A little disclaimer: For those of you reading this that are brave enough to actually be hairdressers, please, please don’t be offended by this lighthearted post. I’m in awe of you for being able to withstand such an intense environment. There are so many kind and genuine hairdressers out there – I would hate for you to think this is a dig at any of you. It’s really more of an amalgamation of all of the negative experiences I’ve ever had, which have led me to rely on my own, and my husband’s, cack-handed home cuts!

To those among us who see going to the hairdresser as a form of pampering, this will seem like a really odd glossary entry. If that’s you, then hurray! That’s a form of self-care that gives pleasure, and we need all of those that we can find.

For the rest of us, however, a trip to the hairdressers can be multi-sensory torture, from the moment the whole sorry process begins. We try to book the appointment on the phone (noise in the background at their end, so they’re shouting. We’re wincing and trying to turn our phone volume down). Who do we usually see? No idea. What are we having done? Erm…a haircut? From the booking stage onwards, it’s downhill all the way…

And so the sensory overload begins…

  •  The moment we walk through the door, the stench of peroxide and conflicting perfumes assaults our nostrils and eyes – it’s overpowering.
  • The music is booming, with the consequence that everyone in the room is shouting over it and the din of hairdryers.
  • There’s the dreadful business of The Cape and whether it’s an arms-in or an arms-through. We’ll gamble on one of those and it will invariably be wrong. And now we’re already flustered and the hot flush starts rising through the nylon visibility cloak that has taken us hostage.
  • The stylist wants us to tell them what style we’d like. We genuinely just want a haircut, thank you very much. A pile of sticky, well-thumbed magazines is plonked in front of us. Pointless, of course, because whatever we choose they’ll say we don’t have the right hair for that style, so they’ll do what they want anyway.
  • ‘Oh! Your hair is SO FINE!’ They don’t mean that it’s splendid. We already know our hair type, please don’t draw attention to the obvious. It’s not a revelation to us. Just quietly do your best.
  • It’s off to the sinks for a quick session of complete vulnerability. Head thrust back, water and shampoo leaking into our ears. Our arms go numb from the pressure of the neck against the sink edge (that could be just a short person thing). However scalding or freezing the water is, we’re likely to tell them that it’s ‘fine, thanks’. And so the endless small talk begins. Oh dear, as if we didn’t know this from the moment we booked it, the full impact now hits us: this was a BIG mistake.
  • If we’re foolish enough to ask for anything involving colours or curls, we’ll be enduring this hell for the next three hours. Can there be enough small talk in the world to fill that void? The stylist seems particularly keen on asking personal questions, leading us to overshare with a virtual stranger – someone that we may or may not have met before. We’ve no idea, of course, as we only go to the hairdresser once a decade, so in all likelihood this is the adult offspring of the original salon owner. We’re also inadvertently sharing this personal information with all those seated near us. So now half the town will know that we suffer from IBS and that we’ve never been ‘quite right’ since our hysterectomy. It’s hard for many of us autistics to do anything other than answer a question honestly when asked…it takes a lot of confidence, and scripts that we never have learned, to be able to decline to answer a directly posed question. This is especially difficult when that person has just given you ‘the gift’ of an equally (unwelcome) personal tidbit about them. In some situations, people do give in order to receive.
  • If nothing else, the ceaseless chatter is at least giving us something to take our minds off the unbearable sensation of hair cuttings trickling down our wet neck and sticking to our back. All we can think about is being able to scratch it. But that’s out of the question because we’re trapped inside the sweat-cape.
  • The need to stim, or move at least, makes us want to scream. The stylist has made us a cuppa but doesn’t seem to understand that it’s about a foot too far away for us to reach without irritating them by interrupting the cut. It goes cold.

  • The hair drying phase has finally begun, which at least forces the stylist’s monologue into submission. They seem unaware that we’ve long since stopped interacting, and sensory overwhelm takes hold.  Hoots of laughter and really irritating voices that we are powerless to walk away from, bombard us from conversations we are not party to; it’s all very uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as hearing the minute details of strangers’ lives – they too having every grim detail of their existence extracted by their stylist (this must be part of the training).
  • Our personal space is invaded repeatedly – the hairdresser’s chest is in our face one minute, they’re staring into our face at eye level the next, judging the evenness of their craft. We try to look indifferent but it’s about as clear where to send our gaze as it is when the dentist is hovering above us.
  • We’re bored beyond belief. Have we ever sat this still for this long in our life? But something is tipping the scales over from boredom… it’s the worst aspect of all: the moment that the mirror is lifted we know that we will be expected to perform the ritual of expressing our satisfaction with literally. whatever. creation. sits. atop. our. head. This is for at least three reasons:
    • embarrassment (for them as much as us)
    • we assume we’ve not communicated our needs effectively and
    • to express dissatisfaction has the potential to keep us sitting in this torture chamber for longer still
  • It goes without saying that our mask has been firmly in place since we walked through the door and every detail of the previous experience came flooding back, when our olfactory sense sent us a red alert. Consequently, we’re exhausted. We’re too hot under our rustling cape-wear, the humidity is stealing our breath and we want out. Right now.
  • Oh but not yet. We now have to find it within ourselves to say no to a range of overpriced ‘salon formula’ hair products that will fix all of the things that they have helpfully informed us are wrong with our neglected locks. No thank you. No thank you. No thank you…We agree to buy the full set, of course. Then, while we’re mid-sentence, a fierce blast of industrial hairspray gives us one more thwack in all our facial orifices, later to trigger our skin sensitivity, as a little bonus.
  • What with the products, the shockingly expensive senior stylist, that we didn’t realise we’d booked, we’re absolutely reeling from the cost of it all. But the mask doesn’t drop for a second, and we hand over the money without missing a beat. Mainly because we’re distracted by the social trauma ahead: knowing how to tip and how much to give without causing insult or too much gratitude.

A stressful ordeal from start to finish. We leave feeling utterly depleted, mentally and physically, and vow never to return. We go home and immediately wash out the ridiculously puffed up style that makes us feel like we’re wearing someone else’s head. Home cuts in front of the mirror, or with a friend or partner’s inexperienced assistance, are the way forward. And THIS time we mean it!