On Baldness: Intro

I have several essays and articles and videos and pop culture events that I have been pouring through on the issue of baldness.  I wanted to write one long post about the topic but all the different avenues of it deserve too much space, from females in pop culture shaving their heads, to the different political affiliations and statements, to removing hair as a sign of ownership, to androgenetic alopecia and its affect on men and women who suffer from it.  Check back next Sunday for the next installation.

Here is a somewhat odd video clip from Hungary for your viewing pleasure:

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.

Next Saturday: Fundraiser for City of Hope/Diabetes Research

Greetings Pittsburgh friends!

Next Saturday, November 30, my former teacher/current boss, Derek Piekarski, will be hosting a fundraiser for City of Hope at his new salon space. City of Hope and the P&G Professional Hair Care lines have been partnering to search for a cure for diabetes with the Hope is in Style Campaign. Come on out if you are in town that night, hang out with a bunch of cool people, drink some beer, and help support the cause!

Diabetes is a disease that hits particularly close to home for me. I grew up in a family with a lot of diabetics, and I always assumed everyone had diabetic relatives until I went away to college and realized how many misconceptions there are regarding diabetes. Most of my aunts and uncles are diabetic, on both sides of my family, as well as three out of my four grandparents, one parent and one sibling.

As many of you know, I am biracial so the two sides of my extended family have very little in common. My mother is Chinese, and one of the few non-diabetics in her family. Two of her siblings are diabetic, but are quite slim/petite. They have Type 1 Diabetes. They eat well, and mostly always have, yet they still need to watch carefully (including making sure they don’t eat too much fruit or other sources of natural sugar). Her little brother was diabetic from a young age, and despite his healthy lifestyle and decades of taking insulin he is awaiting a new kidney and liver. He is in his mid-fifties with two teenage sons.

The Caucasian side of my family is ripe with diabetes. They mostly have Type 2. Both of my grandparents on this side of the family were diabetic. My grandparents both died in their sixties. And more recently, my father’s older sister passed away, also in her late sixties, after at least a decade of regular in home dialysis treatments. Dialysis is a common treatment for diabetics. Basically you are hooked up to a machine that filters your blood because your organs are no longer able to.

My father is also diabetic, but with the help of my mother has always worked very, very hard to eat well, and is on his way to being the first in his immediate family to make it to 70 in a few years. He does have the genetic predisposition towards diabetes, but he is also a Vietnam Veteran and Veteran’s Affairs acknowledges a spike in diabetes for Vietnam Veterans due to exposure to Agent Orange. He probably would have been diabetic eventually regardless, but who can say for sure whether he may have had a few more years disease free? And regardless is it is true for him, countless other veterans may have diabetes due to Agent Orange exposure.

During my sister’s first pregnancy she was diagnosed with Type 3 Diabetes, which is the only sort of diabetes that isn’t necessarily lifelong. Type 3 develops while a woman is pregnant and then usually goes away after, but it is a warning sign that the woman may develop Type 2 later on.

I tell clients that I try to eat well because I am worried about diabetes, and they always say, “But you are so petite!” And I am, but I have seen diabetes in every shape and size and it is not only no fun, it is also deadly.

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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.

Defining Oneself in Negatives

Earlier this year, I had a very impassioned post about people who claim they are low maintenance. The gist of the post is that a truly ambivalent person, in regards to their image, would not feel the need to say aloud how low maintenance they are and that there is an inherent attitude of superiority in such claims. Today I am pondering the broader issue, when people define themselves with negatives an the intrinsic problems with that mind set.

First off, let’s get on the same page. What I mean is: I am not superficial. I am not beautiful. I am not a smarty pants. I am not overly ambitious. I am not boy crazy. I don’t care about money. I don’t care about clothes. I don’t care about the color of someone’s skin.

As you can see, many of these negatives are positives. What I mean is that it is great to not care about some of these things. Others are assumed to be problems when they are natural or part of human nature, therefore being deceptive. In any case, defining with a negative carries a lot of baggage. It is a way to imply moral high ground and a way to separate yourself from a group. There is an inherent comparison, even when not intended. If it sounds like I am just playing linguistic tricks or reading too much into this, I have considered that and looked into a lot of different contexts and there often is a very different tone involved when someone is using a negative instead of the positive version.

Another problem is that a negative is very ill defined and rarely carries much actual information. It is considerably less thoughtful to use a negative than to really think about and define the positive version of the same sentiment. It makes the issue hazy and vague. It over simplifies, suggests that there is a strict dichotomy between good and bad. Saying what you are is much more complicated, but far more descriptive.

There is also an inherent argument in negatives. They push the listener/reader to say, is that true? When often it isn’t a matter of true or false, good or bad.

For example, I could say, “I am not superficial.” It would encourage people to prove that I am indeed superficial. It would say nothing about what I actually am, if not superficial. And it would be deceptive because the world isn’t made up of superficial and non-superficial people, everyone is somewhere in between the two.

It means more to say, “I value people based on their actions, their sentiments, their emotions, their sense of responsibility to their family, friends and the world at large. I love to discover people truly, and find out who they want to be. I value myself for my own internal voice and my creativity and for what I can bring out in others.” It isn’t as simple, but nothing truly ever is.

Why Short(er) Hair Actually is More Flattering on a Lot of People

So, a lot of the celebrities this year have inspired women to consider going shorter with their hair. Yet, most women in my chair just sigh and say, “If I had the perfect oval face shape,” or “If I lost twenty pounds,” and on and on. The bottom line is that women are afraid of no longer looking feminine because in other ways they don’t feel like they match up to the feminine ideal.

I am an advocate of shorter hair on women so I am just thrilled about Karlie Kloss, Anne Hathaway and other celebrity stunners that have gone significantly shorter. In the case that having a feminine ideal is unavoidable, which it seems to be for most of our society, at least these ladies are rounding out that image, because let’s face it, most of us can’t get that Victoria Secret hair. Even most of the Angels can’t without the help of extensions and celebrity stylists working magic.

One thing that just kills me as a hairdresser is to see women hanging on to hair way past their shoulder blades when it is only five strands at the bottom, damaged to hell and back and laying limp. I don’t let anyone leave my chair like this, but I see it all the time in public. No one could possibly take a step back and think, “This hair cut is extremely flattering on me.”

This year, the trends are shoulders and above. Of course, really long hair is always in when it is gorgeous long hair, but I try to get the average client to clavicle length if their locks are less than ephemeral. The reason for this is because it frames the face and décolleté better and you have more freedom with layers. It is easier to get a balanced shape and for most clients they are able to do more with the styling.

Bobs (anything between the shoulder and the jawline) are wonderful on so many more women than realize it. They can add so much body to limp hair and they are also wonderful because they grow out well and you can change them in a lot of subtle ways without having long grow out phases. Longer bobs can still be styled in most of the same ways you can style longer hair, such as curling and things like that. You can’t do as much with updos, but I don’t really understand why people want to punish themselves day to day so that they can have an updo once every three years. It seems like it might have to do with fairy tale fantasies? I don’t know. All I know is, I would rather look fabulous every day than a couple times per decade.

A lot of women are insistent that they could never do anything above the jawline but I am here to tell you that you are probably wrong. If there are any issues with the cheek/jaw area long hair my be making the issue worse by visually dragging it down. Shorter hair can’t hide anything but it can de-emphasize areas by drawing attention upwards, lifting, and bringing focus to the eyes. That is truly what I love most about short hairstyles. They are always customized to really compliment a face and draw attention to the eyes, which is almost always the most unique and expressive part of a woman.

A lot of women look incredible with long hair. Some could with a lot of styling, but never style it (and who can blame them?). I love seeing long braids and cascading waves, but when i see people just letting hair hang and collect damage, my spine aches. Some just probably weren’t meant to have repunzel hair. And that is ok! I just hate to hear people say they can’t do something and blame their bones, their weight, society or anything else! You can do what you want and look spectacular and I am just here to help.