The Influencer and the Donation, Part 2

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Beth ran her fingers through her perfect platinum lob while she waited for Anya to let her in. Her friend had been cagey on the phone when Beth brought up the subject of next week’s planned donation cut livestream event. Beth suspected the conversation would be easier over a bottle of wine, and twenty minutes later she stood in front of her best friend’s house holding a decent-enough bottle of Chianti.

“Oh my god, YOUR HAIR!” Anya exclaimed as she opened the door to her long-time best friend. This was not an unusual greeting for her—she couldn’t remember the last time Beth had gone more than six weeks without a major style change. Beth was one of the only people Anya knew who didn’t totally let her hair go during the months of lockdown…but of course as a successful and “internet-famous” stylist all that time alone meant Beth just had more time to experiment on herself—especially when her “pod” friends like Anya refused to let her loose on their hair.

As much as she was playing with her hair, though, Beth had decided that for the duration of social distancing, she would generally just let her hair grow. She would trim it herself occasionally, just to make sure it still had a shape, but most of her hair transformations over the last ten months had been about color or style than a proper haircut. What started as a longish, teal-colored pixie with swooping bangs—not that dissimilar to the Sliding Doors cut she got before she started high school—was, by New Year’s, a head full of dirty blonde, so-deliberate-they-look-natural beach waves that reached past her shoulders. That was how she was was wearing her hair the last time she saw Anya, too.

But as a cancer survivor with a forever-compromised immune system, Beth was able to get her first vaccination shortly thereafter, and even though she knew she would still need another shot until she was truly safe, she couldn’t wait any longer. She called a stylist friend who she knew had been operating out of an abundance of caution and arranged an appointment for early in the morning, before his salon was officially open, so she could be reasonably certain the space hadn’t been touched since it was cleaned the night before and that her exposure to people other than her friend would be limited. She left the salon with the style she was sporting now: a blunt cut, reaching just above her shoulders, with long, heavy bangs. Her hair was now so blonde it was almost silver. And there was a little surprise, too.

“You like?” asked Beth, preening for her friend.

“I love! I’m actually surprised you kept so much length, though,” Anya replied. “I figured once you didn’t have to do your own hair anymore it would be back to short hair for you.”

“Well, yes and no,” Beth said, turning her back to her friend and pulling her hair into a ponytail. “Come look,” she instructed, lifting the hair higher.

Anya stepped closer to her friend and saw that Beth’s nape had been buzzed to a soft pelt that stopped halfway up her ears. The hair that remained was a soft lilac color, and Anya could tell it was artfully faded so the transition from hair to neck was barely perceptible. “It’s going to be a bitch to grow out,” Beth said, rubbing one hand up her neck. “But it feels pretty amazing for now. Wanna touch it?”

Anya raised her hand to her friend’s velvety nape and couldn’t help but tease Beth a little. “Please, you’re not going to grow it out. You’ll just cut the rest of your hair to match.”

“This is a number two. That’s short, even for me. But tell me, what are we doing about your hair?”

“Let’s open this first, shall we?” Anya took the Chianti from Beth and walked to the kitchen. After opening the bottle she poured two glasses and slid one across the counter to her friend. “You know how this fundraiser has been successful? Like, surprisingly successful?”

“Yeah, I guess when you have almost a million Instagram followers, at least some of them are going to be generous.”

“Well, yeah, I’m sure a lot of them are. But it seems like some of them are just happy to give money because I’m cutting my hair.”

“Oh that,” Beth said nonchalantly.

“What?”

“The hair fetishists. They’ve found you. It happens a lot when influencers announce they’re going to do a big cut.”

“But I thought hair fetishists loved long hair,” Anya said. She’d gotten more than a few private messages over the years from people who wanted her to do all kinds of things for or to them with her long hair. She ignored most, reported some, and frankly didn’t give it much more thought.

“Some do, yeah,” Beth replied. “But plenty of them love watching long hair get cut, sometimes even shaved. I can’t tell you how many times while I was in cosmetology school we’d get a late-in-the-day appointment for some girl with hair as long as yours who would bring her boyfriend or girlfriend in to watch as she had all her hair cut off. Sometimes the partners would even take videos. I remember this one time where the girl’s boyfriend was a film student and he showed up with all of his equipment and then asked me to run my clippers straight down the middle of her hair without cutting off the bulk.”

“What did the girl say?”

“Not much. You could tell how much she loved him, that she was willing to do it.”

“So what did you do?”

“Asked him what guard to use, made sure his camera was rolling, and then did exactly what he asked. There was so much hair on the floor and the boyfriend was loving every minute of it. I think we started with a number four and then went down to a number two, like my undercut.”

“And the girl really didn’t mind?”

“She didn’t seem to. She actually looked really cute after. And I guarantee you her boyfriend let her know how much he appreciated it.”

“So…this actually explains a lot,” Anya mused.

“Oh?” Beth may have raised an eyebrow, but it was hard to tell under her thick bangs.

“Yeah. Look at this.” Anya opened her laptop and turned it to face Beth. “That spreadsheet is a download of all the donations I’ve received so far. Go over to the notes column and have a quick scroll.”

Beth pulled the laptop closer and began to look. Amongst the many “you’re so brave!” and “sorry we couldn’t donate more!” comments and the stories of people whose lives were touched directly by cancer, there were several comments encouraging Anya to cut more than the promised fourteen inches. Quite a few of those promised additional or larger donations if she did. Beth peered at her friend over the screen. “So what are you thinking?”

“I…I don’t know, actually. What do you think?”

Beth paused and studied Anya for a moment. “You’re asking your friend the leukemia survivor if it’s worth it to cut your hair shorter so that you can give even more money to cancer research?”

“Shit, I’m sorry.”

“I’m just teasing. Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“Look,” Beth said. “You’ve already raised a shitload of money, and there are a few days of fundraising still to go. Nobody is going to begrudge you at all if you stop here. But I know you well enough to know that you aren’t going to forgive yourself if you leave money that can help people on the table. Even if that means going shorter than you were planning.”

Anya sighed. “You’re right. I know you’re right. But how can I be sure there’s actually more money coming in? What if I tell you you can cut more than the fourteen inches on Tuesday but all those comments were just empty promises?”

“So we’ll only cut fourteen inches on Tuesday.”

“But…”

“I said we’d only cut fourteen inches on Tuesday,” Beth repeated. “I have an idea…”

***

It was January 19—donation day. Anya woke up and checked her donation stats: $109,748. Not bad for a woman who never planned to be an influencer—she just started posting photos and videos of what she was cooking after she was let go from her magazine job and needed a breather before she went back to work. But soon her audience grew and brands were contacting her to do sponsored content and there was a cookbook deal and she didn’t need to get a new job after all. Anya never talked about her hair in her posts, really—unless it got in her way while she was cooking—but there were a few comments about it every time she posted a cooking video or a selfie. And of course she’d had Beth as a “guest star” in a few of her posts.

Beth was an influencer in her own right—she started posting hair and makeup photos and tutorials while she was still in cosmetology school and steadily gained a following thanks to some creative hashtagging. She was working in a salon when a local celebrity whose hair she had often styled for events around town got selected for a “40-Under-40” feature in a national magazine and asked Beth to style her for the photoshoot. Not just hair and makeup, but wardrobe, too. The look got raves and soon Beth was a highly in-demand “jack of all trades” personal stylist, flying into New York or LA to style a celebrity for an awards show or television appearance or even the occasional magazine feature or album cover. She was behind a few major celebrity makeovers, too: the former child pop star who wanted to get away from her squeaky-clean image by trading her trademark blonde ponytail for a bright pink pixie so short it would be years before she’d ever be able to put her hair up again, and the supermodel making her acting debut in a movie about the New York punk scene who traded her chestnut-colored runway waves for a short blonde pixie that evoked Debbie Harry.

Still, Beth always had time for her best friend, keeping Anya’s flowing red curls impeccable and styling her for several of her sponsored posts. It was only natural that Beth would be behind Anya’s donation haircut today. But first, she had to make sure Anya’s hair looked amazing before it was cut. She arrived at Anya’s house promptly at 10 a.m. The haircut livestream wasn’t supposed to happen until 6 that evening but there was a lot of work to do. Their photographer friend, Jack, let her in. He was already setting up his equipment—this was not a day for selfies.

Beth always kind of had a hunch Anya and Jack were into each other. As she watched Anya smile at him while she crossed the room to greet Beth, her bathrobe almost revealing too much but not quite, and then watched Jack watching Anya, her suspicions grew.

Anya had her hair wrapped in a towel. “Hair clean and unstyled, as requested. What do we do next?”

“We set up where Jack tells us, and then we have some fun.”

Over the next several hours, Beth styled Anya’s hair in a number of ways, with makeup and clothes to match. Jack took photos during the styling and then coached Anya through a few staged shots, as well. In one, she was modeled after Boticelli’s Venus, standing near her pool with her long hair flowing around her. In another, her hair shaped into a thick braid, Anya played a fearsome Viking warrior-princess. There were fancy updos and period-inspired styles and a few photos just meant to showcase her hair in its full, hip-length glory and of course lots of photos of Anya in the kitchen, doing what she did best. Once Jack finished editing all these photos, Anya have tons of content she could use at a later date when she didn’t feel like getting a new post up. She looked beautiful in each photo. Beth wasn’t sure if the camera just really loved her friend, or if the photographer was especially skilled at photographing this particular subject.

And suddenly it was 5:45 p.m. and time to get situated for the main event. Two cameras were set up—one for the folks who would be watching the livestream in portrait mode on Instagram, and the other for folks who would be watching in landscape mode on other platforms. Anya sat down on a stool in her kitchen, where Beth and Jack had decided they’d have the best set-up. Beth, standing behind her, fanned Anya’s hair over her shoulders and across her chest to really show it off. She looked beautiful. Jack started the livestreams and, confirming that everything was working as it should, signaled Anya to start.

Anya looked toward the cameras. “Hi everyone. I guess today’s the day!” She picked up a handful of hair and waved it playfully at the camera. “I’m cutting quite a bit of this off today for Wigs for Kids. And, thanks to your generous support, I’m thrilled to let you know we’ve also raised more than a hundred thousand dollars for cancer research. You all know my bestie, Beth Golden—if you don’t follower her already she’s @bgoldenstylesyou on every platform you can think of. Beth is a cancer survivor, and she’s the reason I care so much about this cause. So it seems appropriate that she’ll be the one cutting my hair today. But before we get started, I wanted to tell you to be sure to keep watching after the cut because we have a little surprise. Beth, I guess it’s over to you!”

“Thanks, Bestie,” Beth said, kissing her friend on top of her head. Then, she winked toward the cameras. “This is going to be fun.”

Beth pulled Anya’s hair back behind her shoulders and, with a flourish, shook out a cape, covering Anya with it and securing it at her neck. Then she turned Anya around so her followers would get a better show. Beth gently ran her fingers through Anya’s hair to make sure it was free of tangles, and then began sectioning Anya’s hair into four small ponytails cinched around the middle of her back, explaining for the viewers’ benefit: “Anya has a lot of hair and trying to cut through it all in one ponytail will take a while and will also potentially do some damage. Because we’re trying to preserve as much of her length as possible, cutting smaller sections is going to mean we have more to work with.”

“For now, you mean,” Anya chimed in, her back to the camera.

“Shhh, we’re not supposed to talk about that yet!” Beth teased. Looking toward the monitors they had set up so they could keep track of live comments, Beth noticed quite a few exclamation marks and excited emoji suddenly appear.

“Right,” Anya said. “Guess everyone is going to have to keep watching.”

Beth took out a tape measure to confirm the ponytails were all the correct length, then picked up her shears. “Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Anya replied.

Beth lifted the first ponytail and waved it at the cameras. “And are you all ready?” Carefully standing at an angle that wouldn’t block the shot from either camera, she began to cut just above the elastic. A strategically placed microphone meant the livestream viewers could hear the movement of the scissors and the slicing of the hair. After a few moments, the first ponytail was free. A significant portion of Anya’s hair now fell loose, more than a foot above the rest. Beth held the severed hair aloft in victory, then playfully dropped it in Anya’s lap.

“That’s a lot of hair,” Anya said, sounding surprised.

“And there’s more where that came from,” Beth replied, sliding her scissors above the second elastic. After a few snips, that ponytail, too, was severed and quickly deposited in Anya’s lap. The third followed—the unmistakable sound of scissors cutting off years’ worth of careful growth—and then the fourth. The hair that had just a few minutes ago reached almost to the seat Anya was perched on now hung to her shoulder blades.

Beth spun Anya back around to face the cameras and once again fanned her hair over her shoulders. “As you can see, it’s going to be a while before Anya can do another Lady Godiva-style photo shoot.”

Anya turned to look up at her friend. “How long do you think before my hair gets back to where it was before you started cutting?”

“Let’s see,” said Beth. “Hair grows about half an inch per month, although yours might grow a little faster than that. We cut fourteen inches, so that’s a little more than two years, not counting maintenance trims so your hair still has some shape. Speaking of shape, I should note for our viewers that I’m not actually done with your haircut. That was just the donation part of the cut.”

“So what next?”

“I add a couple of long layers in so your hair doesn’t start to get too triangular-looking. But I don’t think the people who tuned in care so much about that part of the haircut.”

“Right, so maybe we should tell them about our surprise and then anyone who wants to stick around while you finish the cut, can?”

“Go for it,” Beth said. “It’s your surprise.”

“Okay. So…” For the first time since the broadcast began, Anya seemed nervous. “I want to thank everyone again for their generosity. I’m absolutely flabbergasted by how much money we were able to raise. It means a lot to me.”

“To us,” Beth interjected.

“To us.” Anya paused. “I was looking through the comments that some of you left with your donations. I was so touched by some of the beautiful notes you left about your and your loved ones’ battles with cancer. It made me wish I could raise even more money. And then I saw some of the other comments that suggested that there might be a way to do that. A few of you suggested that if I cut more than fourteen inches off my hair, there was potential for additional donations. So here’s what we’re going to do. If we can raise an additional $5,000 before Beth finishes my haircut, I’m going to let her give me bangs.”

“But that’s not all,” Beth said, leaning down and pressing her cheek against Anya’s. Anya reached up and gave her friend a sort of backward hug.

“Right,” said Anya. “I’m willing to cut even more of my hair off if we can raise more money. Every week for the next couple of weeks or so, Beth is going to choose two possible haircuts.”

“That you approve of,” her friend interrupted. “Consent is important, after all.”

“So Beth is going to choose two possible styles that I don’t hate. And I’m going to post them along with a fundraising goal. The shorter the hair, the higher the goal, which means every week we’re shooting higher. You are going to vote for a haircut through your donations. There will be a third option to donate toward me not getting a haircut. The total amount raised across the three options has to exceed the goal by at least one dollar. If it does, I’ll let Beth give me the winning cut (or if the “no haircut” voters have it, she won’t cut my hair at all). If there’s a tie between them, Beth gets to choose which cut she likes better. And if we don’t get to our goal, the haircuts stop and we’ve still raised a lot of money for cancer research.”

“You can suggest cuts, too!” Beth added.

“Yes. Beth’s DMs are open on Twitter and Instagram and you can send her suggested cuts to consider for me each week. There are three rules,” Anya continued, raising one arm from underneath the cape and counting on her fingers: “First, any picture you send to Beth has to be PG-rated; second, I love my red hair and I’m not changing the color; third, I’m not willing to shave my head.”

“We’ll see…” Beth teased her friend, then, looking at the camera, she continued. “You might not know this about Anya, but she’s not afraid of short hair. Right before we started high school, when my hair was finally growing back after I finished chemo, she had all her hair cut off so I wouldn’t be the only girl in school with short hair. She looked like a red-headed Felicity, if anyone remembers that show.”

“I didn’t love it,” Anya interjected. “I don’t think I look great with short hair. But it also doesn’t scare me.”

“So tomorrow, I’m going to send Anya my suggestions for her next cut. And I’ll make sure I have a few back-up options up my sleeve if she vetoes one of my picks. After she approves of the options, she’ll post them, along with her fundraising goal, on social media. And if you’re feeling lucky—I mean generous—you’ll be seeing more of me and less,” she said, gently tucking a strand of Anya’s hair behind her ear, “of this.”

“One last thing,” Anya added. “I’m going to head into each week knowing what my three options are, but I’m not actually going to know the winner until Beth starts cutting. She’ll track the donations coming in. So for those of you who like the idea of a surprise makeover, buckle up.”

On the screen, comments were pouring in. Anya and Beth noticed Jack waving his arms at them from behind the cameras. Once he had their attention, he pantomimed scissors running across his forehead and then gave the women a thumbs-up.

“Looks like we hit that $5,000 already,” Beth said. “Gosh, your followers are generous.”

“Then let’s give the people what they want, I guess.”

Beth spun Anya to the side and began to make a triangular section at the front of her hair, combing the curly, red locks down in front of Anya’s eyes. She pulled her tape measure out again. “Looks like you’re going to lose a good two feet here. More for us to donate!” She once again wrapped an elastic around Beth’s hair, making a ponytail that was not as thick as the others had been but still contained a significant amount of hair. She turned Anya back toward the cameras and carefully positioned herself to avoid blocking them, then picked up her shears and once again began to cut, the sound of metal slicing through hair clear to anyone watching. Suddenly, the long bundle of hair came loose in her hand. Anya was left with hair long enough to still cover her eyes, a few pieces obviously longer than others. “Whoops,” Beth said. “I guess I could have cut another inch or two.”

“Yeah, seeing would be good.”

“Well, let’s get you cleaned up.” Looking over her shoulders at the cameras, she said: “I’m not sure how interesting the next part will be to you. Anya will post some ‘after’ photos as soon as we’re done, but feel free to stick around if you want to hear us talk about random stuff while I cut comparatively little off her hair so it has some shape.”

“For the next week, at least,” Anya contributed, brushing the long bangs out of her eyes.

“Yes,” Beth chuckled. “I guess that part is up to all of you.” She spun Anya’s stool so her friend’s back faced the cameras once more and got ready to finish the cut, this time less cautious about whether she was blocking the cameras. She doubted many of the viewers would care too much about this part.

The two chatted about old times and the influencer life and other topics that were safe to discuss on camera but weren’t really meant for the audience’s interest. Beth would be cutting Anya’s hair dry, as she had watched Jennifer do all those years before. She ran a comb through gently and then sectioned her friend’s hair. Working from the bottommost layer up, Beth pulled smaller sections of the hair between her fingers, examined the curl pattern, and cut. None of the locks that landed on the cape or the floor were more than a half inch in length, but their collective impact of these tiny snips was noticeable. A definite shape began to form even though the combing had made Anya’s hair seem more frizzy than curly. The hair was slightly longer in the center of Anya’s back than on the sides, with strategically-placed layers designed to make her curls bounce once the cut was complete. After finishing the top section, Beth once again turned Anya to face the camera and began to point-cut her new bangs, finally satisfied when they sat just below her eyebrows. Beth then took a spray bottle filled with water and misted Anya’s hair until it was damp but not wet, then grabbed her favorite curling creme, squeezed a bit between her hands, and began working it into her friend’s hair from the bottom up, scrunching lightly as she went.

A few quick minutes with the hair dryer and diffuser—”You might want to turn your volume down,” Beth warned anyone who was still watching—and Anya’s haircut was finished, at least for the next week. She still had a glorious mane of red curls—perhaps even curlier than it had been that morning, as the shortened length meant less weight pulling them down—and her long, curly bangs framed her face beautifully.

“Okay, well, I guess that’s it for now,” Anya said into the camera as Beth removed her cape. “For anyone still watching, thanks again and stay tuned for what’s next. We’re going to go take some photos. Have a good night.”

Jack switched the cameras off and began reconfiguring his equipment for the final photos of the day. They’d be staying in the kitchen, Anya’s home territory, so he didn’t have to move very much. “You know,” he told them, “you had a very enthusiastic audience tonight. I get the feeling this haircut isn’t going to last long. But you do look great, Anya.”

Anya flushed slightly, then picked up her phone and put it into selfie mode so she could examine the new style. Putting it down again, she let out a big sigh. “Does it make me an awful person if I say I like this cut and I hope nobody donates for me to go shorter?”

“Of course you like the cut,” Beth said. “Your best friend is a genius. And don’t forget, people can also vote for you to keep this style.”

“That. “Let’s hope they do that.”

“Okay, well, while you’re hoping, I think I already know what the two possible haircuts could be for next time. Want to see them?”

To be continued…


I’m finally recovered enough after my surgery that I could complete the second installment of this story. There are at least two more planned. Would love to hear in the comments if you have any ideas for Anya’s future cuts!

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