, this woman is going to leave the salon feeling exactly like a Victoria’s secret model, if only for today.
Sometimes my clients surprise me and bring in not pictures of movie stars or Victoria’s secret models, but, interestingly, themselves. These photos were usually taken two or three years earlier when they were snapped on what I presume they consider to be their Most Glorious Hair Day. They’re standing there, ant-sized in a family reunion portrait on someone’s backyard deck amidst twenty or so other people. “Which one are you again?” I ask, squinting into the 4x6 snapshot.
My personal favorite is when my now real estate agent brought in a picture of herself (normal) in caricature form (not-so-normal). Her head is roughly six or seven times the size of her body. There’s an enormous golf bag thrown over one tiny shoulder and a front yard “for sale” sign that her miniscule body is casually leaning against. The hair itself is just four or five lines of a thin black sharpie. I briefly imagine how this will translate to reality.
“Tell me,” I begin, “what is it that you love about this… hairstyle?”
“Hmmm," she looks faraway for a moment “I think," she pauses, thoughtfully, “I think it’s the fullness that I like.”
I look at the ballooned cartoon head atop the toothpick body…. “I see,” I run my thumb down the cutting comb as I narrow my eyes at the drawing, my aim being to appear in deep contemplation, “So it’s the fullness that we’re after. It will be…” I hesitate momentarily, “it will definitely be some version of this," I promise her.
There’s the pale blonde Caucasian woman, her hair as fine and wispy as a four-day-old baby chick who brings in a photo of the black news anchor woman from our local television station. “Of course I know it won’t be exactly like this,” she says. “Right, right, but I get the idea.”, I lie. There’s the badly drawn self-portrait sketches, the comically outdated shag cuts clipped from years ago that the client isn’t willing to let go of just yet. There’s the balding man with the photo of Ryan Gosling sporting the new-again, slightly-hipster pompadour style. There’s the multitude of teenagers bringing in Facebook pictures of their other teenage friends with seemingly identical hair to their own.
I think about my own pictures that I tear out of magazines for inspiration. The one a few years back of Sarah Jessica Parker sporting a subtle ombre, her light brown hair graduating to a pale blonde at the ends. It occurs to me that Sarah Jessica parker, like myself, is the mother of twins. Unlike me, I imagine she has a small army of help to deal with the tremendous amount of work it takes manage both a family and a job the way many of us are these days. I’m thinking about her as I’m ironically, given my occupation, slapping hair color on my roots in our cramped half-bathroom. My son toddles in, then around age two, quickly swipes up a blob of color that’s fallen in the sink and licks his finger before I have time to stop him. “Too spicy”, he muses as he sticks out his tongue and turns to leave. I’m running to the next room with color dripping down my forehead frantically searching for my phone, making my way to the fridge which has more magnets from Poison Control bearing the phone number in bright red block letters than I care to discuss. In that moment, or maybe after poison control assured me all was well and sent me a new magnet, it occurred to me that our hair ideas have very little to do with our actual hair.
I think they might be something more akin to little visionary self-portraits for our imagined futures. It’s a future that includes something new and maybe even a little daring, giving us pause to consider some fresh outlook amidst the daily grind of our sometimes complicated and exhausting lives. It’s a future where sleep-deprived moms can finally toss their hair free of baby puke and feel maybe just a little bit sexy again, a future where we can all feel that great rush of love we felt three years ago on that deck at the family reunion surrounded by the people we cherish most in life.
I really don’t know what to make of my real estate agent’s request yet, which is probably why I lover her so much and hired her immediately for the job, much to my husband’s dismay. Apparently you’re supposed to check stuff like “reviews” and “referrals” for things as important as oh, say, your greatest monetary asset. There’s a lot I’m still learning, but I do know one thing for certain. As long as SJP is walking around the streets of Manhattan in her Manolos and juggling twins with the seasoned and effortless ease of Kate Moss on a catwalk, there will be a hairstylist with a carefully folded picture in her wallet, kissing her screaming kids at the door and running down the steps to get to make it to her appointment. She knows it won’t be this exactly, but with any luck, it will be some version of this.
Below; All the celebrity inspired incarnations and embarrassing attempts at the sexy face... still just me, with different hair;)