who’s in control of this haircut, anyway?

“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.

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9 responses to “who’s in control of this haircut, anyway?

  1. Not that book and game reviews don’t have their place in this world, but it’s so fun to hear you talking when I read this post. Naturally, I agree; first, because your writing takes me there and makes me understand, second, because I have similar feelings about haircutdom, and third because you’re my big brother and I would believe anything you told me. :)

    As the kids get on each others nerves 24/7 being home together, I think how much FUN I would have with my sibs with time like that now. And the dumb kids are WASTING IT!

    Love you, miss you. Can’t wait to see you on Monday.

  2. Are boys supposed to know about hair?

  3. You just need to have Matt teach you how to cut your own hair. I love that he cuts his own because it makes the entire process so simple. I on the other hand tend to get my hair cut and then just let it grow until I can’t stand it anymore (usually a year or so), then cut it all off! I think that my reasoning has a lot to do with the fact that I also HATE to get my hair cut. Especially if they insist on shampooing it (I like to do that myself right before I go in).
    I loved this post! It made me think of you and want to hang out. Hopefully we can all get together soon!

  4. For me, I’ve learned to just ask the stylist what they’re doing as they go (or after the cut is over and your glasses are back on). I’ve tried to pick up whatever jargon I can and learn the words that don’t bring happy results, and the ones that do.

    A stylist might be able to identify what would look good on you and what wouldn’t, but I’ve found that no one can tell me what my hair will and will not cope with. This is my biggest frustration at the salon, because while I can tell them that my hair has multiple personalities, they tend to not believe me.

    And if you’re going to get all super style savvy, you might as well just buy a straight iron. Ew.

  5. And by the way, congratulations on the awesome haircut! I hope you enjoy every minute of its lifespan. :)

  6. ditto… although it seems like you know a ton about your hair, much more than I would expect from a boy… not trying to be sexist.

    very entertaining post. I lol’ed

  7. in the future, just keep going to Jen!

  8. I usually go too long between haircuts, and it is always variable how long my hair is when I go in. So saying how much I want off is pointless. For the longest time though, I tended to feel the way you do, let me give vague directions and make it work.

    But in recent years I started telling the stylist how much I want left on top. This works fairly well. I’ll say finger length (which really means finger width, or is it breadth?) and it roughly comes out the same, unless the stylist has particularly slender fingers. But really, how are we supposed to really decide when they grab a tuft of hair at a certain point and be able to tell how that will look distributed across our heads?

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