As a socially awkward human, I struggle with many everyday tasks that most people are able to complete without any issues. One such errand, the Trip to the Hairdresser, is a particularly dreaded occurrence. A haircut presents a myriad difficulties and unique terrors for those with socially anxious tendencies. I hereby aim to highlight just some of the awful aspects of this ordeal, to allow Normal People to understand what we endure on a bi-annual basis (or, ideally, far less frequently).
1. The telephone conversation
Ahh, the telephone, the familiar foe of my people. The Telephone Conversation is an essential part of initiating the Hair Ordeal. The alternative would be to walk brazenly into the hairdressing salon without an appointment, and proceed to demand an appointment from a real live person, in person. This is worrisome as there are too many variables that are out of control – what if there are no appointments available? What if they look at me and my hair and laugh in derision? What if they ask what time I want the appointment and I panic and reply “Yes” and look like a ninny in front of everyone? I could be a laughing stock.
Best to pick up the Dreaded Telephone and attempt to stammer through the conversation as best as possible, hiding behind the relative anonymity it provides. I am still able to sound like a ninny, but at least the Salon Person cannot see my reddened ninny-face.
2. Looking at myself in the mirror
Eye contact is scary at the best of times, so the act of making eye contact with myself in the mirror in front of a stranger is almost unbearable. Thus I end up awkwardly avoiding my own gaze. Nothing is weirder than sitting staring at oneself wearing an odd and unflattering gown with wet, slicked back hair whilst watching and at once trying not to be seen watching the person standing behind you recklessly wielding sharp objects. (Refer to point 3). Observing myself in the mirror Being Awkward is an especially painful event. Do I have to smile so ingratiatingly at the hairdresser while they are talking to me? Why is my face so weird looking? Is this what it looks like all the time? Do other people see me like this? Facial expressions are so difficult to make accurately. What if she thinks I’m mocking her? Why do I look so scared? Rearrange your features quickly, please!
You are a troll.
3. Looking at the hairdresser in the mirror
As we all know, it is rude to stare at people. Therefore it is just not nice to look at the hairdresser in the mirror while they are at work. What if they interpret my unwavering gaze as a sign of mistrust, as if I am scrutinising their technique closely to make sure they behave themselves? That would be unthinkable. And yet it is rude not to make eye contact with someone while they are talking to you, therefore it becomes a complicated dance of looking at the hairdresser and looking Anywhere Else (except at myself, naturally).
In general, the optimal place for your eyes is for them to remain fixed on the reflection of your own right shoulder, a neutral third party that neither demands nor takes offence from close scrutiny. Occasional glances at the Hairdresser, only during periods of Conversation, are encouraged, to promote good flow of speech and maintain the illusion that I am Relaxed and Normal.
4. Small talk
Does hairdressing school include classes on small talk? Small Talk, otherwise known as the Scourge of the Socially Anxious, is dreaded in almost every situation however its intensity is greatly magnified when one is stuck in a chair with no clear escape route or possible excuse to leave.
Hairdresser Small Talk is possibly the lowest form of small talk, usually involving some riff on “So what do you have planned for the rest of the day?” The true answer to this generally includes ‘miscellaneous internet, laundry and lamenting over my unsatisfactory new haircut’, none of which are appropriate responses. Therefore one must compose a complicated back story to make oneself sound at once casual yet glamourous. Needless to say, this is very difficult to achieve when put on the spot and tends to end in a hasty lie that leads to a hideous web of fibs, imaginary friends and flimsy alibis that are no doubt completely transparent to the hairdresser, those shrewd purveyors of Small Talk.
5. A Stranger touching my head and/or face
Self explanatory. *shudder*
6. Attempting to drink the complimentary cappuccino
Why would anyone think it was a good idea to serve a hot beverage to a person who is essentially strapped into a chair, instructed to keep their head unnaturally still, and then showered in falling clumps of their own wet hair?
The endless debate rages on in one’s head. Is this a good time to take a sip of coffee? No, surely not, it would certainly interrupt their work. What about….now? Can I pick it up and convey it to my mouth without moving my head? Probably not. Maybe I’ll just wait until they go to fetch the hair dryer. What about…now? No, definitely not. Look how busy and important their work is. I can’t just sit here and sip a coffee as if I’m sitting in a café or something. No! I am here as a guest, it would be immensely rude to disrespect their creative process that way.
And then, the coffee is cold. And it’s game over.
7. Why is someone washing my hair?
Having your hair washed by somebody else should be a pleasure reserved for the helpless: small children, or perhaps a beloved pet. The act is far too intimate to be performed by someone you wouldn’t know from a bar of soap. This is seen as something that should be soothing, a treat of some form, but for the socially anxious it presents yet another set of challenges. Do I close my eyes while they are washing my hair? The argument for Yes is solid—this means that the hairdresser is less likely to attempt to continue their relentless pursuit of Small Talk. However, there is equally compelling grounds for No—what if by closing my eyes they think I am enjoying this a little too much? What if they think I am some kind of sad, lonely person who is so desperate for intimacy that they crave the touch of another human, even if only in this small way?
And then they poke a towel into your ear to dry it and every boundary of common decency has thus been breached and there is nothing more you can do to salvage your dignity.
8. The fear
Fear in general is part and parcel of being Socially Anxious, however in this context the Fear is specifically: getting a terrible haircut. Not only getting a terrible haircut, but being stuck in the chair, powerless, watching yourself get a terrible haircut and yet unable to say anything to salvage the situation in case one comes across as rude or ungrateful for the services being rendered.
What if they just keep cutting? What would I do? Once you enter The Chair, there is no going back. You have handed yourself over to The Hairdresser and their scissor implements, and in doing so you have indicated your full consent to whatever insane act they wish to perform on your unsuspecting head.
9. Acting as though I am pleased when in fact I am displeased
When the Hair Ordeal is almost over, it is time to prepare oneself for the act of assuring the Hairdresser that their skills in removing segments of your hair has been satisfactory, nay, superlative! This is an integral part of the experience, as at the end of the day your task as the Hairdressee is to applaud the genius of the Hairdresser. Remarking on both the appearance and “feel” of the cut is encouraged, as is enthusiastic smiling at oneself in the mirror (see point 2) and enthusiastic nodding and smiling at the Hairdresser in the mirror (see point 3). Words like “Bouncy!” and “Full!” are some nice adjectives to implement here to placate the Hairdresser. It is also vital to make some comment on how they have improved your appearance from the wreck you were when you came in. Exclaiming that it is “much better!” or “much neater!” is a good way to do this, or “Now I look much less like a half unrolled bale of hay!”
It is important to be convincing, lest the cunning Hairdresser discover that you are in fact lying through your teeth and are actually thinking Oh God Oh God I look like a Moist West Highland Terrier Maybe I’ll Just Wear My Hair in a Ponytail for the Next Six Months??
It is imperative you leave the Hairdresser with a feeling of job satisfaction! After all, they have been working tirelessly for the past twenty minutes or thereabouts, towards the singular goal of improving your formerly ghastly outward appearance.
The least you could do is show some appreciation, for Christ’s sake. It’s not that hard.