My hair and the City of Toronto have always had a rocky relationship.
When I lived on the West Coast, I took for granted that I never had to spend much time even thinking about my hair. The moist, coastal climate meant that I always had a mane of full, fluffy, bouncy curls. When I moved to Toronto, my hair changed. Maybe it’s the difference in climate, the smog, the crappy water or the stress from the fast paced lifestyle but, I feel like the longer I live here, the worse my hair gets. Its limp. Its dry. It breaks. It falls out. It’s basically been a bad hair day…for twelve years. When I went to LA last year, I had better hair days than I do in Toronto. Los Angeles – a city with notoriously hard water and smog that sometimes obscures the Hollywood sign. Something is wrong with Toronto. Very, very wrong. Hey Mayor Rob Ford, maybe you should look into why our city is Sudden Hair Death Valley. I might actually vote for you next time. OK, I probably will never vote for you but I am curious.
When I realized that my hair situation was not going to get any better, I made it my mission to find myself a great hair stylist. My first haircut in Toronto, much like my first date in this city was disastrous. It involved a sketchy salon in the Eaton Center where the stylist dyed my hair ash blond and cut it into a chin length pageboy. That morning I was extremely hungover (or possibly still drunk from the night before). The whole salon wreaked of perm solution and hamburger grease and I was so focused on not throwing up that I didn’t notice what was happening until it was too late. Later that day:
“Hey Simone, why are you wearing a wig to work?”
“I’m not. This is my real hair”
After that first hair trauma, I managed to find a really great salon that became my go-to place for the next 10 years. Most of the people who worked there were Italian. Over the years I had two different stylists, both with dark curly hair like mine, both excellent. Before cutting your hair they would serve you cappuccino, then a little Nonna or Nonno would take you to the hair washing station where they would call you Bella as they massaged your scalp. If I made a comment about my hair being in bad shape, they’d always reply “Hon, your hair is gorgeous. You just need a trim!” – a white lie I grew to love.
Even if I hadn’t had an appointment in 6 months, the girls would always remember specific details about our last conversation: who I was dating or not dating, why we broke up, what courses I was taking etc. It was uncanny. I’m pretty sure that in their backroom, tucked behind all the spare gowns and bulk shampoo, there was a dusty file folder called “RANDOM FACTS ABOUT SIMONE” that they’d consult before each appointment. It sounds creepy but there was something very comforting about the whole experience. We’d laugh, we’d gossip and I’d always walk out of there with big, bouncy, just-classy-enough-not-to-be-Jersey-Shore-hair and feeling like a million bucks.
About two years ago, both of my stylists got pregnant and left the salon, opting instead to do hair out of their homes located in a large mostly Italian suburb about 45 minutes north of the city. When they told me the news they said,
“We’d invite you to come up to our neighborhood but, we know you don’t drive.”
“I know. It’s OK. I’m not good at long distance relationships anyways”
Shortly after, the salon changed ownership and they hired a bunch of Russian and Ukrainian girls to do hair. I naively thought: “Cool! I’ll get to have my hair cut by my own people! We’ll bond over our shared cultural roots! This is going to be awesome!”
However, when I met my new stylist Irina, it was very clear from the get-go that she wasn’t interested in discussing our cultural heritage or pretending to be my friend. I broke the ice with my usual:
“I know my hair is a mess. Can you please fix it?”
As Irina ran her hands through my hair she looked at me in the mirror and said:
“SIMONA, YOUR HAIR IS NOT GOOD. IF YOU DON’T DO SOMETINK ABOUT IT, IT VILL ALL FALL OUT. YOU VANT COFFEE? YES? NO? OK WE START”
SNIP. SNIP. SNIP. SNIP.
All of my appointments with Irina sounded like some kind of variation of this. Irina and I saw each other for a year. Her haircuts weren’t horrible. She’d cut my hair and then flat-iron it into perfection so that it was long and straight with a nice fringe. The problem? I don’t have straight hair. The minute I’d leave the salon my hair would rebel – curling in some areas, limp in others. I internalized so much of what Irina said that I always blamed myself. It’s not her haircuts, it’s me and my damaged unruly hair. Because after all, Irina was telling me the truth, however painful it was to hear. I kept Irina as my hairdresser as long as I did because I was still clinging to the good old days, hoping that maybe my hair and our relationship would eventually get better. Besides, going out and meeting a new hairdresser can be scary. I wasn’t ready to put myself out there yet.
My friend Melissa has a lot of Russian friends. When I told her this story she said:
“You guys are all like that. There’s never any sugar coating, it’s all, “the world is cold, harsh and bitter…. Now drink up“. Even if you. You’re all sunshine, rainbows and shiny pink exterior but you have a dark side. That’s why you like watching the Wire and watching movies like Precious”
Melissa has a point. I’ll take a gritty urban drama over a romantic comedy any day. As for the sugar-coating, my Grandma on my Eastern European side, often makes statements like:
“I hate beards. They look like someone glued a woman’s crotch on a man’s face. Whenever I see one, I just want to shave it off”.
Yes, maybe sugar coating isn’t our strong point. (My grandma and Irina should probably go for coffee). But sometimes you need that sugar coating. You need the other person to help you feel like you’re special and settle the voice of self-doubt that tells you otherwise.
When I finally got the point where I could no longer handle Irina and her self-esteem killing Hairpocolypse Now sessions, I reached out to my friend Nicole to see if she knew of any good stylists. The next day, I headed down to the Gayborhood to meet Nicole’s stylist (a curly hair specialist!)
When I sat down in the chair in front of my stylist Jon, I started with my usual neurotic hair talk.
“I know my hair is in bad shape and really, really damaged. I mean, its probably going to fall out soon. Please just do what you can to fix it”
He gave me this look like: “GIRL. ARE YOU TAKING CRAZY PILLS?” and said:
“Honey, there is nothing wrong with your hair. It just looks like someone has been giving you the completely wrong haircut for your hair-type”
“Yes, just wait. I’m going to give you big sexy hair! Victoria’s Secret Angels sexy hair! No, sexier…Porn star hair! I’m going to give you Porno hair! It’s going to be Porntastic!”
Have you ever had one of those moments where you feel like you’ve landed exactly where you are meant to be?
Within seconds, Jon and I were talking about men, our favorite fashion faux-pas (UGGs and miniskirts), MEN, reality TV, MEN, and weird shaped penises. When I started to tell my story about Toilet Paper Guy, two cute gay hairdresser heads spun around:
“SAYYYYY WHUT? Girl, you need to tell that story from the beginning”
This was all going on while Jon was transforming my unruly mop into something well, quite fabulous.
It was one of the best haircuts I’ve ever got.
As I stepped out of the salon and started to walk down the street, a 6’7″ guy in yellow pumps and a blond wig called out to me:
“I LOVE YOUR HAIR!”
I thanked him, laughed and thought:
Yes, this feels right.