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Women and their hairdressers

Mary Hasson

It all started with a chance comment to another soccer mom.

Lisa had her hair pulled back in a banana clip. (Guys, that’s one of those curvy, claw-like contraptions that women stick on the back of their heads to hold their hair back).  She usually wore it loose (quite flattering) so this was a different look for her, but attractive as well. Being a woman and noticing such things, I complimented her on the new look.

“Well, I usually keep my hair short, like yours, but,” she lowered her head and looked from side to side before whispering, “I broke up with my hairdresser.” She looked relieved. There, she’d admitted it.

“She’s in Alexandria, I’m out here.  I’m not working right now, so why spend the money, so…” Her voice trailed off with the justifications, but it was clear: although it was time to move on, she felt guilty.  A second later, she confessed. “I feel so bad.”

Changing hairdressers is a real, often secret, pain point for women. In fact, it’s such a big deal that, Lisa tells me, Oprah  actually did a whole show on the subject. Now guys just don’t seem to have this problem. Maybe because they only get their hair “cut” while we get ours “done.” Maybe because it’s hard to have an intimate conversation over the sound of buzz clippers or while your nostril hairs are being trimmed.  (There are some benefits to being a woman.) Maybe it’s because they more easily view the hairdresser as a business relationship, rather than as a friendship.  I don’t know.  But the fact remains: for women, breaking up with our hairdresser is hard to do.

We women bond with our stylists. They have us “in the chair” on a regular basis, surpassed in frequency only by therapists and confessors (at least for the good Catholic sort).  We rely not only on their styling skill but also on their personality judgments (”Is this ‘me’?”).  

When our hair—or mood--demands a change, however, our loyalty is tested.   Hairdressers tend to get in a rut---cutting the same-old, same-old. For many women, “new hair” comes only with a new hairstylist. 

And guilt follows.  Like Lisa, most women seem to feel guilty less about the “break up” itself, and more because, “I didn’t tell her. I just haven’t been back.  She was my hairdresser for so long…13 years.”

What’s the right way to break up with your hairdresser?  OK, I agree, it’s not one of the weightier moral issues of the day.  But, hey, over at Oprah.com, they call it an ethical dilemma and summon the experts (http://www.oprah.com/style/Breaking-Up-with-Your-Hairdresser).  Two male ethicists, reflecting the “business relationship” approach to the question, said women should definitely tell their hairdresser that “it’s over,” rather than leaving her to wonder what happened, not only to your roots, but also to your family, friends, and all the other “issues” in your life.

The lone female expert thought differently.  After all, she points out,  how do you say, “"I started seeing someone I love more than you"?  Most of us, I suspect, would side with her. Instead of the male, business-like approach, we start the process indirectly by “neglecting” to make our next appointment. Then, sealing the deal, we slink across town to find more excitement, leaving our “ex” to ask, like a jilted lover, what she did wrong and if we’ll ever call again. 

Now it’s my turn to confess. It’s been five years since I broke up with my old hairdresser, Martha. It got too expensive and I simply stopped going to her. And I still feel guilty every time I drive past the strip mall that’s home to her very own salon—her pride and joy after 30 years of working for someone else.  In fact, I always crane my neck to make sure she’s still in business—to my great relief, she seems to be thriving even without my every-six-weeks-cut-and-color.  It’s bad enough to desert your hairdresser for someone else, but who wants the added guilt of feeling like you put her out of business? Oh, the baggage that comes along with beauty.

Maybe now’s the time to make up for my cowardice of five years past.  So I’ll say it: “Martha, wherever you are, I’ll come clean.  I’m seeing someone else for my hair. Lucinda’s her name. I hope you understand.” 

There.  It’s over.  But, like Lisa, I still feel guilty.

Topics: Culture , Fashion

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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