Walking into the upscale salon, Emily felt her heart racing. The air was infused with the scent of designer shampoos and expensive perfumes, while chic lighting fixtures created a warm, inviting atmosphere. Despite the luxurious setting, a knot of dread tightened in Emily’s stomach.
Just a week earlier, her mother had sat her down with a look of finality. “Emily, you’re 16 now. It’s high time you adopted a more mature, elegant appearance,” her mother had said, cutting off any avenue for debate. “I’ve booked an appointment for you.”
That was it. Emily was here, dressed in the outfit her mother had insisted on—a formal, full-sleeved white shirt with the collar completely buttoned, a brown pleated skirt, black stockings, and shiny black patent leather shoes. The shirt collar felt tight around her neck, heightening her sense of vulnerability as she prepared to sacrifice her long, soft, black locks.
“Please sit,” said the stylist, gesturing to the chair that seemed more like a chopping block at this moment. A heavy cape was draped over her and snapped closed around her collar, making the tightness against her neck even more noticeable. Emily’s hands folded naturally into her lap, her fingers interlocking in a ballet of nervous energy. The crisp, white sleeves of her shirt emerged from beneath the cape, prim and proper.
A spray bottle dampened her hair, and each spritz felt like an icy farewell to her cherished tresses. As the stylist sectioned her hair, Emily could feel her heart pounding like a drum. Then came the dreaded sound of scissors cutting through hair. Each snip echoed in her ears, each severed lock falling to the floor felt like a part of her was being erased. For a moment, her hands and arms broke free from their reserved posture in her lap, white sleeves visible as her fingers seemed to twitch, instinctively wanting to catch the falling strands.
The stylist then picked up the clippers, placing them at the nape of her neck. The buzzing sound filled the air, and as they moved upwards, Emily felt like a piece of art being recklessly edited by an overzealous artist. Each pass left her scalp more exposed, more vulnerable. Her nape was shaved clean, offering a stark contrast to her white collar which now seemed to accentuate the absence of her hair.
Moving to the sides, the stylist lifted Emily’s ears and shaved the area around them high and tight. Emily felt naked, robbed of the soft, feminine hair that had once framed her face. Finally, the stylist applied some texturing to the top, which barely had any length left. Emily stared into the mirror and saw a stranger staring back, edgy and chic for sure, but wholly unrecognizable.
Turning her chair to face her mother, Emily saw a smile break out on her mother’s face. “Absolutely perfect,” she exclaimed.
“Just to let you know,” the stylist said as she unsnapped the cape, allowing the last remnants of Emily’s hair to fall away, “you’ll need to come in every two weeks for touch-ups if you want to maintain this look.”
Her mother immediately pulled out her phone to schedule the next appointment, wholly indifferent to Emily’s internal turmoil.
As they exited the salon, Emily couldn’t shake off the heavy sense of loss. She felt trapped, knowing that her new look was not a one-time ordeal but a recurring reminder of her limited agency over her own identity. Every two weeks, she’d be back in that chair, reliving the experience all over again. For her mother, it was a triumph of elegance and maturity; for Emily, it was a long-term commitment to a version of herself that she hadn’t chosen.