“What are we doing today?” your stylist asks as you sit down.
“I’m really not sure, to be honest,” you reply as she lifts your long hair out of the way and fastens her cape at your throat. “I fancy a change but I haven’t decided on what. I’ve been saving a few styles to my Pinterest. I thought maybe I could show you and you could just go with what you think would look best?”
Your stylist raises an eyebrow so high it disappears behind her thick, curly bangs. You’re not the kind of person who sticks to one style, and she knows it: in the five years since you became her client, you’ve been through at least as many styles and probably as many colors, too. But you’re also not the kind of person who easily cedes control of your look—and she knows that, too. In the past, when you’ve wanted to change your style, you’ve come in with a clear vision of what you wanted. This indecision is out of character. You can see doubt on her face. “Everything okay?” she asks, out of genuine concern. “You’re not usually this uncertain. We can just clean up what your current style and then next time you come in, when you’ve had more time to think about it, we can make a bigger change.”
You shake your head. “No,” you insist. “No, I’m definitely ready for a change today.” You give her some of the broad strokes of what’s going on in your life, and how given all that you think doing something different might snap you out of your funk. “It’s just that I haven’t gotten beyond the ‘different’ part,” you explain, “so I’ve decided it might be good for me to let someone else make the decision, since I have to be in control everywhere else in my life.”
You launch Pinterest on your mobile and navigate to the board you labeled “haircut brainstorm,” handing your device to the stylist. She leans over your phone, her long dark curls falling forward as she begins to scroll. “Wow, you really don’t know what you want if you’re open to any of these!” she exclaims.
You know what’s there, so you’re not watching as she scrolls: everything from styles that would keep most of your length but add choppy layers, to sharp, precision-cut bobs. Nothing any shorter than you’ve had before, but plenty of options that far shorter than what you’re sporting now. They’re all styles you could see yourself sporting someday, so why not, perhaps, today?
“Some of these involve losing quite a bit of length,” your stylist says, still scrolling. “They’ll take quite a while to grow out to the point you’re at today. Are you sure you’re okay with that?”
“I am okay with walking out of the salon today with literally any style you see on that pin board,” you reassure her.
“Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”
“I don’t want to know anything until you start cutting.”
“You don’t have any further guidance for me?”
“Sure,” you tell her. “Choose the style you think would look best on me and that you’d have the most fun doing.”
“That’s it?” she asks.
A few minutes later, the stylist has finished brushing your long hair, which hangs like a curtain over the back of her chair. She has told you she is going to start the cut with your hair dry, which is unusual for her but you assume it makes sense for what she has planned. She stands behind you, her head cocked slightly, curls pouring over her shoulders, as she evaluates your reflection. It seems she’s still trying to decide whether the style she has picked truly is the right one to go with. “You’re absolutely sure that you have no preference amongst the styles on that pin board? That you don’t care which one I choose?”
“Positive,” you reassure her. “As long as you think it will suit me.”
“Okay,” she says, giving your shoulders a little squeeze. “As long as you’re sure.”
You feel your phone buzz to tell you you’ve received a text message, so you’re looking down at your device as the stylist is preparing to get to work. You hear her rummaging around a bit but don’t pay her any mind as you read and then reply to the message you received. One of your colleagues, updating you on the ongoing drama at your workplace, just one of the reasons you’ve been in such a funk. You’re about to return your phone—and your arms—under your cape when it vibrates again to let you know you’ve already received a reply. You finish a second response and hear a click and a low hum. You know the sound to be clippers and you assume your stylist has chosen one of those precision bobs that was on your pin board. You know that some stylists like to create the shape with clippers and a comb rather than shears. Good, you think to yourself. A big change like that might be just what I need.
“Ready?” the stylist asks behind you.
“Sorry,” you say, returning all limbs and devices under the cape. “I’m all yours.”
“Then let’s do this!”
You are expecting to watch the stylist level a comb in your hair near your chin and then pass her clippers over its teeth quickly, severing a good foot and a half of your hair. Instead, before you can fully process what is happening, you feel one hand on the top of your head and then see her place the clippers at your forehead and pull them back toward your crown, leaving a wide path of very short hair down the center of your head as more than two feet of your hair floats down to the ground. You gasp in horror.
The stylist immediately turns off her clippers. “Oh my god! Shit! I knew I should have told you which style I was choosing before I started. You’ve never been someone who liked surprises.”
“I’d be fine with the surprise if you were choosing one of the styles I’d actually selected.” You can barely hide the emotion in your voice.
“But I did, though!” she insists.
“No, you absolutely did not. I didn’t have anything shorter than a bob saved to Pinterest.” You can feel tears stinging your eyes as you try to keep your composure. “And definitely not a buzz cut!”
“But you did! It was all the way down at the bottom. I swear, I never, ever would have chosen something this dramatic if it wasn’t on your board.”
“That’s impossible,” you say, pulling out your phone. You re-launch Pinterest and scroll quickly to the bottom of your “haircut brainstorm,” board, passing long shags and beachy waves and perfectly neat bobs and…sure enough, down at the very bottom, is a photo of a woman whose hair has been buzzed down to no more than a half an inch in length at the top, and even shorter on the sides. “I didn’t pin this,” you say, your throat dry. You notice, after that photo, a few other styles you don’t remember saving, most of them shorter than any style you remember selecting but none quite this short.
You both stare down at the photo your phone for a beat longer, you acutely aware that like it or not, you’ll be leaving the salon today with a similar style. And is that a breeze you’re feeling on the top of your head, or are you imagining it?
Your stylist takes a short sharp breath. “Oh no,” she says. “I think I know what happened.” Reaching over your shoulder, so that her curls just brush your cheek, she scrolls your phone screen up slightly. Just above the photo of the woman with the severely short hair, you see the words: “Recommended for you.”
You were right. You didn’t save that haircut to your pin board. But Pinterest’s algorithm caught on that you were saving lots of different hairstyles of lots of different lengths and decided you might be interested in even shorter styles, too. Even, apparently, a buzz cut.
“Fuck,” the stylist says. “Fuck. I’m so sorry. I didn’t notice that I’d scrolled past the bottom of your picks and had gotten into the algorithm’s recommendations. And then I just got so excited that you were willing to consider such a big change that I went for maximum drama, straight down the center. If I had started at the back or sides it would be fixable, but…”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I should have been more careful,” the stylist insists, near tears. “I don’t know how I’ll ever make this up to you. This haircut is on me, obviously. And I’ll buy you a wig if you want.”
“I probably would have done the same thing,” you reassure her, trying to regain your composure. “I didn’t notice the recommendations header just now, either. I don’t think I even knew that feature was there, or else I would have warned you about it. And of course I’m paying you for this haircut. As long as you finish it, I mean.” You look at your reflection, at the landing strip on top of your head, and force out a chuckle.
“The only way to finish it is if I…”
“I know. But that will be better than leaving me like this, don’t you think?”
The stylist wipes a tear away and laughs, tucking a long curl behind her ear. “Definitely.”
“Besides, you wouldn’t have chosen this if you didn’t think it would suit me, right?”
“Absolutely not,” she answers, her confidence returning. “I think you’re going to look stunning.”
“Then let’s get back to work!” You’re trying to sound positive, if not enthusiastic.
Your stylist retrieves her clippers, turns them back on, goes to stand behind you. “You ready?”
You nod, unsure exactly how to answer the question. She places the clippers back on your forehead, right next to where they’d previously been, and pulls back. The landing strip on the top of your head widens. The hair that’s left is darker than you’re used to seeing; all those expensive highlights you’ve been paying for the last year or so will be gone without a trace. The stylist continues her work, clearing more and more hair from the top of your head until all that’s left is a fine, dark pelt. You can’t help but laugh as she pauses to reposition herself. “I look like Benjamin Franklin!” you exclaim.
“Not for long!” the stylist giggles, glad to see your mood is improving. All the same, she turns your chair so your back is to the mirror, probably because she knows you’re going to look even sillier for a while, until she finishes. She places her clippers at your right temple and draws them back, and you feel…a twinge of something. You’re not sure what, exactly, but something about that pass of the clippers felt almost enjoyable? The pleasant vibrations continue as the stylist continues to pass her clippers along the right side of your head, and become ever so slightly more pleasant as she holds down your ear and carefully clippers away any hair left there. You always did like getting attention behind your ears, but you never would have thought the attention would also involve you parting with all your hair.
The right side of your head done, the stylist moves to your left and continues her work. That first pass across your left temple and there’s no denying it: you’re actually enjoying this now. The clippers continue to chew away at the hair on this side of your head, and once again, the stylist carefully holds your ear down to make sure no long hair remains. You hope—really, truly hope—that you like the way this winds up looking, because you suspect you’re going to want to feel this sensation again in the not-too-distant future.
Finally, the only hint of your long hair that remains is on the back of your head. You feel the stylist’s warm hand at your crown, guiding your chin downward. Then she places the clippers at the base of your neck and drives them up your nape toward your occipital lobe. And if having the clippers run over the sides of your head a few moments earlier had been pleasant, what you’re feeling now…it’s pleasure. It’s like the vibrations here are traveling straight down your spinal column and throughout your entire nervous system. Your whole body is warm and tingly, and you feel your entire pelvic floor contract. It is taking every fiber of your being to keep yourself from exploding then and there.
The stylist runs the clippers from your nape to your crown a few more times, each pass increasing the intensity of what you’re feeling, even as it lessens the amount of hair on your head. And then suddenly, you become aware that the last bits of your long hair have been severed. The clipper’s blades are no longer tugging as they meet the resistance of your formerly glorious lengths. Now, your stylist is running the machine systematically over your entire head, checking to make sure she hasn’t missed any spots. You hope she did, so she’ll take longer with the clippers. You feel her manicured fingernails grazing your scalp. You’ve never felt anything like that before. “Okay,” she says, turning the machine off. “That part is done. Should I keep going?”
Yes! you want to scream. If you mean should you keep running your clippers over my head, yes! But instead, you ask her what she means.
“Well,” she explains. “Right now, your hair is all one length—a uniform half of an inch all over. In the photo that I, uh, accidentally chose, the back and sides are faded shorter to make the style look more precise. We’re talking fractions of an inch but it’s a noticeable difference when your hair is already so short.”
“And you’d do that with clippers?” you ask.
“Yes,” she tells you.
Yes! you scream internally. But out loud, you ask: “And you think it will look better?”
“I do, but you’ve already lost a lot of hair today and I’d understand if you want to stop here. Do you want me to turn you to face the mirror so you can decide?”
“No, it’s okay. You clearly had a vision when you started. We may have gotten off to a rough start but at this point I think I’ll wait to see your vision until it’s fully realized. So if you think you should keep going, let’s do it.”
“I really do think it will look better. Sharper,” the stylist confirms.
Behind you, you hear her snapping a different guard onto her clippers. You look down at the mountains of hair on the floor—your hair—with a mix of emotions. You do think you’ll miss it, in a way. The way it feels when it tickles your back, the multitudes of different styles you can put it in. But given how you’ve been feeling the last several minutes, as every single bit of that hair was peeled from your head…you wonder if maybe you won’t actually miss it all that much, not if you have to choose between having long hair and feeling those clippers on your head.
The stylist turns her clippers back on and presses down on the top of your head so your chin drops gently toward your chest. The clippers return to your nape and you receive then like an old friend, happy to welcome them back after even the briefest of departures, as they glide just above your occipital bone and stop. The stylist returns her clippers to your nape, slightly to the side of where she stared, and goes again. You can feel goosebumps raising on your arms and hope they’re not also there for the stylist to notice on the back of your neck, but she seems to be focused on keeping each new pass completely even with the last. She guides your left ear toward your left shoulder and continues, once again holding your ear down as she moves toward your right temple. The passes on the side of your head are shorter, and you find yourself wishing she had started at the sides rather than the back so you could finish with those last, long, delicious strokes. Her warm hand, the one that isn’t guiding the clippers, remains somewhere on your head, always.
Now it’s time for the stylist to return to the left side of your head; she progresses much the same as she did on the right. You feel as if you could melt into your chair. You still don’t want her to be finished, so you’re glad when, as she’s switching off the clippers, she tells you she still isn’t done. You hear a click to indicate she is switching guards again, then one hand returns to the top of your head while the other switches the clippers on and guides them upward, not so high as the last two stages but still high enough to hit that sweet spot where your nape and occipital bone meet. You bite your lip to try to prevent yourself from letting out a moan. You’re torn between wanting this feeling—the stylist’s hand on your head, her fingernails lightly grazing your scalp as she moves you this way and that, her clippers continuing to devastate what had that morning been very healthy, very long hair—to last the rest of the day, and wanting to race home so you can service yourself while replaying the afternoon’s events.
You’re so lost in the sensations of the afternoon that you’re almost surprised when the stylist turns off her clippers and announces: “Okay, just one more thing.” You hear her put her clippers down and pick something else up. She switches it on and a higher-pitched buzzing sound starts up. “This is just to get your hairline even all the way around.” You feel her place this second machine at the very base of your nape and pull upward slightly. The sensation is nowhere near as pleasurable as it had been when the heavier clippers were traveling ever higher on your head, but still, you are more than enjoying yourself. To your surprise the stylist does not just tidy your hairline but moves her clippers up and around both ears—yes, that delicious spot behind your ear where you so love to be kissed and touched—and even farther forward, toward each temples and then slightly upward to carve your hairline where it frames your face as well.
After assuring herself that both sides of your face are framed evenly, the stylist turns off her clippers and takes a step back. “Hm,” she says.
For the first time since she made that initial pass, you are worried. This has been a pleasurable experience, to be sure, but at your core you’re just vain enough to worry that in exchange for that pleasure you’re going to walk out of the salon with a severely short haircut that doesn’t suit you at all. Maybe you will need that wig she offered. “Hm, what?” you ask, a hint of panic rising in your voice.
“Hm,” she repeats. “I think this might be the best haircut I’ve given all month. I just hope you agree.” She smiles tentatively. “Ready to see it?”
You nod, relieved, but say nothing. She spins you to face the mirror.
Your reflection stares back at you, only it is so different from what you’re used to that it takes a moment to recognize yourself. No trace of your artfully highlighted long hair remains on your head. Instead, your skull is covered in a soft-looking cap of dark velvet, thick enough on top of your head that it almost looks as if you’ve just pulled your hair back into a severely tight ponytail. But the sides betray the illusion, getting shorter and shorter as they transition from your head to your neck, your pale skin peeking through. Your eyes twinkle: they look bigger than you’re used to, framed by your long lashes and capped by your expertly shaped brows. Your cheekbones look high, your jawline more defined. Even your lips look fuller, as you break out into a smile. Both hands fly out from under your cape and land on the sides of your head, expecting your hair to feel prickly but instead finding downy softness. You can’t wait to explore it further when you get home.
Your stylist stands behind you, looking more confident, the contrast between her long, loose curls and your buzzed hair creating quite the picture. “So I take it you don’t hate the style? Or me?”
Hate you? you think to yourself. I could kiss you! “I never would have thought to try this in a million years,” you say instead. “Now I’m so glad Pinterest recommended it.”
“So you think it’ll help you feel a little less burdened than you were in when you came in here?”
“I’m almost certain it will.”
She removes your cape. “Let’s get you shampooed, and then you can get out of here. I’ll even throw in a little scalp massage.”
“Actually,” you tell her, “I have some things I have to take care of at home, so I should get out of here. I’ll definitely take a rain check on that scalp massage, though.” You stand, grab your purse, start to reach for your wallet. You hope she doesn’t get that the first thing you have to take care of at home is yourself.
The stylist holds up a hand in protest. “I told you, this one is on me.”
“Don’t be silly,” you tell her, pulling out twice as much money as you normally would have paid her for a cut. “You’ve more than earned this.”
You’ve barely got your front door closed before you’re peeling your clothes off. You head straight to the bathroom, pausing only briefly to retrieve a vibrator from your nightstand drawer. You’re fully nude by the time you reach for the shower taps, letting the bathroom fill up with steam before stepping in. You lather your body generously and squirt a small amount of shampoo into your hand, beginning to rub it into your brand-new, super-short style. With the other hand, you switch the toy on. You barely need to touch yourself with it before you your first orgasm comes, so strong you find yourself doubled over in the shower. When that first wave subsides, you straighten up and begin again to explore yourself, still rubbing your head with one hand as the vibrator makes contact again. And you stay like this, one hand on your head and the other pressing your vibrator to your clit, for as long as you can stand it.
After nearly an hour passes, you finally step out of the shower, glad the foresight that led you to invest in a tankless water heater when you renovated your bathroom last year meant the water was still as hot when you stepped out of the shower as it was when you stepped in. You find a towel and rub your head roughly, surprised in spite of yourself to find that your hair is completely dry by the time you finish. You finish drying off, rub lotion everywhere on your body, and take an admiring look at your reflection as you slip into a silky robe, dropping your vibrator into one of its pockets. You’re not sure you’re entirely done with it yet.
In the other room, you hear a slight buzz, the sound of your phone vibrating against your glass end-table. You go to retrieve your phone, and see that the buzz accompanied a message from your stylist. “Thanks for the generous tip,” it reads. “I’m so relieved you don’t hate me. Still, I do feel guilty about the whole thing. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you, just say the word.”
You think about your stylist and her long curly hair and her thick bangs. How her hair brushed against your cheek when she leaned over you earlier. How she tucked a curl behind her ear before she resumed her work after that first fateful cut. How the two of you looked reflected in the mirror after she finished—her romantic tendrils and your soft pelt. You’ve always admired her hair, and yet…you feel a little guilty about this, but you can’t help yourself. “Actually,” you begin to reply, “there is one thing you could do for me.”
“Anything!” she types back.
You’ll just see about that.