Author, shaggy white hair, smilingIt had been a long time since my last haircut. Busy with travel and Christmas and the two chicks returning to the nest – there had not been a moment to spare. I don’t trust the Dehradun stylists and hadn’t had enough time on any of my Delhi trips to get it done there. My bangs kept getting in my eyes and I felt messy and unkempt.

So yesterday, I was determined to squeeze an appointment in-between a lunch date and a mad race to the airport.

Lunch was in Hauz Khas – not my normal stomping grounds – so I decided to try out a totally new parlour a friend had recommended. She warned me she had only had pedicures done there and couldn’t vouch for the hair stylists. She also warned me that it was very hep.

Check. Warned.

I arrived well in time, noted the ear-shattering music, smiled at the totally bleached-blond guy with six earrings and skin-tight black jeans who welcomed me in and ushered me to the chair. I sat down and waited eagerly for the stylist.

When he arrived, he didn’t look too happy about having scored me.

He draped the plastic sheet over my shoulders, smiled (insincerely) and disappeared.

I like the mirrors in beauty parlors. You can glance at everyone else surreptitiously while appearing to be looking only at your own reflection. In fact, I never look at my own reflection, but no one notices because they are too busy gazing at themselves. (I don’t know where they get this self-confidence.) So while I waited for the hep young stylist to return, I checked everyone else out, noted their extreme youth and congratulated myself on the chic new style I would be getting in just a few minutes.

Just a few minutes. Grrrr. My lunch date was for one and it was already 12:30. I had been waiting since 12:15, all draped and eager. Where was Mr Trendy?

FInally he came rushing back – no apologies – scissors clacking. Clack-clack, clack-clack. Picked up a lock of my hair. Turned it over as if expecting something unpleasant to crawl out.

“Why don’t you color your hair, Ma’am?”

Why don’t I color my hair? Young man, may I refer you to my blog? To this post, perhaps, explaining how I suddenly made the decision to stop coloring my hair after doing it for 18 years? Or this one, in which I trot out my inspirations for the decision? Or this, in which I reveal the true reason why I made the change.

But no. All sensitive and smarting sitting there in this hep parlour, I simply took offense, glowered at him, and sulked. “What’s wrong with white hair?” I asked primly, as if I had never in my life even considered dyeing.

He was still busy lifting my locks and examining them. “Which shampoo do you use, Ma’am?”

Now which answer to give him? Whatever’s on sale? Whatever I can find in Dehradun? Or the real answer: The one that comes in either a green or a yellow bottle because it matches the tiles in my bathroom.

I just smiled and mouthed a reply he couldn’t hear anyway because of the loud music.

After checking how short I wanted it, he began clipping. Every 90 seconds or so, another stylist or assistant would approach from behind (I watched from the mirror) to chat with him. Sometimes he would stop clipping to talk with them, but more often he would keep right on going, eyes on the person interrupting, oblivious to whether he was cutting straight or nicking an ear. This happened at least six times.

Then something odd happened in the seat directly behind me. A lovely young woman with long, lustrous, black hair sat down, followed instantly by an important stylist – at least, he was distinguished by being the only one in the salon not in the standard issue black uniform the rest were wearing. An assistant was poised beside him like a surgical scrub nurse, handing him the tools he motioned for with practiced ease. Two other (uniformed) stylists stood nearby in reverent silence, like interns perhaps, to continue with the medical metaphor.

My man – clearly not surgeon material – kept stealing glances at what was happening behind him. Stealing glances – not because he was worried about being distracted from his work (that would be ME, REMEMBER ME????) – but because, I’m guessing, he wasn’t quite sure he actually had the right to be watching the master.

Author, after hair cut, shorter, not stylish,Suddenly, long before I thought he should be finished, Mr Trendy whipped out the mirror for me to see his handiwork from the back. “What?” he said, in an unexpected display of insight. “What wrong? What the problem?”

There was nothing wrong. It was a perfectly serviceable haircut. Just right for an older woman: sensible, no-nonsense, no-style, no-effort. What more could a woman of my age want or expect?

I’m not asking for compliments or reassurance. I am simply reporting. Women of a certain age cease to matter in certain situations. The girl with the lustrous locks warranted a full-court press from the stylist and his interns, but the older woman with the grey hair – well, she should just be happy with whatever she got.

There are different, and interesting, ways to look at this. I have friends who see this phase in life as a tremendous liberation – a time beyond the shackles of appearance and societal expectations when one is free to be and look precisely the way one wants, on one’s own terms. Grey hair, wrinkles, sagging muscles and breasts – who cares? Who the hell cares?

And at one level, this is how I feel too. I embrace my age and I love the respect I get as a result (at least in India). I do feel I’ve moved beyond the ceaseless anxiety about what people think and how I look to a more comfortable sense of ease about my body, my face, my hair.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I want now to be dowdy and forgettable. I still like having pretty clothes, stylish (but comfortable!) shoes and – yes – a great haircut.

So I wasn’t about to just accept the role Mr Trendy had established for me. Yet I was not going to let him do anything more to me either. Although I didn’t feel I had gotten my money’s worth, I wasn’t prepared to submit to any more of his uninspired clack-clacking. Who wants a sullen, resentful hair stylist laboring away against his own better judgment?

I let him know my displeasure by the shabbiness of my tip – four dirty ten rupee notes – and contemplated his sheer lack of business sense if nothing else: who has more money to tip well – older, well-established women with grey hair or young co-eds with lustrous locks?

The next day, in Mumbai, I asked my friend Vibha, whose hair I have always admired (grey! stylish!), where she got hers done.

Psalm 23, she answered.

Beauty Salon Poster - profile of a woman with full hair. Text: Psalm 23. The Salon

Psalm 23?

Psalm 23! “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He prepareth a place for me in the sight of my foes.”

How appropriate, given the situation. Take that, Mr Trendy!

Vibha even had the perfect stylist in mind for me. “Justine,” she said decisively. “She’s young, but she’s really got a nice way about her. She works carefully and she  puts her heart into it. AND,” she said, as the crowning touch, “She sings beautifully.”

Attractive hair stylist, holding hair dryer, wearing huge orange glasses

I liked Justine right away. Her huge orange glasses were fetching and just goofy enough to make it clear that she had a style all her own – she didn’t wear a black uniform and it was obvious she had no need of one. She was her own person. She came out to the waiting area to meet me with a warm smile, shook my hand and invited me in.

“Now,” she said, running her hands through my hair. “How shall we begin? What would you like to do?”

I explained about the dowdy, serviceable cut I had just gotten the day before and told her I wanted something interesting, something fun. She thought for a while, considering my hair and my face from all angles, and then laid out her plan.

That’s when I relaxed. She had a plan. She saw me as someone worthy of thinking about. And really, isn’t that what we all want? To be considered worth the trouble, worth making an effort for, worth thinking about?

Here’s what Justine came up with:

Author in a restaurant, holding a glass of wine, showing off hew haircut (stylish!)

I walked out of Psalm 23 feeling gorgeous. People on the street smiled at me.

Was it the cut or was it the care? Does it matter? Beauty comes from inside but sometimes it takes an outsider to remind you where to find it.

Thanks, Justine. (Thanks, Vibha.)







Showing 20 comments
  • daddy_san

    I loved the post! Sweet and insightful look at a lifestage not many of us give much thought to, until we’re actually in it.

    • Jo

      Daddy_San! Thanks for that. I feel very important getting a comment from YOU.

  • Manmohan Rai

    When you normally see ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures there is a purposefulness in both; the ‘before’ as dowdy as possible and the ‘after’ as glam’ as possible. You’ve kept the same smile without any hints of before/after and the eye immediately goes, as I’m sure you wanted, to the hair……and boy what a difference thinking about the subject makes….bravo Justine. Take note Mr Trendy!!

    • Jo

      Oh, Manmohan, what a sweet comment. Thanks.

  • Rashmi Mehta

    Love the new haircut Jo, but seriously your eyes and that vibrant smile are what stand out in both pics… also where is Psalm23? Would love to get Justine to cut mine now that its grown to my waist…..

    • Jo

      Thanks, Rashmi! So sweet of you to say that. Psalm 23 is at Kemps Corner a little down from the bridge going towards Breach Candy. Left hand side, above a shoe store called Habits. Let me know if you go. Waist length hair!

      • Jo

        Another thing: Justine only charges 500! Her boss, whose name is Itty, charges 1700!!!!

  • zephyr

    I agree with Manmohan’s comment. You have the same smile all through. And if you ask me, you look gorgeous in all the styles. But it is important for you to FEEL gorgeous so I guess Justine is the right stylist for you.

    • Jo

      Thanks! And yes, I agree with your conclusion – it all comes from the inside feeling. Keep searching, I say to myself!

  • Shea

    Laughed out loud! I love your new look, you look FANTASTIC!

    • Jo

      Thanks, Shy!

  • Pattu

    I do not know how I got here, but , I am glad I did. I laughed a lot while going through.Related to the feeling described on this page.
    ‘ Hey, this is how I feel when I go to the Beauty Parlour in my area.’ // Women of a certain age cease to matter in certain situations// simply loved it!!

    Wonderful writing. Thanks.

    • Jo

      Pattu, thank you! I had a look at your blog too – lovely! You are in Hyderabad? You are such an amazing gardener!

  • imadeitso

    oh justine did a fabulous job! it really suits you. reading about the other haircut made me a bit angry. i had a similar experience at the hands of another mr.trendy, who after coiffing my hair, began to pluck the most noticeable greys! i told him to quit it, that they didn’t bother me as much as they seemed to be bothering him. it was as if he had finished a masterpiece, and the greys were ruining all his hard work. maddening! your new stylist is a keeper though. someone who knows how to bring out the best, regardless of colour or age.

    a couple of more thoughts… “You can glance at everyone else surreptitiously while appearing to be looking only at your own reflection.”i know your type! (because it takes one to know one.. i’m a people watcher, and recently i’ve learned to smile rather than dart my eyes away quickly when caught!)

    and also, a small tip tells so much more than no tip at all!

    • Jo

      Thanks, ana! I also smile when caught now – I think it’s the grey hair which gave me the courage to start and now I really enjoy the experience of watching the young ones and their beautification processes . . .

  • Peter Phun

    Looking great Jo.

    Love the post especially since you convinced Justine to allow you to take her picture!

    It’s one thing to tell a tale but to complete it by showing the stylist, hooray!

    I’m due for my own haircut. :-((

  • Fv

    I Loved your post! After all the talks on childcare and education, its such a pleasant pleasant surprise to read even about this. I was on the look out for great blogs and thought I would search the web today and this post was God-sent :) Justine’s friend sent it to me! I shall see Justine soon for a hair cut too- I do like what Justine’s done to your hair- its beautiful.

    When I am in Dehradhun, I promise to visit you.

  • Cris McGowan

    Spot on. You write brilliantly. And I needed all that. Such a wonderful positive piece to start my day. I’m getting ready for work but checked in at my friend’s FB page. Her husband has been my MD for the past 12 years and Brien and I love him.
    He just passed away last week in a skiing accident and I’m devastated. He was such a treasure. and only 45.
    Oh and he had Hair! You could have had a great conversation with him about haircuts! He always noticed if I’d gotten a new style. He was not your average doctor. He would have LOVED this blog post. I’ve printed out other pieces of yours so he knows your work. I love you, Jo and you look magnificent.
    What a wonderful story.
    Psalm 23, how cool is that?
    Hugs from your sister…

  • lINDA


  • Reply

    Great content. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

Leave a Comment