What’s your first beauty memory? Mine is a trip to the hairdresser that left me in tears, age five, that I’ve never quite gotten over…
It was a fresh, bright day in Shrewsbury, England and I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation. I was about to be a flower girl for the first time that day at a very, very fancy wedding. I had a typically ’90s, intricately detailed, bouffant gown to wear. It was tiny and huge at the same time, devouring me under layers of cream crushed silk, with a marsala sash around my middle.
A Real Life Princess
I was fully certain that the bride-to-be, and her three gorgeous and statuesque bridesmaids, were English royalty. In actual fact, the bride-to-be was one of my dad’s good friends from when he studied in the UK and she was not quite royal. But to me, wearing a mini replica of her wedding dress, she was a princess.
I was terribly shy as a child. My face would flush the bright red of my flower girl sash if an adult so much as smiled me, and so all the attention I was getting as a bona fide wedding party member was overwhelming. I was unbelievably excited about one particular aspect of the wedding day prep – my first trip to the hairdressers.
The English contingent referred to it as ‘the salon’. I had hair down to my waist that was straight but curly – you know the type – and very fine. I didn’t know it at the time, but it takes a lot of product and a small hair miracle to get it to hold a style.
The manic, pre-wedding Saturday morning rush in the small village salon was, again, overwhelming. I was five and this was one of my first times being in a different country, so everything felt very different. The hairdresser in charge of me had to curl my hair and afterward, put a little flower crown into it. I didn’t think it was going to be anything to feel anxious about.
They first washed my hair. I was propped up on a pile of towels so that my head reached the basin – but my neck was at a funny angle and I was sore from the moment I sat down. The hairdresser wasn’t being careful – suds got in my eyes and stung. The towel was wrapped too tight. By the time I landed back to the blow-dry station, I was silently close to tears.
Trying to detangle two feet of hair (that probably hadn’t been brushed through in a week) was a painful experience for me, and for the person tasked with doing it, I don’t doubt. I was teary again, and my face was pink with the stress of it all. They asked me was I okay, I just nodded. The dryer was so hot and held for so long on one part of my head it felt like I was being scalded. They then tried in vain to achieve a curl in my mousey brown hair and failed.
They tried again, and failed. Pulling, prodding, brushing from three different people all at the same time resulted in nothing that resembled the ‘look’ we were all hoping would be achieved. There were calls for me to leave the salon or risk being late for the wedding and so they admitted defeat and I left.
I remember all these things more distinctly than I remember any other moment of the wedding. I remember feeling sad that I didn’t ask them to be gentler with my little noggin, I remember feeling guilty because the curl didn’t stay in. I was convinced I was ruining the wedding because the thing the bride requested from me was curls and a flower crown and I was only half delivering (of course, I wasn’t, but at age five, how was I to rationalise that?). I was embarrassed because I thought everyone along that mile-long aisle was looking at my hair.
What I Learned
Thinking back to five-year-old me, terrified to speak up in a busy salon, it occurred to me how little had changed in me up until recently. I’d still ensure a painful and anxiety-inducing visit to the salon instead of speaking up. I once sat through a hair appointment so stressful that I burst into tears when I left. I didn’t complain.
I was once overcharged by €80 but didn’t go back and query it because they were so busy. I’ve had half of my left eyebrow scalped by a threading ‘specialist’ and I didn’t speak a word to her or the manager, and I paid full price.
I once had a manicure so bad it looked like a toddler had done it, and when they asked me gleefully “how was everything today”, I smiled and said “great, thanks” and skulked out like a woman defeated. Granted, I understand how lucky I am to be able to go and pay for beauty treatments like this, but that doesn’t mean I should be grateful for any shoddy service they deign to provide.
I know I’m not the only one, too. The amount of stories friends have told me of terrible salon experiences where they were left crying and upset having paid and said thank you for abysmal service is innumerable. If you were paying for a painter to paint your living room white and they painted it grey, got paint all over your new carpet and rolled their eyes when you asked about the colour discrepancy, would you still thank them and hand over all your money? I would hope not.
So now, any time I am in a salon, paying with my hard-earned cash for something that should be a pleasant experience and service, I think back to teary, five-year-old flower girl me. I will her to have to confidence to gently speak up and say “that hair dryer is burning my scalp” – and I make sure 31-year-old me does the exact same.