Why The Salon Is Better Than Church

Remember when Elle Woods used the salon as therapy? She was so right on.
Publish date:
June 1, 2012
hair, sara benincasa, beauty culture

Behold the magical hands of Justin Born, Bloom Beauty Lounge stylist and native West Virginian.

I don't go to church, but I do go to the salon -- which, in my experience, is vastly more satisfying. Instead of emerging with a droplet of shitty wine, a crappy magic cracker and a dollop of guilt in my belly, I leave looking and feeling fucking fabulous. I spent three and a half hours yesterday at my beloved Bloom Beauty Lounge in Chelsea under the care of the excellent stylist (and fellow comedic storyteller!) Justin Born, and it got me thinking about why I so love these temples of follicular mastery.

I come from a hairdressing lineage. My mom used to sweep the floor in my grandmother's beauty pahlah, and my great-grandmother and great-aunt used to do old ladies' hair in a makeshift basement salon on West Main Street in Bound Brook, New Jersey.

I basically grew up in my mom's best friend's hair salon, where I enjoyed sitting in the adjustable chairs and listening to tales of sexual adventures and other shenanigans in which I wasn't yet old enough to partake. The smell of wet hair being blown dry (but not burnt!) fills me with nostalgia in the way that the smell of, I don't know, pie baking in an oven might if my mom had ever baked a pie.

In high school, even though I was inarguably college-bound, I thought about going through the cosmetology program. I remember trying to figure out how to fit it in with the rest of my schedule. Now, with an undergraduate degree from a private college and a master's degree from a pricey private university, I kind of wish I'd done the cosmetology program and gotten my hairdressing and nail tech licenses -- at least I'd have a marketable fucking skill and know a trade.

I undoubtedly would've stuck out like a sore thumb among the gum-cracking, fast-talking tough girls who took the classes, but maybe they would've helped me improve my woeful understanding of chemistry and let me cheat off their exams. They all seemed to have much older boyfriends and to have been unburdened of their maidenheads at rather an early age.

These girls knew things I didn't -- how to trim a cuticle without drawing blood; how to get drunk without throwing up; and how to talk to stupid boys in a way that made them feel smart and manly.

I vividly recall a speech one of the "cos girls" made in health class. We were discussing proper dating etiquette, and she looked around at the 16- and 17-year old boys in our class and finally burst out, "You know why I don't date guys in our grade? Because you're all pieces of shit! My boyfriend is five years older than me and he does everything for me. If we go to the mall and I want a dress, he buys it for me. If I want a stick of fucking gum, he gets it for me. You assholes can't do shit, and some of you can't even drive." Ooh, sick burn!

I marveled at her outrage, and wondered what it would be like to have a boyfriend who did everything for you. I had a vague notion that there was something antifeminist about this, but it sounded kind of cool. And her hair always looked great.

Now, as I contemplate my upcoming move to Los Angeles (I wants to write for the teevee box) and neurotically entertain the possibility of abject failure in my latest career of choice, I find myself drifting back to dreams of being a hairdresser.

The chemistry part of hair color freaks me out, as does the whole thing with the scissors, so maybe I'm not the best candidate. Can you make a career out of just doing updos and blowouts? Probably not. I'd be better off getting my massage license and specialize in destressing clients with particular emphasis on ignoring male customers' NRBs (No Reason Boners -- these apparently just happen to guys sometimes, did you know?)

Anyway, the hair salon. It's a magical place where you might engage in local gossip (if you're in a small-town joint), celebrity gossip (if there are trashy magazines on hand, which there will be), or even discussions of deeper spiritual matters (like many artists, some hairstylists are impressively intuitive). I find that the ideal population of an individual hair salon is heavy on the ladies and queer-identified folks of any gender, as the presence of a straight dude always throws the vibe off for me, somehow.

It's like serving spaghetti and meatballs with a side of candied yams -- both are independently delicious, but don't make sense in combination. You dig? Anytime I sit in a salon chair next to a straight dude client, I feel like I just watched my dad accidentally wander into the women's dressing room at Macy's: awk-ward.

Plus, if the dude is hot, everyone gets distracted by him and is just really waiting for him to leave so we can all talk about him, anyway.

The salon gives me everything I'd want out of church and more: relaxation, laughter, excitement, reflection (do not tell me that big hairdryer is not a cave of meditation), fellowship, communion with other human souls, and soft, manageable hair. It is also a place of confessional therapy -- after all, you're spilling your guts to a licensedprofessional, so it's probably fine.

So let us celebrate the soothing and restorative powers of the mighty hair salon! For lo, it is a glorious place. Have stories of your own hair-related spiritual ecstasy? Do share. Oh, please do. Or just shout out your stylist, who undoubtedly works his/her ass off.