Digital content strategist, writer Tamar Anitai and editor based in Brooklyn. She identifies with Bea Arthur.
New Yorkers ride the subway smashed into each other's armpits in order to arrive at jobs where we queue up at communal desks and try not to eavesdrop on our coworkers as they set up appointments for highly invasive medical treatments or have stilted, clench-jawed "can’t-talk-now" arguments with significant others. In the evenings, we arrange ourselves precariously around two-tops barely big enough for dessert forks, let alone dinner. On the weekends, we fold ourselves into yoga studios so overcrowded that our chaturangas grant us clinical familiarity with our neighbors’ pedicures. We're rarely alone.
The hair chair provides an exception to this rule. Once in it, your only company is yourself, your reflection—cold and clinical no matter how professionally flattering the lighting may be—a nylon smock, and a pair of scissors to the temple.
Spending hours facing your own appearance can be strange. It’s an unsettling staring competition with yourself, a lineup with only one suspect. First comes the silent scrutiny of the interrogation: Am I really that jowly? The fuck is my upper lip doing? Is this what my coworkers have to stare at all day? Is this as good as it gets?! Those questions kickstart an endless loop of Is how I see myself the same as how the world sees me? followed by a relaxing head massage and a parting gift of itchy hair shards down your bra.
Those hours spent alone in the hair chair aren’t so much about clichéd hair anxiety for me. Instead, I find myself struck by the way this string of salon visits has marked the transformation of a girl convinced the world had few secrets and gifts it hadn’t yet revealed to her into a woman old enough to know that the only constant is the unknown and nothing and no one owes her a thing. Pieced together, moments in the hair chair become a zoetrope of time past, until at a certain point, the mirror we sit in front of becomes a rearview one.
Fear and self-doubt weren’t parts of my daily lexicon when I commemorated my first post-collegiate solo trip abroad, to London, by bleaching the bottom half of my hair white and the top jet black. Upon realizing my first day at my first job was perhaps not the best time to debut a skunk 'do, my perceived act of derring do was followed by a pricy color correction when I returned home. Then there were wedding hair trials in a Japanese woman's home in Queens, followed by a long train ride home wearing sneakers, jeans, a flannel and stiff-as-a-board Betty Draper-goes-to-Italy pageant hair. (I went with a Barbra Streisand circa “Funny Girl” look—I certainly have the nose and the Jewishness for it—and hoped my marriage would fare better than Fanny Brice’s.) And now it’s the greys. My once dirty blonde hair is beginning its wiry, wilting descent into grey gardens, and as my trips to the salon for root touch ups grow more frequent, I’m reminded that there's no turning back the speeding hands of time. Forget grey for wisdom. Grey is the loneliest color of all.
The look you leave the salon with is almost irrelevant; it’s the time spent in the hair chair that’s significant. The chair forces you into an uncomfortable conversation with the person reflected back at you. It’s a prolonged, delicate dialogue that proffers the kind of deeply personal questions we’ve suppressed: Who are you? My friend? My enemy? Do we recognize each other? Are we helping each other? Holding each other back? Have we loved each other enough? And the cold rush of reality that meets you in the mirror:
"I don’t know."