I had an unpleasant experience recently, one I hesitate writing about lest it seal itself into my memory. I went to see a new hairstylist, a man carefully selected based on an impressive Instagram account.* Our appointment began with a quick consultation and small talk. What brings you to Vienna? Where are you living? Do you have children? He was well-dressed and spoke perfect English with an accent, a relief after worrying about a possible language barrier. When he asked what I like to do for fun, I hesitated. Would reading news on the internet count? “Do you like clubbing?” he asked. “I bet you’re one of those moms who goes crazy when she goes out, dancing on the table?” I assured him no and laughed it off. We moved on and he took a guess at my age (I looked 35 that morning). He was soon turning 40 and when I asked if he had any big plans, he sighed. “I don’t know. Probably a strip club?” I rolled my eyes. “Have you been to one?” he asked. “You didn’t like it?” I wish I could say I took this opportunity to shut him down, or enlighten him on modern feminism. But I didn’t. I had a head full of foils and I felt compromised. No woman wants to piss off her hairdresser mid-appointment. I continued smiling and bantering, subtly shifting the conversation away from the topic of pole dancing. At one point, he leaned in to share his personal Instagram filled with gym selfies, beautiful women, and sports cars. I took an awkward glance before reaching for my Kindle. When we moved on to the sink, he whispered, “And now, my favorite part,” and proceeded with a long, sensual head massage, enjoyable but for my instincts of fight or flight. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Is he getting off on this?” We finally wrapped up and I took a quick look in the mirror before paying a hefty sum and running out the door. At home, I choked up recounting the appointment to my husband. My favorite self-care ritual had been reduced to a sleazy mess. I felt like an idiot. I felt gross. More than anything, I was embarrassed, as though I had done something to encourage it. It was a feeling I’ve had many times in the past, shame for the way men behave and the way I try to make the best of the situation. I wanted to believe those days were behind me, that I wouldn’t put up with that kind of bullshit anymore. I’ve spent the last week rehashing the whole episode, evaluating my experience and my hair. Maybe it wasn’t that bad? Maybe it was worth it? (It wasn’t.) I’ve written and erased dozens of reviews, second-guessing an appropriate level of criticism. I’ve basically thought nonstop about this man and wondered, does he have any idea how I feel? Does he think I enjoyed it? Does he care? If I had to guess, he probably hasn’t thought about it at all.
*In a tragic footnote, I did a Google search by image and discovered why his work on Instagram is so impressive - it’s not his.