When I was a lot younger, I had lots of hair. Thick, black, straight ASIAN hair. I could barely wrap a hair tie around it more than once or twice. I hated it. In fourth grade I got a perm. In junior high and high school I started having it professionally highlighted.
I went to a woman named Sue at a local salon next to the White Hen in a small strip mall near my house. She was pretty and blonde and always seemed to like doing my hair because I was adventurous. Once in my early 20’s, she started telling me about Nioxin, a product for thinning hair. I thought she was trying to sell me on something I didn’t need. I stopped going to her.
At twenty-five I finally started to realize my hair really was thinning. So I went to the doctor to ask about it. They did a biopsy on a piece of hair, cutting into my head with small scalpel to pull it from the root. She determined I was genetically balding and suggested I start using men’s maximum strength Rogaine, but warned it worked on less than 35% of people. I was lucky in that it did work, but found out that if you ever stop using Rogaine, you’ll lose all of the hair that grew back because of it. Also, under the directions it specifically says women should not use it.
I moved to New York in my late twenties. I was unemployed and finally landed a job five months later at NYU in the financial aid department. I liked most of my co-workers, my manager, my director. But the job itself was very high stress. Every week we’d get our schedule to show us where we’d be at different times of the day. The worst was a four hour phone shift, where you’d be patched in to the main system and watch as dozens and dozens of calls were backlogged, creating an unrelenting barrage of entitled parents thinking their kid was special. I started losing a lot more hair. I started to wonder how soon I’d have to start wearing a wig. I wondered if my boyfriend would still think I was attractive.
I used Rogaine on and off for many years. I’d stop or use a store brand when I couldn’t afford it. I loved my new hair stylist who had alopecia and understood my anxiety. Dating was already horrible and now compounded by assuming if I ever met anyone that had long term potential, I’d have to tell them I might be bald sooner than later.
When I got pregnant, I couldn’t use Rogaine anymore. What’s weird is that during pregnancy, your hair actually grows more. Then a few months after you have the baby, it starts falling out almost in clumps. I watched in horror as the whole front of my head became bare. I stood up in my friend’s wedding and the stylist was nice enough to tie a piece of ribbon over my bad spots.
I’ve never had an attachment to my hair in terms of it’s length. I love chopping it off when I have the impulse. I’ve had a couple of bad haircuts, but have never cried. Of course I’ve gone through those moments of wanting long, beautiful locks because that’s what the boys want.
This past summer I decided I wanted to color my hair. I wanted a gray ombre. I looked up my old stylist who was now at a more expensive salon and asked her to do it. She told me she’d have to bleach my hair two or three times to get it light enough for the gray to take. So instead, we bleached it once and I went blue. It didn’t last long and I realized my ignorance of creative colors. They fade. Fast. And it takes money and maintenance to keep it up. I posted on a secret Facebook group of young and hip women who live here if they had any suggestions for affordable color and ended up stumbling upon Salon Apprentice, a website where new stylists post ads for free haircuts and discounted services.
Becoming a hair stylist is still for all intents and purposes, an apprenticeship. Though we still manage to force people to attend school and get a license, they have to train at a salon and learn from the masters. It truly is an artistic craft. I think many women can agree it feels great to leave the salon and I understand why someone would want to create that experience for someone else. Hair, unlike make-up, feels like shoes instead of clothes. Most everyone can participate, no matter their size or looks.
I’ve had a lot of free blowouts and colored my hair again with someone in training. Every week or so, my hair gets treated with nice shampoo and conditioner rather than the drug store crap I buy. A young beautician in training and I make small talk, sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t. But the entire point is to make my hair look great, as part of her training and for me to leave feeling pretty. Sometimes an instructor will point out my thinning locks and they always suggest products that “thicken” or create volume. But while they may be blowing smoke up my ass, the stylist always makes me feel like my hair is normal again.
The other day, one of the salon owners commented to the apprentice that I was a good model because I had “runway” hair. And yeah, it made me feel good.