Your Normal Is My Scary: 3 – A Haircut

Photo by Rebecca Milton.

In the many years since I last had fun coloured hair, I have slowly been growing it out. So much so, in fact, that the only haircut I’ve had in five years was a trim. My hair is so long that when wet it’s fully down to my waist. But it was starting to split and become flat. There was no longer any putting it off. It was time for a haircut.

I decided this about six months ago, so naturally I only actually managed to make myself do it when I decided to start this blog series. The thing is that haircuts are expensive – a fact that is going to come back to bite me in the rear later in this story.

I’m bad at spending money on myself. I’m bad at money full stop. But I did some research and I found somewhere in my local town that was not only a reasonable price, but actually used vegan and cruelty-free products.

Impressively, it only took me two months to book an appointment. Did I book the appointment because I realised we were almost halfway through the month and I hadn’t done a scary thing? Who can say. (Yes, yes I did).

Of course I say ‘I booked the appointment’ like it was easy.

It did in fact require one of the things I am most uncomfortable with: phoning someone. As a previous customer I now have access to their online bookings system, but for my first appointment I had to call. I tried, as I generally do when doing these things, not to think about it too much. I just typed in the number and pressed call and denied myself the ability to procrastinate.

Whilst it was ringing, I internally panicked about how to open the phone call. Later, it would turn out I forgot to confirm something important. I ran hello, I would like to book an appointment for a haircut through my head several times and then said it out loud when it was time.

The phone call itself was pretty painless, if you ignore the fact that as soon as I hung up I burst into hysterical tears for 10 seconds. I cry like this quite a lot – not full crying, but a sudden expression of emotion that comes out in a bit of a rush. It’s over relatively quickly and most of the time I’m then done with the emotion.

I wasn’t in this instance – I spent the rest of the day panicking. I fretted over my Pinterest board of haircut ideas and the inevitable need to articulate to someone what I wanted. I’m glad I booked an appointment for the following day, otherwise this would’ve lasted much longer.

By contrast, getting myself to the place was pretty easy.

This is due primarily to two specific things.

One: I looked at it on Google street view before going. I knew what road it was on just from the map, but by looking at it on street view beforehand I drastically reduced how stressed I was about the possibility of not being able to find it. I’d seen it, so I knew it was solidly in my head. (I still used a map to get there out of extreme anxiety).

Two: I arrived 45 minutes early. Obviously I did not go into the hairdressers that early – instead I wandered around town and got some errands done. This actually served to work pretty well at taking my mind off things, and made the time go quickly. I think if I’d tried to go and wait somewhere it would have gone very slowly.

Eventually it was time, and I headed over to the salon feeling anxious, but not as much as I’d expected to. Mostly, I was terrified of small talk.

I didn’t need to be, of course – the hairdresser was absolutely lovely.

I’m not amazing at articulating what I want my hair to be like. This is partly because I could probably count the haircuts I’ve had as an adult on my hands. I just don’t have the vocabulary or experience for it.

It’s also, to be honest, because of the way women are expected to be in our society. We are expected to be well presented and fashion obsessed and really into/knowledgeable about how we look. Now don’t get me wrong, I like looking nice. I like it a lot. I like it primarily for myself and how it makes me feel, independent of society’s norms.

But I can’t deny that when part of my explanation for what I want from a haircut includes ‘I don’t do anything to it except sometimes put it up a bit’, I feel incredibly self-conscious. And I know it’s because I’m a woman and, as such, there’s a strong theme in society that I should be putting more effort in than I do.

The hairdresser, who as mentioned was incredibly lovely, didn’t mind at all. She agreed with me in fact that it’s a hassle, and talked about what she would do and how it would work whether I did anything or not. She also immediately and completely understood what I wanted, which really put me at ease.

And the haircut itself went really well, small talk included.

No, I didn’t stop feeling anxious. I felt anxious the whole way through. Every time I said something, I then replayed it in my head along with a litany of critique as to how badly I’d articulated something or how weird I looked.

I also didn’t know where to put my eyes a lot of the time, because I don’t generally sit face on to a mirror for that long unless I’m putting makeup on. Even then, I’m generally done and away from it a lot faster! I felt more and more self-conscious as it went on, but not unbearably so.

Something very much in my favour was how fast she worked. The last time I had a proper haircut that actually involved restyling, it took a really long time – or felt like it did. This was over very quickly, and not because she wasn’t doing it properly. Just because she’s very skilled and does this all day, every day.

By the end it looked great, I felt great about it, and it was time to go. That’s where it went wrong.

Remember how I said I forgot to clarify something when I booked the appointment?

It’s this: what level of stylist they’d booked me in for.

Because I’m neurotic, I’d taken out a bit too much money. I was worried about their pricing being out of date. I wasn’t expecting that I’d actually been booked with a senior stylist. Which…it turned out I had. Because I went to hand over my £25, and my lovely hairdresser said “that’ll be £45 please”.

The next minute happened very quickly. I remember apologising a lot, and saying that I had thought it was £25 and that I only had £40 on me, would she like me to leave her the £40 and come back with the £5?

In the end, she said she would honour the figure I’d thought it was, and I handed her the money and then left. I walked my neatly blown out and curled hair into gale force winds and felt it, along with my sense of achievement, get torn down around me.

I could see myself so easily turning into the past, much more anxious version of me. The one that would have gone ‘thank god, I escaped’ and just never returned to that salon again. I didn’t want to become that person. Instead I wanted to fight for things in my life that improve it.

I spent the rest of the day feeling awful about it.

But I had a plan. I had decided what I was going to do.

You see, if there’s one thing that gets hammered into you as someone who works freelance, it’s this: do not undersell your work. Do not undervalue your work. Earn what you deserve and what you should be getting paid.

I can’t, in good conscience, let this wonderful woman go without being paid what she’s worth. She was so kind to me, even having no idea that I was so terrified of the experience. I said to her that I hadn’t had a haircut in a long time, but I didn’t say how anxious I was. She was generous and gentle not because she thought she ought to be, but because she is obviously just like that as a person.

So I’ve taken out the money I owe her, and I’ve put it in a thank you card with an explanation of what it’s for.

Logically I should just take it and hand it in at the hairdresser’s, but I’m too anxious for that. What I’m going to do instead is post it. That might seem ridiculous, especially since I live 10 minutes from the salon. But it’s what I need to do in order to do this. So I’ll accept its slight weirdness. Whatever it takes to fix things.

I’m sitting with it next to me right now, about to post it. I feel so much better already. I wonder if this is its own sort of lesson: that sometimes, you can confront the reasons for your anxiety in unexpected ways.

If you enjoyed this blog post, I’d love it if you would consider sharing it on social media. The more people that can hear that experiences like this are everywhere, the less afraid people will be of getting help.

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