LA Hair Salons

LA Hair Salons

WORDS & PHOTOS: Bethany Toews

Most of us have hair. Some more than others. The having of hair is a shared experience felt and expressed in infinite ways. Some of us are lucky enough to love our locks just as they are. Some of us let our hair lead the way as we enter a room. Most of us wish for something (or everything) to be different. Longer, straighter, shorter, curlier. More here. Less there. Big haired people wishing for more manageable size, flat-haired folks longing for volume. All of us craving love. For acceptance. For acknowledgment of our existence and its rightfulness. So we find the salon that fits our needs and matches the capacity of our bank accounts (or credit cards), and we hope to be made beautiful, valuable, deserving of love.

In a city where you can spend $500 on a haircut, I am constantly fascinated by the signs offering a $10 haircut. In the spectrum of possible satisfaction to potential devastation, what is the variation to be found between these two options? You can pay a dude in West Hollywood $450 to give you a 15-minute “dry cut”. You can drive to Beverly Hills and sip champagne while you receive a $700 haircut. Or you can stroll down Figueroa Boulevard in Highland Park, buy an .80 cent donut and pop into one of numerous salons charging $10 for a haircut. I imagine the chance of either having your life changed or your day ruined exists in any of these scenarios. You are putting your head in someone else’s hands.

Growing up in rural America, my father cut my hair. He also dug holes and built houses. His rough working hands would shape my locks with unexpected care. It wasn’t until I was 9 or 10 that I finally sat in a proper barber chair. I appreciated the hydraulics and the swivel. I paid close attention to what the woman with the tools was doing as she worked on the other women seated inside the salon on the side of her house. I don’t know if I asked for the perm, or if it was my mother who thought it was what my stick-straight hair needed. Either way, I was happy to be there, in that space of transformation. When the woman was all done with me, I looked a little like a young, successful bus bench real estate agent. I looked hopeful and ready for love.

I remember when my father finally bought a Flowbee. The real-life version of the Wayne’s World Suck Kut. No less hilarious. He was thrilled about the streamlining of cutting and cleaning. All in one fell swoop, hair vacuumed and cut. Hair gone and out of sight. It was about that time I decided to grow my hair out. It got long. Like, no-joke-mermaid-long. Like most high school cis-boy’s fantasy long. I felt powerful. I felt desirable.

When I was 18, I moved away from home and let some dude I didn’t know cut it all off with a razor. The night before I decided to let it all go, I cried for the loss in advance. The next day, dry-eyed, I sat in the chair, feeling my hair gently tugged at and then released by the sharp of the blade, I felt powerful in a completely new way. The dude used different devices and products to make me look daring, confident, intentional. An exterior to match the inner changes I was trying to cultivate in my life. The next day I woke up and looked like a confused 8-year-old boy. I had no idea what to do with this strange new baby duck soft quiff. Some guy at the mall told me I looked like James Spader. I felt invisible. I felt lonely.

Hair holds tremendous power to shape our experience of ourselves and ourselves in the world. You can literally feel like a different person, for better or worse, with the right or the wrong haircut. Sure, you can change your pants or paint your face. But there is something about changing your hair that shifts everything around it. Your clothes feel different. You feel taller. You notice people look at you. You notice being noticed and, in so doing, feel how you have been altered. We cut off pieces of ourselves without bleeding. We remove something that grew out of our body without feeling physical pain. It’s quite miraculous. It’s definitely mystical. Our hair is a big deal.

My hair has been every shape, color, and length possible. I have done the deed myself, drunk late at night in a hotel bathroom. I have paid someone $15 and I have paid someone $150 to have their go at making me feel more like myself, or the self I am trying to become. I have turned my hair a strange gray-green color on accident and left it like that for a few days, just to see how it feels to own my mistakes. I have offered up my head to students in the midst of their studies and cried in my car after, trying to accept how very much they had left to learn. I have shaved my head with shaking hands. Brave and terrified in the process of my own transforming. Left feeling completely naked, no more hair to hide behind. The absence of hair its own kind of expression.

Thus is the power of our hair. It can speak volumes without us even opening our mouths. It can say we do, or don’t, care. It can say we are uptight or laid-back. It can say our bank account is flush or we are really struggling. It can say, “Don’t talk to me,” or “Ask me for my number.” It can say the complete opposite of what we are actually wanting to say. It can open doors or end relationships.

And so we book appointments to be improved. To be shaped. To be changed. We enter in hopeful, and hopefully we emerge feeling it was worth the $10 or the $500 dollars we invested in our remodeling. We trust someone with sharp objects to remove pieces of ourselves. Each haircut a ritual of letting go. A ceremony for the shifting of selves. And if all goes well, we leave feeling reborn. More alive. More true to who we are and hope to become. We delight at our reflection. We make eye contact with strangers. We smile. For that fresh moment, when the right amount of who we were is shed, we see who we are now. And we feel beautiful, valuable, and deserving of love.