On July 1st my lease started, it was my last physical day at the SFBG offices, and only one more shift remained of my Apple retail career. That morning, for none of the reasons mentioned above, my life changed.
No one ever really “leaves” Fremont…
The week before I was researching hair modeling for SFBG’s Free Issue, and I ended up dialing a salon in Fremont, of all places. I’ve expounded on the completely unintriguing concept and existence of Fremont before, that it is strip mall suburbia at its worst, a bedroom town at its best. So when the general manager of Visual Image and I hit it off over the phone and he extended an invitation to their salon, I was kinda like “Why not?,” tinged with a little bit of “Ehh.”
The affable GM, Boris, asked me what I would like to do to my hair. I told him I wanted to dye it. I explained that I recently had it cut so that it was finally healthy again, but that the overall styling was essentially too conservative for me. “I like funky,” I said. “So pretty much anything you wanna throw on my hair, I’ll go with.”
I used to have really cool hair. (See right.) As far as body modification goes, punky hair is as great a leap as I will make these days. Six piercings split across two ears is enough for me, and tattoos are just way too permanent. Punky hair styles, though, those I can do. If something goes wrong with your hair you can just wear a hat until it grows back. You can dye it back. You can learn as you go, with less terror about passing the Point of No Return.
I haven’t done anything significantly interesting to my hair in about four years, and I wanted to show my creative side again. Through my follicles. (Upon going to summer abroad in high school, my mom made me dye my hair back to normal black-brown. I lamented to my then-boyfriend “But now people are going to think I’m boring!”) Let’s face it, hairstyles show personality. I could never work in an environment that doesn’t allow for that type of experimentation.
So Boris tells me that he has a junior stylist at the salon who’s “really creative” that I’ll probably like. Her name is Olivia. Given the small-town nature of Fremont, I jokingly think to myself “Wouldn’t it be weird if the Olivia styling my hair is the Olivia from high school who totally didn’t talk to my [nerdy] group and she ended up being the one doing my hair?”
So the day arrives and I drive a whopping one hour to get my hair done. Even for me and my shopping tenacity, this trek is a bit ridiculous. I get to Visual Image (as opposed to an “audio image” as related to hair…), which is located in a strip mall with an oddly modern exterior, a couple of doors down from the liquor store that Synaesthesia‘s dad used to run. I park, head inside, and fill out a new customer card while I wait for my stylist. I’m a little bit early, so I have plenty of time to look at all the aproned women setting up their stations and play a guessing game of “Who’s my stylist?”
I really do half expect Olivia from High School to come out.
Instead, out walks this girl wearing hip, rectangular glasses. Olivia from high school would never wear glasses, hip or not. I fixate for a second on the girl’s face, and the jet black color of her hair does nothing to deceive me. I know this girl. I’ve known her for years. I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first saw her.
In my first memory of her, she had rainbow hair.
The “Olivia” that Boris paired me up with was none other than “OhTee” of the South Bay female breakdancing world. Keylos got me into the hip-hop dance world at the tail end of 2003 when we auditioned and made it into Khamai. In 2004 we went to my first BattleFest, where OhTee and the super sick girls B-Syde claimed first prize. I had never seen anything like it. I wasn’t one of those dancers who watched music videos over and over again to figure out the choreography. I was a studio kid through-and-through, except for an insatiable thirst for hip-hop music (good and bad). I had never seen anything like it, and I especially didn’t expect that level of breaking, popping, and locking power from a group of women. Mainstream media highlight men who can do this well, not women. It wasn’t that I didn’t think girls could do it, it’s just that I hadn’t been exposed to it before. As any of us who moves from one culture to the next knows, it’s not easy to seek out what you don’t know. B-Syde brought it all to me.
I’ve even tracked down their original photo from that performance. (Suggested viewing: herstory lesson on Jane Doe Collective’s MySpace.) I remember those green and black outfits vividly! And yes, there’s OhTee in the front row with the rainbow hair. She was a dancin’, jivin’ popsicle. And that’s when she became my hair idol.
As she walked up to me, still tying her apron, I breezed over the normal introductory “Hello, how are you? I’m fine, thanks,” and shot as swiftly as I could into, “Are you a dancer?”
She turned her head to me as she led the way to her station. “Yes, how’d you know?”
“I’ve seen you before. You’ve always stood out for your hair. The first time I saw you, it was rainbow!” I had girly giddies just gushing out of my smile. I was probably as excited to run into her as I was when I first met Billiam.
Here I was, about to get my hair dyed, a process I had been waiting much too long for, and my stylist happened to be the girl with the boldest hair I had ever seen. It’s like if you wanted to turn your shower singing hobby into a legitimate career, and someone off the street arranges for you to be trained by Christina Aguilera. Or something. It’s just really fucking cool to have someone descend from their high position in your mind to physically standing in front of you, he or she being the very one to orchestrate your reinvention.
Back to the matter at hand.
OhTee asked me what I wanted to get done and I told her the same thing I shared with Boris, that I would do just about anything. Without saying these exact words, I told her I wanted to be a canvas for someone creative. She warned me “Well, you know I’m pretty bold,” which, of course, I knew, but that was precisely why I loved her as my stylist. My only limitation was that I didn’t want to be “blonde Asian.” (I said this and then saw her bottle blonde mugshot in her cosmetologist license. Oops. Still, my fear is that I can’t rock blonde. But OhTee could. Because she’s badass.)
OhTee handed me a hair magazine as she flipped through one herself. I eventually came across a hot asymmetric bob with really classy, bold color. The only hesitation I had was that I wanted to keep the current length of my hair. It had taken me this long to grow it out and get it trimmed so that it’s healthy again, so it would have been a pity to waste. Otherwise, as evidenced by my clothes and general outlook on life, I like asymmetry and I like punches of color.
OhTee’s mentor came over to hear what decisions we had made with my new style. She did that stylist thing where they run their fingers through your hair and pore over it to get an idea of the quality, and apparently my hair spoke to her, too. Jenna, the mentor, suggested bangs, and being in a bold mood, I said, “Okay. I’ve never really done bangs before, so this is going to require some hair training.” OhTee got me more excited when she said “I love bangs!” (If she said “I love fangs!” I probably would have been like “Yeah! Let’s get me tooth implants for my canines!”) And then Jenna suggested asymmetrical bangs. And I just about died. It was like my hair was speaking to these women, saying, “Please, for gods’ sake. This poor soul cannot style her hair to save her life. Give her something loud and lively that requires no special application of product.”
I was stoked. I picked out my colors, shades of burgundy-red (of course), the brighter of which would take over my soon-to-be asymmetric bangs. I just want bang bang bangs!
To be honest, the thought of bangs scared me. I didn’t want to make the Asian bang mistake of getting chunky bangs cut straight across like someone never grew out of the bowl cut stage. I had gotten bangs before and asked specifically for “wispy bangs.” I was never happy with the results, so I just pulled my hair back every day instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. (That saying made me feel twenty years older.)
It’s for concerns like this that stylists need to perfect the art of chatting. Luckily, I was more eager to talk to OhTee than she probably was, and we went back and forth with questions about the dance world and who knows who and recent events. She asked me how I would describe my own particular style, I said I’d probably easily fall into flygirl. I asked her what her favorite style is, and she said she loves locking. We learned that we’re both from Fremont. I learned that her boyfriend might know one of my carpool buddies. It was all kinda freaky if it wasn’t for the fact that I was so enamored with this girl’s sense of style. And who the fuck expected something cool like that to happen to me in Fremont??
Doin’ the do.
As she stepped away to show me my bangs, I was more than impressed. This whole time I was wondering if I’d have to hide my bangs again, when really all I needed was someone who better understood how to create a shape that would compliment my face. I’m very self-conscious about my wide face and asymmetrical jawline, but this cut seemed to soften things up. I’m also self-conscious about my asymmetrical eyebrows and expansive forehead (I’m Tweety Bird.), but the bangs seemed to take advantage of the distance from my hairline to my browline and even gave more character to my imperfect face.
I know this all sounds very self-centered, but you’re given a lot of time to stare and overanalyze yourself when you sit in a hairstylist’s chair. It is both a good and bad thing. Fortunately for me, the longer I sat in that chair as we went from shampoo to cut to color to touch-up, the more I fell in love with my new look.
Eventually it reached color time! I was elated as OhTee went off to mix my dye. I tried to read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, but I was too distracted by the possibilities of what might happen to my face. I was already thrilled that bangs could look so cute when I pulled my hair back into a ponytail. I was daydreaming about which pair of frames I should look into at Next Eyewear to really pull off the stylish-and-smart-with-great-hair look. She came back with tubs of strong-smelling paste and went to town.
I regreted not taking progressive shots of the transformation. Sometimes I want to stop stylists mid-dye and take photos of the piles of tin foil I’d collect in my hair. Unfortunately I didn’t grow the balls for this round of hair reinvention. Maybe next time.
OhTee and I talked some more and our commonalities grew: in types of things we were interested in (nerdy things) and even in people we knew who could help each other. The entire experience, aside from being a major upgrade in my appearance, was a wonderful chance encounter.
Once the dye had set, it was time for the moment of truth. How did it turn out? How sad would it be if something had gone awry?
The foil came off, the hair got rinsed, and I sat back down in the chair. Some blow drying, big brushing, and finishing touching later, and FUCKYEAH it looked awesome. All that build-up wasn’t for nothing! ‘Twas all I wanted, and more. Since I don’t like the quality of my skin from that day you get back shots of the peek-a-boos running through my hair. (OhTee’s got a full set of pics here if you’re curious.)
My bangs are still novel to me and I play with them in my eyes, out of my eyes, pushed to one side, evenly splayed out. Even without punky colors built in, these bangs are a lot of fun! So much more interesting than the cop-out long hair I had for so long.
In finding a stylist, it’s one thing to go with whoever’s available or even to take the advice of your friend who has totally different hair characteristics than you. To land on an appointment with someone worth following is a surprise and delight. To meet someone you’ve been taking note of for years is just super exciting. To walk out knowing that a new style “suits you” and hearing that exact compliment from your peers is a major confidence booster.
So not only was I moving out and switching jobs in the same week. I was also executing a secret item on my to-do list, to get my hair done once I got a new full-time job. It all came to me at a ridiculously unbalanced cost-to-value ratio that completely tipped in my favor. Life is too short to not love your stylist.
…And here’s me! In MySpace-esque restroom mirror fashion, finally feeling like myself: