“What are we doing for you today?” asks Jen the hair stylist as I settle into the barber chair.
She wraps me in the suffocating weight of a hair cutting cape while I try to establish the usual parameters: short on the sides, blended up into the top, and a little longer in the front. My hair is thick, I explain, and likes to stick up in the back, so anything that could help with that problem would certainly be welcome, too.
In my ideal world this would be enough direction. I would entrust the stylist with these half-conceived preferences, fully confident that she will devise a coherent haircut strategy—smoothing out any contradictions in my instructions, calculating for the shape of my head, the texture of my hair—and ultimately make me look incredible.
But Jen, like so many of her predecessors, has some follow-up questions.
“What guard do you usually use on the sides?”
I can’t remember. A three? A four?
“How much do you want taken off the top? An inch? A half-inch?” She is holding my hair between her fingers on the side of my head to show the different lengths she can cut. Of course, I already have my glasses off and can only vaguely see what is going on in the mirror across from me.
“A half inch, I guess.”
“Like this?” I still can’t see what she’s trying to show me in the mirror.
“Yeah, that looks good,” I say. By this point I’ve already given up on the idea that this process is going to have a happy conclusion. Glasses or no glasses, Jen’s delving into details that are entirely beyond my comprehension. I have no technical concept of how to get my hair to look any particular way. To be honest, all I’m really hoping for is to come out of this thing not looking like a furry mushroom. But if Jen is relying on me to know how to make this happen, our chances of success are rapidly dwindling.
We forge ahead, though, and hope for the best. It’s not until almost an hour later, one I’ve gotten a decent look at myself in the mirror at home that I realize Jen has actually pulled it off. It’s probably the best haircut I’ve had this year. I’m relieved, of course, but also feel a bit exhausted by the thought that things could have just as easily gone the other way.
I don’t know, maybe there is a better way to approach my haircuts. Maybe if I knew more about my hair, if I was able to give more detailed, informed instructions on what to have the stylists do it wouldn’t be such an overwhelming crapshoot each time.
The thing is, though, I don’t want to be in control of my haircuts. Is it unreasonable to expect someone who cuts hair for a living, someone who presumably has a fair amount of experience and skill, to take control for me? In my mind, this is what I’m really paying for.