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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Therapy For Free

Don't get excited: I'm not talking about trained therapists with all kinds of degrees who charge enormous sums for a 45-to-60 minute session that seems to end before it begins.

No, I'm talking about free therapy with your hairstylist. Think about how much she knows about you. Imagine the stories she can tell when she heads home at the end of the day.

And consider how you have used her as a sounding board for all kinds of stuff: your marriage or other relationships; your children; aging and the physical challenges--the list goes on.

So, what is it about you and your hairstylist that makes you comfortable enough to spill the beans about subjects that you may not be able to share with anyone else?

I have some thoughts. First, think about the setup. You sit in a chair with your back to your stylist. She stands behind you, and the two of you talk into a mirror. There is something about this positioning that feels less threatening. You are not sitting across from one another and looking directly into each other's eyes. There is the illusion of distance. You feel safe.

Chances are that you will never see your hairstylist outside of the salon. You don't hang out. You probably don't go to the same gym, take a class together, or live in the same neighborhood. So, you can dish the sometimes tawdry details of your life and not have to worry about running into your stylist and feeling uncomfortable--even embarrassed. You are incognito.

I had my hair colored and cut last week. I could tell you what my stylist and I talked about but then I'd be undermining the privacy between us. However, when the hair blowers stopped blowing, if only for a minute or two, and Spotify morphed into soft rock, I became a fly on the salon wall and watched and listened.

Customers (all women at the time) stared at themselves and their stylists in the mirror like museum-goers standing in front of a painting and considering it from all angles.

"Oh, I think I'm going to like this," one woman said, patting her hair. "I'm sure my husband will, too. At least, I hope he will. He sees me as I looked fifteen years ago when we met. He's not good with change."

She sighed and waited for her stylist to respond.

"Yeah, that's how most men are."

(But not how most therapists would respond. For them, it's more the nod of the head or an all-knowing countenance.)

"I know," the customer said. "I wish my husband would loosen up a bit and go with the flow." She didn't skip a beat. "I mean, he has no problems when it comes to ogling other women."

Oh, boy. Here we go.

The stylist stopped cutting and looked at her customer in the mirror. Either she was waiting to hear more or exhausted from listening to stories all day long.

"Uh, huh," she said.

Now she's got the idea. Use the proverbial "Uh, huh."

The customer, a tall woman with bleached blonde hair, took a deep breath. "We've talked about separating, but we have two children and don't want to hurt them."

I should have known.

Just then, two new customers walked in the door. The noise level in the salon increased by a decibel or two). Damn. I couldn't hear what the tall woman had to say. I saw her gesticulating, her hands waving about in the air. She looked concerned, her brows furrowed, her eyes searching the stylist's reflection in the mirror.

I could only guess how the conversation continued. Maybe a few tears slipped down the customer's cheeks. Maybe she got good and mad and raised her voice; alas, I still couldn't hear.

There's been a lot written (even studied) about the role barbershops play in the lives of African Americans. Since the turn of the 19th century, barbershops have served as special places where blacks can not only get hair care services but community news, gossip, even health. Scholars often refer to barbershops for blacks as "sanctuaries."

So, what role does the salon play in your life? Do you leave with more than a good haircut?


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