Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Sheer Despair, Shared Anxiety: Does Your Hair Make You Cry?

My worst haircut made me look like a cross between a poodle and Art Garfunkel.

I just got a terrific new haircut. The stylist did a remarkable job and everybody loves it, especially my husband. Want to know the best thing about the whole experience? It did not make me cry.

From the steely, elegant sangfroid of Manhattanites to the most flexible of generous, benefit-of-the-doubt-giving, easy-going Connecticut dames, every woman I have ever known has one thing in common: she has, at some point in her life, wept after getting a haircut.

A woman will watch her hair being slowly and carefully styled, permed, colored, curled, and snipped only to discover that her most heartfelt response to the new look is abject horror. She is promised beauty, sophistication, a renewed joy in her own reflection. What she gets is an asymmetrical shag highlighted up-do--or whatever it is called by the professionals.

Then what she REALLY gets is depressed.

Most men have a different response to getting a haircut: put a bowl over their heads, wipe the hairs off the back of their necks and they are happy. This makes them incapable of understanding the profound reactions we women have to the whole new-look process.

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Our emotions outlast our haircuts. Want proof?

Kit and I both happened to be living in London when we were in our early twenties.We had, as energetic young women are likely to have, many fabulous adventures. Most of these I now picture as a colorful blur of cheap meals at great Indian restaurants, shandies in pubs, endless bags of chips soaked in salt and vinegar eaten while sauntering through Covent Garden, and strolling through the British Museum about once a week saying: “Wow, the English really stole wonderful art from EVERYWHERE!”

What I remember best, of course, are the terrible moments: the instant I realized the boyfriend I adored considered me less important than one of his many hobbies; the day Kit took the wrong train ending up in a dreary town in Surrey with no way to return that night because the last train back had already departed.

One of the most detailed memories I have involves deciding to get our hair cut. We went to a fancy salon offering inexpensive styling on days when the staff was being trained. Kit and I both had waist-length blankets of heavy, wavy hair. When the head of the salon began to work on Kit, he began by explaining why she looked terrible, just terrible. Now lovely Kit did not look terrible--she just looked like she needed a haircut.

The supercilious man discussed Kit as if she were a patient under heavy anesthetic. “Look at the dry yet oddly greasy texture of the hair. Notice the way it emphasizes her broad, flat cheekbones thereby making her round face look even heavier. Consider the fact, too, that the color of her hair is so dull it is almost green.” At this point, Kit could no longer contain her tears. Silently at first, but with growing passion, she started to weep.

She didn’t move. Neither did I. We didn’t flounce out of there with our dignity and our tresses intact. Kit was still sniffling when we left more than an hour later and my tears were just barely controlled. Kit looked like cross between a Persian lamb and Maria Schneider and I looked like a cross between a poodle and Art Garfunkel. We were miserable. Ironically, nobody else seemed to think we looked all that different.

I thought about this episode Kit and I still refer to as The London Haircut because I recently met a good friend at a salon in Manhattan--just for the heck of it. I was on my way to lunch with a couple of editors in the city and thought it would be fun to stop in. When my pal's stylist, a lively gentleman she’s been going to for years, looked at me, I immediately recognized in his eyes the same voracious glint that I saw in the eyes of the stylist in London. He swooped down on my hair, lifted and twisting, showing me how I SHOULD look.

This time I knew enough to leave quickly. I counted myself fortunate to have learned my lesson all those years ago.

But I also decided that my stylist at home could have a go at changing my look. This time, as I watched inches of hair fall to the floor, I felt the weight of those earlier bad haircut memories fall away.

And when I looked in mirror, I smiled.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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