Like everything else, getting a haircut changes as you get older. Now in my mid sixties, I have only wistful memories of the time when going to the beauty salon meant a stylish, sexy transformation.
Once upon a time I lived on Beacon Hill in Boston where I patronized the trendy shops on Charles Street, including a hair stylist. My guy was Al, and I sought him out every few weeks for a change-the- look/cheer-me-up/make-me-hot session. (Al was gay so there was no double entendre on that last one.)
I’d breeze into the shop with a flippant, “The love of my life is looking bored, Al, fix it.” Or, sometimes, “There is no love of my life, Al, fix it.” And low and behold, Al would fix it. I’d fairly prance across the Boston Common to where I worked on Boylston Street. I exuded an airy new confidence. Sometimes it would last for days, and it often provided a reason (as if I needed one) to search out new earrings, and even whole outfits, to match my newly enhanced image.
As I look back on all that, I realize there was an entirely false (if widely shared) assumption behind the attitude I had towards trips to the beauty salon. I put myself in a succesion of “Al’s” hands in order to spruce up the details of my appearance, on the assumption that the basics that I was handing over didn’t change. And for years that seemed to hold true. I’d gain or lose weight, but the person I saw in the mirror always had the same shaped face, my flesh remained firm, my eyes bright. I suppose I was lucky, because it wasn’t until my early sixties that reality turned on me.
First my jawline dissolved. Where I’d once admired my own profile, I suddenly had to eschew sideways views in the mirror. Then the corners of my mouth flopped down, regardless of my mood. “Not fair,” I thought; “what’s the good of levity if I doesn’t show my smile to my best advantage?” At the same time, my never large eyes shrank as the lids puffed up, then drooped. Not that it mattered since my eyes had become weepy and filmy. The final insult occurred when the skin under my chin surrended all elasticity, sending me to the dictionary in a panic to look up “wattles.” And by the way, where in the world is my neck?
So now a haircut is an exercise in damage control. The direction in which my physical self is headed is downward, so my beautician’s job is, in a word, UPLIFT. Make-up to accentuate cheekbones (which, unlike my traiterous jawline, have not collapsed;) concealer for eye and mouth wrinkles; hairstyles that reach up and never out. My beautician is no longer a hunky gay man, but a tired, mid-life heterosexual with a difficult teen-aged son. “Fluffy top, smooth sides, Deb,” I mutter as I rush into the salon, out of breath and usually late. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” she replies. She has other customers my age.
Of course. there’s always cosmetic surgery and I’m actually considering it. I can live with the listless skin tone, but I want my jawline and neck back. Who knew you were supposed to give them up with age? Why didn’t this process come with directions? And, as a matter of fact, I’d like my eyes and mouth to look less like they’re succombing to an enormous sucking sound.
I have a Care Credit card that gives you 6 months to pay off your health care balance with no interest. Of course after six months you pay ten times the normal rate, and retrospectively at that, but who cares? Maybe I can pay down the thousands I’ve put into my crumbling teeth first. So what if for thirty years I thought plastic surgery was gross, vain, phony and generally superficial? What’s it matter that I’ve always favored a natural look? My beautician could use a cosmetic surgeon’s help, and at my age, dammit, I’ve earned phony.