Before I began my career as a hairdresser, I was sure I knew exactly what it would be like. I’d have to buy a pair of black pants of course, because all hairdressers I’d seen wore black pants and some tunic style top. If you have ever seen me flitting about in the salon you will note the ridiculousness of me wearing black trousers and a black tunic top, but I was convinced that it was an important requirement of the job. Particularly after the disastrous purple and turquoise ensemble I wore to my first interview was rapidly shown to be ALL WRONG. Considering every other person in the group interview of 20 had obviously got the memo and wore appropriately dour clothing it may not come as a shock to note I was not a successful applicant. After wearing all black, sensibly closed shoes and outrageously coloured hair, it seemed to me all you had to do was slap on whatever colour someone asked for, chop off a few split ends and just spend the rest of the day gossiping about celebrities. Hairdressing skills done!
Seventeen years later and I can only laugh at my naivete. The physical toll alone is far beyond anything I could possibly have imagined. It’s not standing all day that does it, although my decision to wear either stiletto heels or pancake flat shoes for the first ten years may have been an error. It is the endless holding your arms up and using teeny tiny motions in your hands to foil. The strange bending to get yourself to someone’s fringe without sticking your crotch in their face. The working around that one person that can never, ever just keep their head still. It’s these subtle movements and the mistaken idea that our comfort always comes second to our clients that leads us incrementally to degrade our bodies.
Yet, it is not these things that really bother us. Sure our staff room is filled with people stretching out their backs, wrists, necks and shoulders but after the first couple of months you barely even notice your feet hurt after standing up for 12 hours. Honestly, I think there is more whining about sore muscles after a particularly intense workout. There are numerous discussions about the best hand cream to use for the inevitable skin flare ups, but it is more pleasant banter than serious complaining.
What really takes its toll is the mental strain of being a hairdresser.
It is the same conversation over and over again about the current event of the week, all the while pretending it is the first time we have ever discussed each and every time. It is the strain of remaining polite and friendly when your current client has had a terrible day and feels it necessary to be rude to you. The gargantuan task of trying to turn their day around into a positive experience. It is trying to interpret the very vague idea your next person has without getting frustrated and bring much needed clarity to make sure you are both on the same page. It is struggling to maintain a facade of happiness and find inspiration while your life is quietly imploding.
It is attempting to balance the inevitable personal connection you have with a long term client you have known for years, and the need to remain professional and give them advice on their hair. After all, they are paying you to give them great hair! There is something strange about talking to someone through a mirror. It invites a feeling of safety that is reserved for close friends whilst retaining a sense of almost anonymity that often leads to unexpected candor. It is here we find the information that is the hardest to shake off. The grief, the hurt and the devastation. The terrible lows pushed to the darkest recesses of your memories, resurfaced with a current event. The unavoidable moments of less than brilliant existence that come with a life lived fully.
It is a privilege to be trusted with the most intimate details of people’s life, but learning to separate what happens in the day with our lives outside of the salon is one of the greatest skills in our repertoire. And it all starts with a strong connection to the team around us. No one can appreciate the struggles of your chosen career path like those that walk it with you. When the road travelled has the inevitable bumps along the way, leaning on those that have navigated those bumps before is incredibly comforting.
Our other favourite rebalancing tricks? A quiet moment of reflection on the trip home. After the frenetic energy in the salon, silence is so peaceful. Listening to a favourite song or a podcast. An uncomplicated cuddle with a beloved pet. Some days it can only be a glass of wine or a piece of cake. Exercise. It’s certainly no coincidence that most hairdressers love a bit of a stroll outside or a visit to the beach. The grounding feeling of being a part of nature connects us back to the natural beauty that exists outside of the manufactured beauty we create. Not that we don’t love that too!
Personally, on my worst days in this beloved profession I belong to, there is nothing I love more than to turn up my music loud on the trip home from work and belt out my favourite tunes. I find too, that a debrief with my very obliging husband and a cuddle from the tiny humans is just the thing to make everything else just melt away. Being a hairdresser is such a rewarding career. It is a pleasure to have a positive impact on so many people. And with so much room for creative expression, our artistic flair has plenty of space to grow. It also turns out that in the more fancy establishments, such as our very own Bach Hair, black pants and tunic tops are eschewed for a more, well, fashionable expression of our individuality. Of course, there is still plenty of gossip about celebrities.…
Stay safe. Until next time,