I’m a hair model.
At least, I was a hair model.
Keep your awe in check, it’s not as illustrious as it sounds. I’m not swinging my hair in slow motion or tying it in a hearty knot for a Pantene commercial. I also am not called in to hair-double for Cameron Diaz when the director requires a close-up of her scalp.
The truth is that anyone can become a hair model. Anyone with hair, anyway. I was given this nonoccupational moniker by a ritzy New York City salon once I agreed to allow their staff in training to have its way with my tresses. There was no audition. No call-back. No casting couch. There was just hair, which began its performance on my head and ended it on the floor.
When young women move to New York City, they are told about a few fabled things. Avoid riding the subway late at night. Don’t give your credit card information to anyone on the street. And try to become a hair model.
When I moved to the big city at age 22, armed with these kernels of wisdom, I set out to find a salon willing to take me in as a fledgling hair model. The rumor was that the fanciest of salons have legions of trainees who will work only for a tip, which was ideal for me because that was all that I would ever be able to afford.
When I finally happened upon the place, the receptionist sat me down with a neat pile of paperwork that laid out the terms and conditions of hair modeldom. She walked me through each bullet point, using a reassuring tone and a great deal of eye contact as though I considered hair modeling to be some kind of pyramid scheme from which I’d never untangle until I’d brought every 20-something woman I knew into the fold. I couldn’t understand why she was behaving as though it’s some kind of trouble to have your hair shampooed and sculpted for hours at a time. Who needs notice for that sort of thing? I’d happily cancel my entire life, including funerals and christenings, to make that happen.
Thus, I was stamped a hair model and assigned to two women — one cutter and one colorist — who would make my wildest hair dreams come true. Over the years that they teased and toned their way around my scalp, we became dear friends. My relationship to these two women was the stuff of novels. In fact, it would make “Tuesdays with Morrie” look like “Rain Man.”
We weren’t just talking about the splits in our ends but the splits in our relationships. Not just the highlights in our hair but the highs and lows of our lives. This is the kind of closeness that can only be achieved with people who bear witness to my Hair File, a top secret cache of photos of celebrity hairstyles I’ve collected since the age of 16. I have the original “Rachel” in this file. If my house set ablaze, I would brave falling timbers and smoke inhalation to save this file because I could never allow a fireman to see this stash. I would sooner be rescued in the underwear that the dog has chewed than allow another human to open this folder.
Leaving these compatriots behind when I moved to Maine was emotionally challenging. They had seen me through good and bad (hair) days. They had watched my career wax and wane as I ping-ponged through media agencies in the city. They were the ears eager to hear every detail of the courtship between me and the man who brought me to Maine. They had been there through three pregnancies, vowing to never tell anyone that I kept having my roots colored despite the prenatal advisement not to.
I went through nearly every salon in the midcoast my first couple of years in this area. I would return home, sulking over the way they parted my hair or the fact that they didn’t know the names of my children nor the names of Angelina Jolie’s children. The cut was never perfect. The color was always off. Finding the right person to entrust with your hair makes the quest that Frodo Baggins took with his ring look like a trip to the market with a GPS and a bodyguard.
After too many failed attempts to count, I found myself in the seat of a solo stylist in Rockland. She took off my glasses and brought her face just an inch away from my own as she pulled my hair into geometric patterns. She stepped back, leaned against her mirror, and stated her cut and color plan. It sounded reasonable. I asked if she might want some guidance from a photo that I’d brought. As I pried a few recent inspirations out of the Hair Folder, she put her hand on my shoulder.
“How about a mimosa?”
That’s when I remembered that a ladies’ haircut really has so little to do with the actual cut.