Comedian and writer Carol Tobin finds The One. The one hairdresser that finally gets her, that is.
You know when you finally find The One and everyone else before them becomes faint melded memories? This happened to me over six years ago in Sandymount village. Our eyes met in the mirror in front of me and I knew things were going to be different as soon as I made myself comfortable in her hairdressing chair.
Before I met Karen, the woman who would tame my mane and part of my mind, I hated getting my hair done. A trip to the hairdressers for me was met with the same trepidation that people have when they are visiting the dentist. I could never find this environment relaxing in the manner that most women do. Even if the chairs were made out of contorted human beings giving real massages with their hands, I would still be on edge in there.
I found salons to be stuffy, the hairdryers parching the air, leaving me gasping for breath.
They always seemed too bright, the lights showing up imperfections that weren’t visible before I left the house. At times I felt I would baste under the gown that was swapped for my jacket on arrival, the mirror kindly informing me that my face was getting progressively redder. There were moments when I thought my neck was going to snap at the wash basin and that I was going to drown in the sink. My life was flashing before my eyes to the sound of foaming suds. Even with ten old issues of magazines to distract me, it’s still strange sitting in front of a mirror for a long period of time. You always end up analysing how your past has played out on your present face.
I’m tracing this former panicky disposition down to a traumatic experience when I was younger, and I am blaming the Irish education system for this. I was in Transition Year in school, trying to find ways to fill the hours. My understimulated brain went to mush and I somehow thought it was a great idea to go for an edgy haircut in a hairdressing school full of students. This would turn out to be the second regret of my life, the first being signing up for
Transition Year. The girl who did my hair was, of course, inexperienced. I requested a messy layered bob and I was given a lion’s mane. The worst part was that the student used a blade and badly shaved my hair to get the mane effect, resulting in a permanent kink that still haunts me to this day.
The day I met Karen, I decided to be completely upfront about my weird hairdressing needs. I didn’t want to get hurt again. “When you’re finished with my highlights, I don’t want a
blow-dry, is that OK?” She replied, “No worries, whatever you want” in a casual yet genuine tone, and I found myself promptly relaxing. I despise having my hair blow-dried. I always end up looking like the elderly wife of a former US president. In the past, my request was always greeted with bemusement. As if I had just stated, “See the puppy outside tied to that pole, I want you to style that dog into my hair today please.” A couple of times I’ve been embarrassed into getting blow-dries and returned home to wash them out. One lady once said, “Are you mad? You’re telling me you’re gonna walk through Dublin with wet hair?” “I was going to get into a taxi, actually,” I nervously replied as she started the hairdryer.
Not only is Karen a talented hairdresser, she completely understands me. She can tell when I’m in an unstable mood and guide me away from terrible hair choices. She also lets me take well-discussed risks in a safe environment and I’ve experimented with loads of different hairstyles under her watch. She doesn’t lecture me about using cheap shampoos or when I land in after cutting my own hair because I was bored after staying in on a Saturday night. She is also superb at reading body language and can sense if I want to talk or not. She notices when my shoulders are tense and swiftly sends for chamomile tea. Over the years, I’ve cried with laughter and sadness in her chair and have never been made to feel awkward for the latter.
I really missed Karen’s brilliance when I found myself in New York in desperate need of a root touch-up. I ended up coming out of a strange hair salon with a mortifying papal hat of yellowish blonde because I didn’t have the courage to speak up. I really think they should teach assertiveness courses for dealing with certain hairstylists in secondary school, perhaps Transition Year would be the perfect place for it.
This article originally appeared in the January issue of IMAGE magazine. The February issue is on shelves now. Carol Tobin is a comedian and writer. Follow her on Twitter @CarolGertrude
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