Marien Keys on the power struggle that goes on in most hairdresser’s
We're not sure why, but going to the hairdresser's is traumatic. Frequently, what should be an indulgent pampering experience turns out to be highly stressful and confidence-shaking. We couldn't quite put our fingers on why, but then we read this extract from Marian Keyes' new book and she nailed it.
Here's the bestselling author's bang-on advice about how to deal with a hostile hairdresser... We're in this together, ladies!
'I’m very lucky because I have a lovely hairdresser and I’ve gone to her for a long time and I really like her and she never keeps me waiting and she does exactly as I ask and she never suggests that it might be ‘Time for a change’, and when I ask her to take half an inch off the ends, she takes half an inch off the ends and not half a foot, and when I took a notion and wanted colouredy extensions, she didn’t shriek, ‘What?! At your age?!’ She simply calmly went and organized the colouredy extensions. And when I said to her recently, ‘I’d like to change my colour,’ she changed my colour. And when I didn’t like it, I was able to say, ‘I don’t know about this . . . could we try something else?’ And she calmly complied and she didn’t take offence and I knew she wouldn’t take offence and I am very lucky.
However, recently (I’ll be vague about dates because I don’t want the poor chap to be identifiable) I was away from home and wanted to have my hair blow-dried and so I went to a hairdresser’s that I’d never been to before. This hairdresser’s is part of a chain and I think that always make things worse because they have rigid and elaborate customer-humiliating protocols in place. Anyway, the second I stepped through the doors, it all came rushing back to me! The power struggle for ownership of your spirit that goes on in most hairdresser’s.
The idea is that they break you, break your spirit entirely, and when they’ve reduced you to a nothing with no sense of self, with no voice of your own, then they will rebuild you in their image and you will do exactly what they tell you to do and use the products that they sell you, and perhaps even buy a hairdryer and maybe even a house from them. They own you – soul, hair, everything.
But I can help you. I have a guide right here to help you!
Step One: The Arrival. When you arrive, the receptionist will ignore you – they will be on the phone or pretend to be checking something in their book or on their screen. They are not bad people, they are simply doing what they’ve been trained to do. In the past I used to stand there like an anxious sap, staring miserably, trying to catch their eye, thinking, ‘Please look at me, please don’t make me feel invisible.’ But you don’t have to be like me. Oh no! Instead, take out your phone! Call a good friend, someone you haven’t seen for a while, and commence a warm and lengthy catch-up!
Step Two: The Coat Removal. When you have finished your call – and take your time about it, enjoy your chat – the receptionist will offer to take your coat. Be vigilant! This is where the second blow to your self-esteem will be struck. Some ‘friendly’ comment will be made on your appearance. On my visit a few days ago the person said, ‘Well! You’re very colourful today!’ Then he exchanged a look with his colleague and a silent snigger passed between them.
There was one time when a hairdresser’s receptionist stared at my handbag and said, ‘Is that Prada?’ And when I said it was, he said, ‘From the cheap range?’ (This is an honest-to-God, swear- on-my-nephew’s-life fact. I could actually tell you this man’s name, but of course I won’t.) Do not think that you will avoid this essential part of the humiliation process by having no coat to give. ‘No coat?’ they will say, all wide-eyed and scornful. ‘Well! Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.’
There are a couple of ways of dealing with Step Two. You can fight fire with fire and respond in kind with some comment on their appearance. For example, ‘I love your spots. They’re so . . .’ cough, snigger ‘. . . youthful.’ Or you can do something totally different. You can stare at them, hold their gaze and think the words, ‘I feel boundless compassion for you.’ Hold the gaze for a couple of seconds longer than is considered mannerly and force love out from behind your eyes. This will badly rattle them.
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Step Three: The Wait. ‘Elijah will be down in a moment,’ the receptionist will tell you. But as we all know, Elijah will NOT be down in a moment. Elijah will be down when it suits him. Elijah is on Twitter, trolling his ex. Or Elijah is out the back having a cigarette. Or indeed Elijah may be doing nothing and may be keen to see you. But he cannot! Alas, he cannot! Because rules are rules and The Wait is vital – it says to the client, ‘Your time is as nothing. You are blessed to be in here and it’s important that you know it.’
There are a couple of ways to address The Wait. You could walk out – I’ve done it once or twice. Or you could decide to draw up a list of everyone you’ve ever slept with. Take out a pen and notebook that you’ve brought specially for this purpose and start. Be rigorous. One-night stands, everything. Don’t forget people you ‘met’ on holiday. Rack your brains good and proper. At some point Elijah will appear and you will be expected to jump to your feet. My orders to you are DO NOT! Finish your list. When you are finished – and I want you to do a thorough job – then and only then may you look up at him. If you feel you could manage to, I beg you to quirk an eyebrow at Elijah and say, ‘Ready then?’ Practise this at home if you don’t feel confident you can do it for the first time in the saloon.
Step Four: The Gown. Elijah will hold it in a way that no matter how you try to get into it, it will be wrong. If you try to go in front-ways, it will be like a coat. If you approach it like a coat it will have to be put on over your head. Indeed, rumour has reached me that some hairdressers are inventing onesie gowns that you have to step into, feet first. I’ve discovered that I cannot out-think them in this matter. The only thing I can suggest is that you say, ‘Okay, Elijah, you win round four.’
Step Five: The Consultation. Be alert: this is the central part of the process. This is when the real meat of the breaking happens. This is where you sit in front of the mirror and Elijah will lift a piece of your hair and contemptuously let it fall again. He will lift another strand and, in disgust, drop it. If everyone has done their job right, you will be close to tears at this point. Then Elijah will say, ‘So what happened here?’
Usually I stammer, ‘How do you mean?’
And Elijah will say, ‘Well, it’s a disaster. Did you get it cut like this for charity? Sort of like a Movember thing?’
‘. . . but . . .’
‘And the condition! It’s so dry it’s breaking off in my hands.’
Then he will ask the most leading question you will be asked in your visit. He will say, ‘What do you use for your home care regime?’ And this is where you need to have your answers ready, my amigos. The very best thing you can do is to lift your chin, meet his eye in the mirror and say scornfully, ‘Home care? I never blow-dry my hair myself! My hairdresser comes to my house every morning at seven.’
However, if you feel you can’t manage to pull this off, there are a couple of alternatives. You can say, ‘I use Frédéric Fekkai.’ (This is the most expensive hair range that I know of.) ‘Admittedly, Elijah, it costs an arm and a leg but it’s worth it, right? I’ve just started using that overnight conditioner, the one that costs 195 quid a bottle and I find it perrrr.ittty immmp.ressive. In fact, Elijah, your own hair is looking a bit banjoed, you could do with some yourself. I’ve got a bottle here in my bag. I can give it to you for . . . let’s say . . . £220?’
OR you could say, ‘I use Majestic Gold,’ and Elijah will curl his lip and say ‘What?’ (Because you’ve just made it up.) And you will say, ‘Oh yes. It’s from the United Arab Emirates. Next-generation haircare. Miracle stuff. It’s, like, literally the most expensive range on the planet.’ Pause and give a little tinkle of a laugh. ‘They use real gold in it. I hear they’re starting to use it in —’ And here you will mention their nearest rival.
OR you can say, ‘Elijah, you know and I know that my hair is fine. I know you’re going to try and sell me an expensive condi¬tioner. But, Elijah, here’s how it is. I have enough money to buy the conditioner or I have enough money to give you a tip. But I don’t have enough money to do both. It’s up to you. You decide.’
You must plump for one of these options. A stand must be taken. Else when you go to the till, you’ll find a little bag with rope handles waiting for you.
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Step Six: The Hairwash. You will be taken to a basin and a child who dreams of being on the minimum wage will ask if you would like a head massage. You will say yes. The child will place their thumbs on your skull and press twice. The massage is now over.
Step Seven: The Blow-dry. It all depends. It might go okay. Elijah might do what you ask. Or he might not. It depends on how bitter he is that you didn’t buy the conditioner.
Step Eight: The Conversation. Elijah will fire an opening salvo by asking if you’ve been on holidays recently. You can shut things down fast by saying, ‘I haven’t been anywhere for a while. Not since they made me surrender my passport.’
Step Nine: The Hairspray. Be a good girl and take your medicine. Open your clob and let Elijah spray in a mouthful. Don’t drag it out.
Step Ten: The Removal of the Gown. You will stand up and expect Elijah to start untying bows. He won’t. You will have to do it yourself.
Step Eleven: The Stealthy Sell. When you go to the till to pay, the receptionist person will say in a sing-songy casual way, ‘Did you want to take any products, at all?’ And you will see the con¬ditioner Elijah tried to flog you sitting there, gazing at you hopefully like a puppy in an abandoned dog’s home. Just say no. Again.
Step Twelve: Your Next Appointment. Super-casually, the receptionist will ask, ‘When will I book you in for your next appointment, at all?’ Are you brave enough to say, ‘When hell freezes over’? I confess I haven’t yet been, but I hope one day I will be.
Step Thirteen: The Return of Your Coat. The receptionist will ask, ‘What’s your coat like?’
‘Reeeeealllly?’ A blue coat? How . . . well . . . hysterical!
They’ll disappear into a little cubbyhole and while they’re in there they’ll eat a Twirl and check their texts. Some time later they’ll re-emerge, swallowing down the last of their chocolate, and say, ‘No blue coats.’ They’ll look at you like you’re a halfwit who can’t even remember what they put on that morning.
‘But there must be. It has a hood –’
There will be a moment when you think, ‘Why would I want a blue coat with a hood? Wouldn’t I just be better leaving without it?’
Stand your ground, I urge you. Stand your ground. Make them go back in.
After a while they’ll come out dragging a rag along the floor. It will be your coat. Feigning astonishment that anyone would wear such a thing, they’ll ask, ‘Is this it?’
Shame will have you teetering on a knife edge. You really will consider denying it and just running away. Don’t. It is your coat. You bought it because you loved it. Don’t abandon it.
Very accusingly the receptionist will say, ‘It was under a pile of other coats.’
Do NOT apologize.
The Final Humiliation: Putting Your Coat On. The receptionist will go behind you and pretend to help you into your coat, but in reality they will be pinching the armholes closed so you will flail around, like you’re doing the upright backstroke, wondering why you’re so useless.
Just take your coat from them and say, ‘I’ll do it myself.’
There we are, I hope this hard-won experience is in some way helpful. May I just state again that I love my hairdresser, so obviously not all of them are horrible.
Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes is now available in paperback (Penguin Books, £7.99)