When Too Much is Never Enough: Blondorexia and Other Related Conditions

As most of you know, I grew up half-Chinese in a mostly white area.  And while I know a lot of people who grew up “different” that always felt extreme pressure to be just like everyone else, I felt the opposite.  I felt like the rules of how you’re supposed to look or act didn’t apply to me.  It was freeing.  So when I look at teenage girls and the struggles they face, I need to force myself to have patience because I really don’t understand what makes some people work so hard to fit an ideal.  And I say teenage girls because the most hyperbolic and shameless examples of obsession are usually in that group, but it goes beyond age and gender.  I see twinges of it in so many.  Clients who were told they were too “this” or “that” when they were young and the scars run deep.  For a 45+ year old client to base the haircut they want on someone telling them their nose was too big when they were a teenager is wild to me but it happens.  (SIDE NOTE: sometimes facial features grow at different rates during puberty so even if your nose might’ve been proportionately too big at one point doesn’t mean it is now…)

The way we distort images of ourselves is not a new topic, so what more could I have to say about it?  We all either are or know girls who won’t cut their hair because they want it longer even though the bottom six inches is so split and damaged you can see through it because they are looking at LA beauties with extensions and thinking that their hair would look like that if it was just another two inches longer… or people who bring in a picture of a fairly light blonde but don’t feel like their hair is as light as the picture until it is white.  And fitness obsession: not everyone body can achieve a thigh gap (especially if your hips are narrow) or a six pack.  But I just want to say a few things to keep in mind when navigating the murky waters of self-judgment.

Understand who you are and what you actually look like.  One thing I’ve learned from doing countless bridesmaids and family members at weddings is that a lot of women have something that they just don’t feel like “them” without.  Generally it is something very small like mascara, undereye concealer or filling in the brow area lightly and it isn’t a cause for concern by any means.  But from time to time I come across someone who is extremely rigid and cannot identify with the person in the mirror until something very extreme has been applied to their face, like lots of black eye shadow or altering their foundation until they are uniformly three shades darker all over their face.  But what makes me crazy is that they are looking at pictures of celebrities with gorgeous sunkissed highlighting and contouring but don’t identify with it until they are a completely unnatural color.

For some reason it seems like in our culture people become very obsessed with particular features and are much less holistic in their approach to their appearance.  Maybe it is because of marketing… because it is easier to sell something to improve one feature at a time rather than to look at their whole face/body and identify for themselves what needs adjusted.  It’s easier to focus on lashes and then show photos of models with lash extensions and get people to want their lashes to be better.  “Lashes are just a part of the finished look” doesn’t sell mascara.

It also amazes me how many people don’t really know their natural hair texture.  Between hormones and medications and shampoo and product changes, the hair you had at 14 is probably not the hair you have 5, 10, 20+ years later but people still will base their beliefs on their hair on struggles they had when they were young.  I’m not saying people shouldn’t style their hair by any means, just sometimes a person could benefit from taking a step back and trying to be objective instead of carrying all this baggage into their every day beauty ritual.

When you can look at your naked face and naked hair in the mirror and feel like you are looking at yourself, that is when you can make the best decisions about style, makeup and hair care.

Understand how photography and lighting change how you feel about certain images.  Everytime I do a photoshoot with a model, especially when I have colored her hair for the shoot, the photographer will give me choices based on lighting and camera settings that really alter the mood and overall tonal qualities of the image and the hair.  Understand that when the ultra, ultra cool blonde model leaves the set and is in the real world, her hair will probably look cool still, but closer to the natural range.  And this isn’t about photoshop as much as it is about context.  I think this is a factor that comes into play when you see girls who don’t feel blonde until their hair is almost white.  Obviously platinum is a look that is quite striking and pretty awesome on some people, but my worry is that I hear people say all the time that they want something natural and not to be too light but then they aren’t satisfied until they are waaaay beyond any natural shades.  People are at times terrified of warm tones but sometimes they make more sense… but there is a certain way some people fixate and see “red” or “copper” in everything and those colors are just part of the spectrum and sometimes if you completely take them away the color will feel hollow or artificial.  Again, what looks good changes from person to person but my concern isn’t with what people do, it’s with how they feel about it and the “it’s never enough” attitude is worrisome to me.

But lighting can also thin and distort and change so much about a picture.  Now with selfies you can always snap a picture of yourself, but that doesn’t mean that the picture is how you look to other people.  And I also think the use of photoshop is really overemphasized because good lighting can remove a lot of flaws without post-editing.  As can using professional makeup artists.

I read an article from a professional makeup artist recently about how all the internet beauty bloggers are teaching people makeup artist “secrets” that just don’t make any sense for everyday wear.  And it’s true… you don’t highlight and contour the same way or with the same products when you are mostly walking around with overhead fluorescent lighting…..  On set you have to do so much more so the persons features will translate realistically and not flatten from the lighting.

Understand that healthy will always be more beautiful.  Admittedly, there are plenty of perverts and people living half in fantasy worlds that think otherwise, but most of our standards of beauty stem from what is healthy.  Long hair was associated with beauty originally because it was a sign that the woman was young, healthy and fruitful.  I think most people would agree now that hair down to your middle back but badly damaged is not more attractive than hair even four or five inches shorter.  Yet the tantrums I hear from fourteen year olds arguing with their mom at the salon… my my my.  I love gorgeous long hair as much as the next person, I don’t think, stylistically, that short hair makes sense for everyone…. but when your hair is not healthy at all, it does not look good.  The same goes when people flat iron it until it looks like straw (sometimes to make it look longer).  Shiny straight hair can be gorgeous but what happens is they see images of people with healthy and shiny straight hair and they want that hair, they are attracted to the image because the hair look healthy but the take away, the obsession is placed on the straightness.

Likewise, tan can be beautiful, but orange is not.  A nice tan can make your skin glow and people see the healthiness of nicely tanned skin and they try to emulate the darkness, not the healthiness.  But even if your taste is more dramatic than natural, the health of the skin and the hair should be the number one priority because once you have a good foundation, there is more possibility.

I will leave you a gorgeous picture of Miss Maddie Toy by Brosius Photographics with some very natural makeup.  Take care everyone, stay beautiful and don’t lose track of who you are!

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Let’s Talk About Balance

A popular topic around beauty blogs and magazines is that of face shapes and determining which cuts/makeup/etc.etc.etc. is right for you.  Now, I am a little bit untraditional.  I didn’t grow up feeling like I had to look more Caucasian or like Barbie.  I felt no pressure to wear makeup or even really to style my hair, although trying to keep my skin healthy and have a good cut was important to me.  I never remember people telling me that I needed to look a particular way.

Modern style isn’t about looking a uniform way.  It isn’t about everyone having one haircut, or one of five haircuts.  People are even willing to embrace their natural texture.  And yet, sometimes the verbiage I hear when discussing face shapes in the salon is very outdated.

First off, I don’t believe in using hair to conceal.  I believe in using hair to balance.  It sounds like a meaningless linguistic difference, but really I think it denotes an important shift in mindset.  If we believe our faces behold some defect, and our mission is to disguise ourselves, that puts a limit on the joy you can get from your haircut because you feel like, “Well, I really want ______, but because of _____ I have to have _____ instead.”  Even if someone using this formulation does like their haircut, they probably would like it more if they didn’t feel like it was one of their only choices.  Besides, sometimes when the only goal is to conceal, it backfires and just points more attention towards whatever is being hidden.  The most exaggerated version of this is the extreme combover.

When we talk about balance it is all about creating harmony with the client.  And it isn’t just about face shape.  It is about individual facial features, overall body shape, size, overall style and personality.  It’s about drawing attention to the positives and working with overall (objective) shapes in order to create something visually appealing.  It isn’t about oval being good and square being bad it is about creating a cut that is holistic, that embraces the client’s individuality.  Some women look darn good with a strong jawline and whether the woman wants a strong shape or a soft shape depends more on where she is in her career and with her life than on something being “right.”  Sometimes obsessing about face shape will cause you to miss a golden opportunity in highlighting gorgeous eyes.  And you can give the perfect cut to create an illusion of slightly more height on a petite woman, but if it doesn’t fit her personality, what is the point?

It’s not about one style looking bad, it is about another looking better.

I believe that cuts and color services should be flattering, but I don’t believe in black and white rules.  I don’t believe in approaching a service with a list of things I can’t do.  I believe that as a hairstylist, my vision for my client should be both attentive to their overall aesthetic and sensitive to who they are as person and where they are in their life.  I believe that part of my job is to instill pride and comfort in one’s own body, in one’s own identity.

Vidal Sassoon Scholarship Entry

This was my entry for the Vidal Sassoon/Beauty Changes Lives Scholarship Competition. The competition grants ten winners an opportunity to train at one of the Sassoon academies in North America, providing $5,000 of support for travel, expenses and tuition.

I was not selected as a winner, but this entry was still a labor of love and friends and family are still coming to me and remarking on ways it inspired them, so I wanted to share it today. Enjoy!

Advice on Advice

Hello everyone, today I’m going to talk about ADVICE. Both related to and unrelated to the beauty industry, I have both received a lot of advice and been asked for advice numerous times. Well, here is some advice on how to sift through the mounds and mounds of advice out there.

1. Don’t listen to everyone. When offered advice examine the advice giver’s personality and see if it is like yours in the relevant ways. For example, if they talk to you about a lot of aggressive tactics you can try to become more successful, and you are a more passive person, see if you can find a nugget of helpfulness in their advice but for the most part just leave it. Better to be the best version of yourself than a mediocre version of someone else.

2. Beware of advice that stems from anything negative. It doesn’t mean not to listen but if someone had a bad experience, evaluate how likely you are to have the same experience and put their advice in context.

3. Don’t over share advice. It can be annoying and rude. I recommend only giving advice when asked for it but that is a little extreme and old fashioned. Give advice as rarely as possible and people will listen to what advice you do give more.

4. Don’t give advice in the form of a complaint, including on Facebook if you have business connections on there. Cool down or text a friend instead. No one likes passive aggressive advice.

5. Try not to think in black and white when it comes to advice. Something isn’t necessarily just either right or wrong, it could be somewhere in the middle.

6. Have your own thoughts, objectives and opinions and you will be able to ask more questions and challenge advice in such a way that when people give you advice they know you a little better and thus give better advice.

Eye Contact

Today I had a break from work and decided to take a walk and enjoy the lovely August day. I decided to stop into a convenience store to get a popsicle. When I checked out, I was alarmed by how pleasant and empty the cashier sounded. I know it happens all the time, but wow… A young girl who looked like she could possibly be quite bright sounding so dull and bored out of her mind. It brought me back to my days in fast food.

When I was at a fast food joint, I thrived on making people’s day. Smiling with sincerity and looking people in the eye got me through that lousy job. I have always felt like we have a responsibility to each other, friends and strangers alike, to try and make their lives a little more pleasant. It got me thinking about how sad people can get (myself included) about the state of the modern world, how easy it is to feel robotic, to feel like a cog in a giant machine. When some days all it takes is simple acts of kindness to pull people out of that lull.

Eye contact is can work wonders if you let it. I feel like people hardly look at each other anymore. They are multitasking on their phones or filling out paperwork or staring out into the distance instead of looking at each other. My earliest busy days in the salon, I would find myself knowing everything about a client’s hair but unable to remember what their face was like. I quickly adjusted my ways, discovering that there is no chance at perfect hair if I can’t really connect with the person, and also very little fulfillment. How many people do you really look at every day? And Internet stalking does not count! It is like we see so much of other people virtually we are shy to face them in person.

And when I say eye contact I don’t mean staring at the spot between their eyes to fake it, I mean really taking in who they are… Who they are today.

What Men Like

When it comes to my hair, I have always done what I want, when I want. Maybe it is because I never had a crazy (about hair) boyfriend or because my parents were fairly open minded about hair, or maybe because everyone always complimented my hair. I always felt like my hair was an extension of myself.

So it shocks me to hear women say they are afraid to do something because of their significant other. Like cutting two inches off the length or going from blonde to light brown. And I think, what man would even notice?

I have also had a lot of women in love with their cut or color after a change but with fear in their eyes about going home and showing their husband/boyfriend. They usually come back the next time beaming and delighted that the men in their life actually like what I have done. I see it again and again.

I think in many relationships, men don’t realize the weight of their comments. And in many relationships, women blow what men say completely out of proportion. First off, when I see women and men together and I am talking to the woman about her hair, a lot of times she will say he has said X about her hair and he will deny it or say he didn’t mean it “like that,” etc.

Of course, these are all generalizations so take it with a grain of salt.

Most men don’t really care what their lady looks like as long as she looks good. If he has said he doesn’t like redheads, that doesn’t mean that he will hate an auburn lowlight in his lady’s hair. And even if they don’t care for that particular aspect, they probably won’t care that much and they probably would never notice if it wasn’t pointed out to them.

Some men do have strong preferences. Sometimes a fictional character or girl/woman next door could have made a huge impact on them as kids/adolescents. A lot of times these don’t necessarily translate to what they want in a woman. Maybe Catwoman is the sexiest character alive for a man, it doesn’t mean he wants his girlfriend to wear a spandex jumpsuit everywhere. A lot of times he might even want the opposite in real life. Some things are meant to live in fantasy.

My husband likes naturally long, wavy hair. He has admitted this after a lot of prodding. That said, he doesn’t care that much and he thinks short hair is flattering for me. What’s more, he LOVES how little time it takes for me to do my hair and he loves how much I love it short. He also loves that he can run his hands through it without messing it up. Ultimately, I think it is hard for a man to truly hate a hairstyle, within reason, if it makes his wife/girlfriend happy.

Men like confidence. They like femininity but that doesn’t necessarily mean long, flowing hair anymore. They just want their wife/girlfriend as they are. They want to see her, understand her. The goal is not to match up to a man’s image of female perfection, but to be so awesome that he loves her even more than Lara Croft, Catwoman, Jessica Rabbit, whoever. Because they aren’t real and they can’t hold a conversation.

Connect 2013 Part III: Social Ponderings

In my first post about Connect, I spoke a little about feeling refreshed creatively, but almost as dramatically, I felt refreshed socially and emotionally. I remembered a lot about what makes me who I am and why I got into this industry in the first place.

Growing up, I saw myself as a healer, a source of comfort for those around me. To me, that was the most important quality I held. I thrived in hospitals, homeless shelters, funeral homes. I wanted to work in social justice or the mental health field. I went to college thinking I would work with victims of substance abuse. Much too much for someone so tender hearted. Fields that require tough love, when I was always more into the soft sorts.

At Connect I felt very hyper aware of the people around me and their energy was contagious. I am naturally fairly quiet but I love quality nonverbal communication. A touch on the arm, the right look in the eye, the correct degree of smile for any given moment. People always harp on remembering people’s name and I am almost decent at it, but what is never mentioned is how you can look someone in the eye and have them know that you know exactly who they are, and I think that is far more important than eye contact. I have known a lot of names for people I didn’t really know, and I think that is something people can feel.

Anyway, Connect gave me so much joy it just reminded me that that is what I want to give to my clients. I want to make them comfortable, excited. I want them to feel apart of something. I want them to feel alive and welcome and eager for change. I want them to be fearless.

One thing I thought a lot about this week is how small a percentage of someone’s personality is actually that person, mostly it is how they are reacting to their surroundings, which could result in actions that are quite contrary to how they normally are. I was keenly aware of how my actions could help people have a better day, a better experience, especially the first day of training when there was a lot of nervous energy lingering in the room. I remembered that paying attention to and helping others is one of the most important parts of my job, and that it is one of the reasons that I chose this line of work. It unlocks a part of myself and a part in others that can really change… Everything.