Sunday, June 11, 2006

hairy revelation

i was getting my hair washed at a salon today when i thought about how a hairdresser is actually very much like a doctor.

a hairdresser's ultimate goal at the end of the day is to make sure his client feels better and has gotten a problem fixed. a hairdresser will have to stick his hands into a part of a stranger's anatomy in order to fulfill that objective. he will need to use tools that are capable of both fixing and causing great harm and, if not used properly, the client can actually end up feeling much much worse than when he first went to see the hairdresser.

also, a trainee hairdresser will practice first on models and dummies but will eventually have to try his hand on a real person who has the ability to feel pain, discomfort and, more often than not, is unafraid of making his displeasure known to you. he trains under a professional who will teach by demonstrating practical skills before allowing the trainee to practice.

there are hairdressers that are born with the passion and talent of styling hair. there are others who require more training and sometimes even prodding in order to perform well. some hairdressers are reluctant to pick up the scissors and are there just because it is a means of putting food on the table, or because they were pressured into taking up that profession.

finally, a hairdresser has to learn how to communicate with his clients and to adjust his style of communication to suit the client. he may have to engage in cheerful chatter with some customers while others prefer that he keep his mouth shut instead. he needs to know how to read their moods and listen carefully to their concerns. after all, everything he does to the client will inevitably affect their performance at work, relationships and even how they feel about themselves.

just as the trainee who washed my hair slapped some conditioner on my hopelessly unruly locks, i thought about how unwilling i would be to plunge my hands into hair that may or may not be washed for the last couple of days. having suffered from on-off dandruff for most of my life since adolescence, i grimaced at the thought of parting someone's hair for blow-drying, just to find out that i had been washing strands of hair held together by fungus-loosened scalp skin.

but then it occurred to me that that is precisely what i will be doing very very soon. i will be invading the crevices of the human body with my (usually gloved) hands...bodies of people that i don't know about other than whatever clerked information is available to me. they might not have had a bath for weeks, or be covered with severely infected wounds reeking of dead flesh, or they may have gross deformities that i cannot even begin to imagine.

i will have to talk to clients who will be different in every way and will have to read their faces, their bodies, their movements so i can decide what to do to relieve them of their discomfort and make them feel better not just physically but also emotionally.

people have often said that going to the hairdresser is as therapeutic as going to a professional psychiatrist. i remember reading a book where a mother would go get her hair washed every week because it was the only thing that kept her sane. i'm sure you would have also heard of people feeling like a new person after a haircut, or even purposely going to get their hair styled in a new manner just to get them on a good start to a new life.

it's amazing how this kind of physical acceptance - for both clinical practice and hairdressing involve touching and accepting what you touch - can change someone or at least alter a little part of their lives.

so two lessons here:

(a) i will need to be less squeamish fast if i know what's good for me,
(b) give your hairdresser the respect he or she is definitely due.

lishun at 4:18 PM