‘I want exactly the hairstyle I have now but somehow . . . better?’
When you’ve had the same hairstyle since you were three, it takes courage – or terrified indecision – to agree to a hair makeover involving French words, dye and tinfoil
Before and after: ‘They offer to do balayage, and I nod and pretend I know what that is.’ Photographs: Dave Meehan
‘I hope that the tinfoil is part of the process and not my new hairstyle’
A photo of me at three years old with the exact same haircut I have now
I’ve had the same hairstyle for my entire life. Almost literally. There’s a photo of me at three years old with the exact same haircut I have now. My older sister helpfully posts this on Facebook every year on my birthday. Every year I cringe and make a stupid joke. And every year, my hair stays exactly the same: straight, dark brown, with a fringe.
My hair has always been a source of bafflement for me. I don’t know what I or it are supposed to be doing, but I know we’re not doing it right. I like to think of myself as a generally calm person; I can keep a cool head in a crisis. But it seems that what I actually do is store up a ridiculous amount of stress for a few unlikely situations, such as when I’m trying to be on time, making phone calls or going to the hairdresser.
Everything about the hairdresser’s stresses me out. No matter how many photos of hairstyles I look at beforehand, when I sit down and they ask what I want, I panic. My mind goes blank. I have no idea. Just less. Less hair. But not too much less. I want exactly what I have, but somehow . . . better? It doesn’t help that the hairdresser herself often has mad hair, with bits shaved off or dyed blue. I start to long for a dystopic future where there only one haircut is allowed and I don’t ever have to make a decision. After squeakily trying to explain my desire for a quantum-state haircut, I just ask for a trim.
The awkwardness doesn’t end there. They offer me endless coffee, which I always refuse. How are you supposed to drink it? You’re not allowed to move your head. And surely the cup will fill with hair the second it approaches your face. Trying to be friendly, the hairdresser makes small talk and asks me questions. Unfortunately, I can’t hear a word she’s saying as we are surrounded by hairdryers. Giving up on me, the hairdresser trims my fringe and sends me on my way. My last haircut took 20 minutes, including reading old magazines in the waiting room.
Afraid of change
My hair seems to be as afraid of change as I am. I tried to dye my hair purple when I was a teenager. I used a semi-permanent dye, which promised to disappear in 28 washes (even in rebellion I was non- committal). It was like a purple bomb had gone off. I got dye all over the bath, on the floor, on the towels, up the walls; everywhere except my hair. My hair looked exactly the same as before. Instead of looking cool and gothy, my teenage rebellion came in the form of ruining my mother’s bathroom.
So when I am offered the chance of a hair makeover by stylists at Toni & Guy, my first reaction is terror. Give control of my hair to people who are experts in hair? Are they insane? Nothing good can come of this. There is no way I am coming out of this without a green mohawk. But on the other hand, I do like free things. It’s a tough choice.
The appointment is scheduled to take three hours, which, according to my co-workers, is a standard amount of time to spend at a hairdresser’s. No wonder other people’s hair looks different afterwards.
Ultimately, my fear of change is outweighed by my fear of making decisions, so this is the perfect opportunity to let go and just let the experts do what they do best. Who knows, maybe green is my colour. When discussing the plan with the stylist and colourist, I tell them it is up to them and they should do what they think would suit me (while I surreptitiously bulk-order hats on Amazon).
They offer to do balayage, and I nod and pretend I know what that is. The phrase “low maintenance” is used several times, so they obviously know who they were dealing with. Three pots of dye are produced and painted on to bits of my hair, which are then wrapped in tinfoil. I refuse five or six more offers of coffee while I wait and hope that the tinfoil is part of the process and not my new hairstyle. The shining and rustling would attract too many birds.
Luckily, the foil is taken out and I am left with soft blondie-brown bits, which blend in with my normal colour, and a nice haircut with trademark fringe intact. It is like my normal hair, but better.
It’s not a dramatic change, but even just a gentle cut and colour has given me a lot more confidence to experiment. My hair is not the dye-repellent mop I thought it was, and maybe next time I’ll try something more radical. I could go blond or red or pink. I might even say yes to that coffee.
Oh, who am I kidding? They changed my hair, not my personality. You keep your hairy coffee.