In praise of caring, but not too much

Finding beauty salvation in a strip mall salon

December 12, 2012

Sometimes we women buy into a lot of bull when it comes to the business of looking good. Just look at colors: How is it conceivable that the cosmetics world is still inventing shades in which to manufacture nail polish, eyeshadow and lipstick? I suspect they’re not, actually  the companies just slap on new celebrities, taglines and ridiculous adjectives (“ultimate suede,” “moon candy,” “photoready,” “clump crusher,” “smoothwear” and “mega plush” are all nonsense terms cosmetics companies are currently using to sell us product). These companies rely on our collective hope that this next new product will be the thing that saves us from our own decrepitude and ugliness. So many of us are vulnerable to this, even the smartest and most mature of us. And sometimes, aside from the hope, the sillyness is fun. You know how it is. 

Part of the appeal of the old beauty song and dance is that if we’re wasting/spending our money on our looks, we want to feel like we’re being taken care of. I am pretty sure that at least $20 of the cost of my haircut is my haircut lady consulting with me as if we are about to do something very important. Bangs or no bangs? Are we bringing up the length significantly? (This is salon-ese for “cutting off a lot.”) What’s the layer situation? This all involves a serious chat wherein we don’t look each other in the eye directly but speak to our reflections in the mirror. Then she gets to work, I am out $100 and I feel kind of good about myself until I sleep on my new hair and I realize the next day I am totally unequipped to take care of it. But the point is, if I get a good haircut or a good eyebrow wax or makeup applied by a pro, it just makes me like my reflection a little bit more and I feel more willing to go on that journey with someone who seems to be taking me seriously.

As I get older, though, I realize I don’t need everything to be a production. I used to get my eyebrows waxed at the same place where I get my hair cut and I always dreaded the appointment. Not because it hurt, although it did —  for better or for worse, the lady plucked a lot and all that plucking stung and made me have to sneeze — but because she spent 15 minutes before the appointment chiding me for how awful my eyebrows were. God forbid you pluck in between appointments. You might do permanent damage! She would then inform me what her plan was. She was going to wax here but not here to see if we can encourage this little bit to grow back, but only if I promised not to touch my eyebrows for three weeks, warning that it might be too late to save my brows. We could only hope. It was a bit much, all of it, and I’m not just talking about the $50-plus per month.

Recently, one of those strip-mall salons opened up near my house, the type that would have a name like “Sexy Nails,” only in this case it’s actually called Sexy Nails. This weekend I took a gamble and walked the block and a half (instead of the mile from my office to the fancy salon) and asked for an eyebrow wax. Should I have been suspicious that there was a zero minute wait time for my wax? Or that the wax took place in a chair in the corner of the salon and not in a private room? Or that it cost $10? I don’t know. The wax was efficient, chit-chat free and in the end I got what I asked for: a cleanup that left my eyebrows relatively full. The whole thing took about ten minutes, from entry to tipping. 

I felt liberated. This must be what it’s like when men get their hair cut (specifically, my husband, because he goes to a specific chain where the employees don’t typically speak English very fluently so he’s guaranteed not to be chitchatted too much in the chair, which he finds excruciating). 

Being a woman and doing the whole thing — the product and frivolity and chitchat of it all — can be a good escape. But at the same time, it’s not a true and serious commitment; you should be allowed to not take care of your split ends or to cut your nails with clippers or to pluck your eyebrows as much as you want without punishment. Sometimes it’s good to find that happy middle where you’re still taking care of yourself but without the investment and lecture. Sometimes you gotta just Sexy Nails it.

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