(stock photo from freeimages.com)
I work for a chain of franchise-owned, family-oriented, walk-in-only salons. A large portion of our clients are men and children, though we do get many women as well. Most of the time, the work is very rewarding, because I get a lot of enjoyment out of making people look and feel good about themselves. But every so often you see something – most often a neglected child – and it breaks your heart, and there’s absolutely nothing that you, as a mere hairdresser, can do about it.
A few weeks ago, I had a teenage boy in my chair. He was a tall, lanky, awkward kid with a quiet voice who hadn’t gotten a haircut in quite some time, as evidenced by the uneven, stringy locks that brushed his shoulders. He was looking for a new style, something short and easy to style, but “not too short.” No problem. We went through a brief consultation and then I began to comb his hair out. It had appeared greasy, but I was not prepared for the massive amounts of buildup he had on the sides and back of his head. Thick layers of old sebum (the oil naturally produced by your skin to protect it) that was matted with all the hair stuck in it made it almost impossible to comb through. When I asked him about the build up in his hair, he said it was from a shampoo he used. I knew it wasn’t, but I didn’t give him grief. It’s embarrassing enough to be in that situation to begin with, you really don’t need your hairdresser shaming you on top of it. Our salon is à la carte, which means that a haircut is a base price, and if you want to add on a shampoo or a blow dry, it’s an extra charge. I offered to shampoo the kid at no extra charge, because the way his hair was, the only haircut I’d be able to give him would be a nearly-bald buzz. I scrubbed him with a clarifying shampoo, then a regular shampoo, and followed with a light conditioner. It barely made a dent in the buildup.
At that point, I called his mother over. I explained that he had this buildup in his hair, and that I would not be able to cut his hair with it in that state. She all but rolled her eyes at me, and told me to try harder to get it out so he could get his hair cut. At that point, one of my coworkers jumped in to lend a hand. She was able to eventually comb through the buildup and remove a huge mat of hair, and after a second round of clarify-shampoo-condition, the buildup was finally broken down enough that I could actually give him a haircut. After the cut, I styled it for him with a little pomade, and explained that it was important for him to clarify his hair once a week, especially if he’s going to use product in his hair. I also explained it to his mom, because, let’s face it: this was the result of him not being taught how to properly wash his hair, and the result of the mom turning the other cheek instead of seeing something wrong with her child and seeking to fix it.
Then there was the poor child I dealt with yesterday, which was a whole other level of neglect.
These parents had brought their two children in, and only the son was getting a haircut at first. The daughter, aged 9, decided that she had wanted a trim as well, so I got her suited up in my chair. I knew it was going to be a problem before I even took her hair tie out; her long, wavy hair was a tangled mess that looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a week. But once I actually got the hair tie out, and started running my fingers through the ends, I found large mats of hair close to the scalp that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to undo on my own, if at all. There was also a section at the nape of her neck where it looked like a chunk had been cut out, 6 inches shorter than the rest of her hair. This little girl was a mess (and also smelled like urine). And it was very clear from her split ends that she had not had a haircut in years. I called my boss over to help. My boss previously worked at a children’s salon for years, and is an absolute pro at detangling messy hair. Forty minutes, three combs, a butt load of leave-in conditioner, half a bottle of clipper oil, and a lot of pep-talking this little girl later, my boss and I had tamed this head. Before I went ahead and chopped, my boss brought the mom over to show her the girl’s hair, and exactly how much we needed to cut off to even everything out. And also stressed the importance of making sure the girl brushed her hair all the way through. The mom didn’t care. She was pissed because they were all supposed to go out, and they had to wait a whole extra hour because little precious wanted a trim. A trim, that turned out to be 40 minutes of heavy duty detangling and an 8-inch chop to even things out, because who knows when the last time this poor girl had gotten an actual haircut.
Seeing these people come in and out of the salon breaks my heart. I can educate the child and the parent regarding proper hair care until I’m blue in the face, but none of that matters if the child isn’t being cared for. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. Once they’re out of my chair, I’m powerless.
4/6/16 Edit: I wanted to clarify a few things, since a friend shared this post on facebook and a few of her friends thought I was quick to judge dirty special needs children and their loving, caring parents. This is not about loving, caring parents, nor is it about special needs children. I get it. I get that kids are not always perfectly groomed and some have sensory issues with getting their hair brushed/washed/cut. I personally have not dealt with many special needs children as clients, but of the few that I have, the parents are always involved. They will always make a point to mention autism or sensory issues, or ask me what they can do at home to make hair washing and brushing easier. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference between caring, loving parents and neglectful parents. My boss, the manager of the salon, worked for many years in a children’s salon. She has worked with many special needs children, many of whom have followed her to this salon because the parents swear up and down that she’s the only one their child will let touch their head. She also has a special needs child of her own.
I don’t want people who have problems with their hygiene or skin conditions due to being special needs or sensory issues (or parents of those people) to read this and be dissuaded from going to a salon. I get that even having something as minor as moderate dandruff makes it a nightmare to sit in someone’s chair because you feel like you’re being judged. My intent here is not to make anyone feel uncomfortable for something they can’t help, but rather to help them overcome these things if possible so I can help them look and feel like a better version of themselves. I try my best to help minimize guilt and embarrassment, and I never want someone in my chair to feel like they’re being judged. However, when a child has an awful mess on their head (due to their own doing or because of sensory issues) and I try to give the parent pointers to make home care easier, and they brush me off and clearly don’t care about their child, that’s when I judge. No child deserves a parent like that.