ood hairdressers are like good editors. They accentuate what you’ve written and smooth any mishaps.
My newest stylist, Gina, gets this. She didn’t criticize my previous haircut, which I thought was a hack job. She simply said, “It’s not bad, but it’s a haircut for someone with less hair.” She then proceeded to de-bulk my super thick hair so the natural waves could settle down into a manageable style—much as a good editor prunes the heaviness from my prose.
Gina also applied a novel cutting technique, twisting strands of my hair and cutting into them cross-wise. She’d learned to do this from her Italian mentor. That didn’t surprise me, since many Italians have curly hair. Curiously, my own hair turned curly only after I moved to Italy in my early 20s.
As Gina performed her magic, my mind drifted to the hair stylists— and styles— I had in my Italian days. Luca, a master stylist, gave me my first short haircut. I’d been thinking about short hair for a while when my friend Marta finally convinced me to take the leap. We scheduled our appointments together at her posh Rome salon, where models and actresses got their hair done. She’d been going there for years, and relaxed with a book as she awaited her regular cut and highlights.
I felt like chickening out. “You should do it,” she insisted. “You have the right facial features and cheekbones for short hair,” she insisted. “I don’t. I couldn’t do it.”
I felt flattered and a bit like a guinea pig. But when Luca gave his blessing, I realized there was no turning back.
Haircutting is an art, and many of the stylists I’ve had actually studied art or were artists on the side. As I watched Luca snip hair from various angles with unwavering intensity, the artistic connection made sense.
I was also terrified, as I watched bunches of my hair slide to the floor, where I kept my gaze until Luca finished.
“Bella!” Marta announced, echoing Luca. I tried very hard not to cry as I looked in the mirror and saw my hair poking out, one centimeter off my scalp.
Oddio! my friend’s dad said afterwards. Oddio was right. I wore a baseball cap for a week. Once the shock to both my head and me wore off, I had to admit the haircut looked stunning. And, it suited me.
In fact, I liked it so much that I twice tried to duplicate it when I moved back to the states. My short styles always coincided with knee-jerk reactions to some transition in my life. The first time was in Washington D.C., where I was working at a medical journal, all the while wanting but wanted to get back into daily reporting. Not knowing how to make the career leap, I got my hair cut. I didn’t like it, so I found another stylist. And another. In just a month, I burned through my paycheck in search of stylists I hoped could repeat Luca’s artwork.
I finally gave up and grew out my hair again— and then got a reporting job in Florida. The second time I cut my hair short was when I started a new beat —covering politics in a very conservative county. Soft-spoken, liberal, and, most damning of all —Northern — I was a misfit. Yankee bitch, someone sneered at a County Commission meeting.
Well, if I’m going to be a bitch, I might as well go butch, I thought. Once again, I cut my hair a centimeter off my scalp, cycling through two different stylists for a style that only approximated Luca’s.
The morning I walked into the County Commission meeting with my new haircut, I gleefully watched as one of the Commissioner’s (much like “Boss Hog”) jaw drop into his double chin.
My new ‘do might have given me some reportorial swagger, but after I left that job and moved to a university town up the road, I was left only with months of awkward outgrowth.
I remind myself of this every time I’m tempted to cut off my hair. I’ve also accepted that maybe Luca’s haircut was a once—unless I go back to him when I visit Rome, which I may do. But a short haircut is high maintenance, requiring monthly cuts, and I haven’t had much luck in finding another Luca in America.
With this in mind, a year ago, I returned to my hometown stylist in Iowa, Mary Kay, who has been doing my hair since I was ten years old. I told Mary Kay about my short hair, half hoping that she would suggest I go short and appease my midlife itch to make some sort of change.
Instead, she gave me a shoulder length cut and softened my curls. I relaxed in her chair, happy to be home.