Transforming the Girl in the Mirror
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
“Not at all. It’s why people come. They say it’s about looking smart, or beautiful, or professional, but it’s not. Gray-haired ladies try to recapture their former brunette. Brunettes want to go blond. Other women go for colors that don’t arise in nature. Each group thinks it’s completely different than the others, but I don’t see it that way. I’ve watched them looking at themselves in the mirror, and they’re not interested in conforming or rebelling, they just want to walk out of here feeling like themselves again.”
― Antony John, Five Flavors of Dumb
The other day I went to the hair salon, a birthday gift from my brother, he knows it’s something I would not have splurged on for myself. I have curly hair that no one has ever been able to do anything with, so I just do not bother. In fact, the last time I had my hair done was a year and a half ago, again, a present from my brother (he said I was in need of a little de-stressing and remembered me saying how relaxing having my hair done is). The sad thing is that I love the experience of going to the salon, meeting new people, having an hour or two to myself free of stress and full of pampering.
I remember the first time I went to an official salon. I was eleven. My cousin was getting married and I was a junior bridesmaid. For the occasion, my mother took me to get my hair cut, officially. There was something magical about the whole experience. The consultation – “Wait! You want to know how I want to wear my hair? I have a c-h-o-i-c-e?” -, the washing basin with the hand-held shower nozzle, the chairs that elevated or lowered slowly at the touch of a peddle, spinning to get the best view of the work, mirrors as tall as me. I felt like a super hero in the protective cape as it enveloped me, warding off all the mean comments from my classmates – “Hey, Dorothy [Hamill]! You’re not in Kansas anymore!” and “Brillo! Don’t you have some pans to scrub?” among others.
My image of myself has always been inextricably linked to my hair on so many levels. Even at my most confident and fearless moments, somewhere under the surface lurk the echoing voices of my schoolroom peers as they try to drag me down and pierce the armor of my faith in my abilities and my ever-present trust in the goodness of humanity. It wasn’t until the other day, sitting in the stylist’s chair, mesmerized by the physical transformation, the tangible interior change of the woman in the mirror from a meek, apologetic being into a lively woman of strength and value, that I realized the art involved in being a Stylist.
In school, when it came time to go on to college it was hard on the few of my friends who wanted to go to Beauty School to become Hairdressers, as they were called then – Stylists were only in the big city or Hollywood. Then, Hairdressers had a poor reputation, at least among our parents’ circles. The only ones who became Hairdressers were those who weren’t smart enough for anything else. In fact, there is so much more to being a Stylist and running a salon that it takes up to two years to complete the coursework, which includes chemistry and math, business management and marketing, as well as the art of cutting and styling.
Think about it, hair is a highly individual entity influenced by endless factors. A Stylist needs to know the biology of hair – how it grows, how to keep it healthy, what it takes to repair it, how it responds to heat and chemicals -, the chemistry of hair – how to analyze hair in order to know what chemical mixture it needs to achieve a specific color, what else is needed to prevent damage to the hair during the coloring process, how many processes are needed to achieve complex results -, and the business of hair including marketing and public relations, financial and legal aspects, as well as client and employee relations.
Looking into the mirror from the Stylist’s chair as she snipped and clipped and shaped my curls to perfection, freeing them from decades of oppression was like watching Theoden in The Two Towers transform from a shriveled shell of a man into the vibrant king of his people. Perhaps my experience was not as epic. It was, however, equally dramatic a change in me and my outlook on myself, all of which would never have happened without Michelle’s skill, empathy, and passion for changing people’s lives one clip at a time.