My husband is obsessed with nature documentaries. Me, I’m more of a fiction fan but apparently it’s not socially acceptable to hog the TV remote all the time so I have been forced to watch innumerable David Attenborough documentaries over the years. I’ve nothing against him, but watching animals grooming each other and eating the bugs that they find just does not tickle my fancy. Somewhat ironically, I have ended up doing that exact thing as a career. Not the bug eating, competitive eating really isn’t my thing, but grooming people and transforming their hair truly is my passion.
The thing that IS interesting to me about how animals groom each other is that it is not just about removing bugs, tangles, or tidying up their pelt. There are many, many studies done, showing that grooming each other builds trust and connection within the group. Grooming can also trigger an endorphin release which reduces tension and stress. Think of it like their version of a hug or a handshake. The social bonds made by touching each other forge deep connections and just generally make them all feel happy and relaxed!
Humans are no different. From birth we seek to connect physically. Skin to skin contact between an infant and their parent has shown, among many other awesome things, to significantly increase the release of oxytocin – the ‘love’ hormone – which aids a feeling of attachment. It’s truly amazing how just the simple act of touching one another in a friendly fashion, even just a handshake, sparks our brain into action sending out all those lovely feelings of joy, safety and connection, even after the moment of physicality has passed.
At this moment in time, the ability to have even small moments of touch has, for the most part, been made difficult. We are separated by a need to keep each at arms length for health reasons. Technological advances have made it possible to create ways to remove the need for face to face human interaction. We are bonded by shared experience, we can see each other on a screen and we can hear through a speaker. But. Our ‘normal’ practice of greeting with a touch is no longer normal, and it’s this that we miss the most.
While it’s wonderful to have so much technology at our fingertips, many of us are craving actual fingertips at our fingertips! The ability to feel free to reach a hand to a friend or stranger in a public space, to have a warm hug, a firm shake of a hand or even a gentle brush on a shoulder. What was perfectly acceptable previously is now not. We may not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder at an event, but we can however, visit the salon!
Now I’m not a scientist, I haven’t written a paper based on 10 years of extensive research and I’m certainly not expecting to do so anytime soon. But I do have 16 years of experience in a salon. And I have a few observations, anecdotal of course, that suggest we aren’t so different from the animal kingdom at large. The relationship between hairdresser and client is strangely intimate. There has to be an almost instantaneous bond made for each person to feel comfortable and that is made with touch. The act of combing, sectioning, brushing on ‘paint’, washing and drying hair – also known as grooming- seems to have a similar effect on humans as the picking of bugs and sticks has on a monkey. It relaxes. It allows you to feel safe. And if we do it right, it gives you a sense of euphoria that lasts beyond the salon chair, into your ‘regular’ life.
Community and connection go hand in hand. When you feel connected to another person you also begin to feel a sense of community. Like those groups of primates and other animals, coming together to take care of each other only makes us stronger as a group. The feel good hormones released when you are happy and relaxed set off a chain reaction. You give a little bit of your joy to someone else, they feel happy. They then make someone else happy and so on, all because you went and got your hair done. And that’s the kind of spread we want in our life!
Maybe just leave your nits at home 😉