Can We Talk About How Absurdly Awkward Salons Can Be?


"At a nail salon once, I had the person who finished my nails give a rough shoulder massage, but not before he put his hands into a Glad trash bag and used it as a sanitary barrier between us. It was slippery, awkward and possibly lemon scented," Natalie, 22, told Mic on Tumblr.  

I'm acquainted with and can appreciate latex gloves used at the nail salon, yet I've never seen a trash bag. And it's just one of the seemingly countless ways the salon can be extremely uncomfortable. Like that time I splurged on laser hair removal for a more delicate area of my body, only to be chastised by the technician for not shaving my butthole properly. Yeah, things can get rude too.

Which is why it's no shock that a Redditor started a thread back in 2012 asking, "A hair salon for introverts - is this a terrible idea?"

We go to salons to be pampered, to relax and also to get shit (a wax, a trim, a threading perhaps) done. And yet the experience can be uncomfortable and, for some, truly anxiety-inducing. Here's why:

When you're forced to answer invasive questions

When it comes to women's hair, a drastic cut may be interpreted as the result of a dramatic life change. But how we wear our hair and why we wear it that way is no one's business but our own.

"When I got my hair cut short the first time, I got so many questions about if I was getting it cut for "any reason" (this never happened before). Like what do you expect me to say? 'Yes I'm getting it cut short because I am a homosexual,'"  the-magical-llama-bird told Mic on Tumblr. 

"Really really hate the small talk, and having to answer questions that feel kind of invasive while not being able to move," posted allkindsofblue

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When your stylist is straight-up rude

The talk that arises when one presents their body to a professional, even if it's just for a haircut, can be borderline offensive.

"I have thin but curly hair (rare, perhaps?)," commented aletheaevelynecormier to Mic on Tumblr. "A hairstylist assumed I have hair falling [out] issue, and asked: 'Did you just gave birth or are you still newly pregnant?' (No to both, I'm 5'5", 132 lbs). To this day I still don't know how he came up with it."

While she wasn't actually pregnant, for others the conversation often required when visiting salons can touch upon delicate and real issues, such as Molly*, a 27-year-old who suffers from both psoriasis and social anxiety. "When I was in middle school I had a hairdresser point out my dry and itchy scalp each time I saw her. She rudely addressed it, when clearly I knew I had a bad scalp from psoriasis," Molly told Mic. 

When you're not sure where to look

Eye contact is an intimate means of communication, but sometimes the whole point of having a beauty service done is to space out and be a little selfish. Tumblr user whyaretheysofreakishlytall commented to Mic, "When you see that your nail artist is trying to make conversation and you really don't feel like socializing so you force yourself to watch the crappy video that they are playing in the corner of the room." 

Agreed. Before I started watching Netflix on my iPhone sometimes during salon visits, I watched far too much daytime TV. Another Tumblr respondent, spamandham, said, "I really dislike having to make eye contact with anybody while doing my nails, but this one woman insisted on complete eye contact while making 'small' talk with me." 

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When there's uncomfortable touching 

Eye contact is pretty minor compared to actual unwanted physical contact. 

"I always space out while getting my nails done and end up caressing the nail tech's hands, it's intimate. Also, once a nail tech told me I had a lot of skin around my nails. When I tried to ask her what she meant, she just yelled 'LOTTA SKIN,'" officialarea51 told Mic on Tumblr. 

"Tried a new salon which gave scalp massages with a cut — didn't know this in advance. I hate people touching me so it was a pretty uncomfortable experience to have this stranger pressing on my head for 10 minutes," agreed sherunsthroughuniverses

Or, as liannabob succinctly answered, "Basically just having strangers touching me. It creeps me out big-time."

When you just can't think of a damn thing to say

Is there anything more awkward? When the people around you aren't friends, family or people you have any interest in entering into either category, social delicacies like, um, talking can become uncomfortable. turdle-dergs told Mic on Tumblr their least favorite part about getting their hair done was just that: "When you and they stylist have nothing to talk about so it feels like Christmas dinner with an aunt you never met." 

Many people find small talk difficult, the forced socialization unnatural. "I don't have people skills and I don't know what to do when someone asks me stuff, much less when I have to do small talk with my stylist," said bansheebender on Tumblr. 

This all becomes more acute when you actually have social anxiety.

"Social anxiety is fraught with people being afraid of being judged," clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg told Mic. "Another really common and overpowering characteristic is that they become avoidant. So I would think in many cases, people would avoid doing things to enhance their appearance, like getting their hair colored or getting their nails done, because they would be afraid of being judged."

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It's 2016 — we should be able to disrupt the salon norm, right? To do so, it's important to first note that we're not the only ones: Sometimes the hairstylist themselves feel bombarded with awkwardness.

"I love regular clients, that I like, but if I get somebody new sometimes I can tell they don't want to talk, and that's fine with me because most of the times I don't feel like talking, but I will," Kat*, a New York City hairstylist, told Mic.

"Sometimes people ask me questions about myself that makes me anxious. Things that aren't related to hair at all, but like 'Where are you from?' or 'Do you have a boyfriend?' and it feels like I'm being interviewed. I don't want to talk about myself," Kat said. Then there are the oversharers: "Once, a fairly regular male client told me a story about how he got gonorrhea from the same girl three separate times!"

So, fixes? You can opt to switch stylists, as Molly did, after her negative experience discussing her psoriasis. You can also seek out the now-coveted "quiet chair," a feature of a Wales salon that went viral last month. (A salon in Philadelphia has followed suit.) To avoid salons altogether, Glam Squad is a service that brings the stylist straight to your home or apartment, so you can stay home and get your hair done in your PJs.

As a social anxiety sufferer myself I've started listening to podcasts while I get manicures (acrylic stiletto nails, so it takes a while) as an excuse to avoid conversation and help pass the time. For those who avoid the salon due to social anxiety, Greenberg has some insightful advice.

"For all those people who get social anxiety, most of the people are not judging you — most of the time people are preoccupied with their own issues." Hopefully, preoccupied with cutting your hair.

* Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.