You leave the salon looking great, your hair’s blown out or highlighted perfectly—but it’s likely you’ve released some emotional stress too.
Hairstylists often play double duty as working on both your outside and your inside, listening to your problems, offering advice, and playing therapist while you sit in their chair. Stylists often spend hours a day listening and providing advice to clients, but you wouldn’t believe the depth of information they gather.
They know who’s cheating, who’s divorcing, who's fighting, and who is pregnant—even before your friends and family know. (More on that later.)
So why do people feel so comfortable opening up to their stylist? So much so that they reveal intimate details they keep from those closest to them?
Personal Space spoke with one famous stylist, Mia Moore, 28, who works at Pierre Michel Salon in New York. She is both a talented hairstylist and secret keeper, and tells us what her day to day job is like talking to clients.
“I think hairstylists are the next occupation to dentists and doctors that are legally touching someone with an intimate space between them,” Mia says. “Although it doesn’t require a doctorate, it certainly feels that way sometimes.”
Mia says that in addition to making people look good, “the responsibility is to have constructive positive relationships,” based on mutual trust and respect. It’s not all about the hair.
“Our job to hear our clients if that’s what they need,” she says. “A lot of times the chatty people just want to be heard. Most of the tine I will let them talk and answer back, I’m not egging on the conversation too much, but I’m always trying to have one ear listening.”
Even with the blow-dryer going.
“I’m always the first or second to hear about someone’s baby,” Mia says. That’s because a special formula is used to color pregnant women’s hair, which lacks certain chemicals that could harm a fetus.
“They tell us sometimes before their family,” Mia says. “We know really early on.”
That’s why she’s a good secret keeper.
There are always high profile people who are talking about divorce and these things, so I’m always respectful,” she says. “You never talk about it with coworkers, you keep secrets. “If you talk about someone to someone else they know you’ll be talking about them too. You have to be really careful about what you say and who you say it to.”
Mia says she hears about problems with people’s children, and that after the election in November she acted as a “first responder” to people who were despondent over the results.
“I deal with people crying, it’s awful, if someone his crying it matters to us,” she says. “I will take the time to hear that client. These are relationships and I’ll stop and take a moment to care about what’s happening.”
She sometimes tells clients about herself, but mostly lends an ear.
“Sometimes I tell people about myself, it’s a case by case basis and definitely less is more,” she explains.
It’s also hard not to take it home-much like a therapist.
“You can take it home and feel it,” Mia says. “You can tell before you even touch someone what kind of appointment you’re in for.”
Body language is also a huge part of communication in Mia’s day.
“I’m sensitive to someone’s feelings. If they are sitting wit their legs crossed, if their head is buried, if their arms are crossed, you can tell how comfortable they are. You see when someone speaks with you clearly and makes eye contact or when their head is buried and they don’t want to look up to communicate with you. It’s also about managing personalities.”
And Mia says she has dealt with nightmare clients—mainly by putting a note behind the check in desk saying she will no longer work with a certain client because they were rude or treated her horribly. They often don’t even know what happened.
Psychology Today has explored the relationship between hairstylist as therapist and their clients, saying that a lot of the confessional spirit of it comes from the actual physical positioning.
“First, reflect for a moment about the physical positions a stylist and client maintain during a hair-cutting session: they’re not facing each other. The client looks into the mirror and can see the reflection of the stylist standing behind, but it’s far less threatening than the dynamic in psychotherapy in which the therapist sits across from the client and looks directly into the client’s eyes. In other words, the mirror creates the illusion of distance which makes the client feel more comfortable as he or she shares deeply personal details,” says one report.
“The position each maintains also makes questions the stylist asks less intrusive. For example, if a stylist asks into the mirror, ‘Why would you do that?!’ it’s much less off-putting than if a therapist in a serious-looking office were to ask the same thing. Simply put, the physical positions at the salon put some clients at greater ease than the traditional therapist-client positioning in a therapy office provides.
“Second, most people need to talk to some degree about conflicts they have in their lives, but they don’t necessarily want to go deep. (Come to think of it, sharing your sins with your stylist isn’t that different from a quick trip to confession where a congregant drops a bombshell behind a closed door with a priest, and goes back out into the world feeling better - and absolved - ten minutes later.) At the salon, a client can share tawdry details but not have to worry that the stylist will hold them accountable and encourage them to change their negative behavior. In therapy, of course, the therapist feels the pressure to remove the negative behavior.”
Not at the salon. You leave guilt free—and looking good.
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