Eavesdropping at the Hair Salon: Vaginas, Labia & Vulvas

Bonni Brodnick

It was an ordinary Saturday at the hair salon. The sound of scissors snipping, and the scent of herbal shampoos and toxic hair sprays filled the corner storefront that looked out onto Main Street. Janet checked in with the receptionist and walked to the changing closet to put on a black, fake-satin apron. She picked the one with the longest ties. To make her look smaller-hipped than she actually was, Janet tied the apron high above her waist, a fashion tip she learned from First Lady Michelle Obama.

Janet took a seat at one of the swivel chairs. After doing so, she looked down to be sure the apron hadn’t spread open and exposed her bellybutton. The overhead track lighting in the salon was positioned in a way that cast downward shadows that made her nose look huge and her eyes dark. She was sure getting her haircut and the grey roots covered would give her a lift.

“Can I get you anything?” a salon assistant asked.

Janet requested those thingies … you know the slim, long-sleeve protective Baggies that protect eyeglass temples from hair dye stains. As she unrolled the Baggies, Janet wondered why she hadn’t thought of such a simple invention. In her head, she tried to calculate the number of hair salons in the country, in the world even. If she had been this clever, she would be a billionaire by now.

“Would you like a cup of coffee, Ayurveda tea or a glass of water?” asked another salon assistant dressed in black. Everyone working in hair salons these days wears black, Janet noticed.

“A cup of water would be great.” She had recently tried to be adventurous and had asked for the Ayurveda tea, but it tasted like a cup of melted butter and made Janet slightly nauseous.

Since she had just come from the testosterone-loaded Mavis Tire to have her wheels rotated, Janet found comfort in the female babble now surrounding her at the hair salon … until the woman in the next swivel chair started yakking about vaginas and vulvas.

Janet strained her eyes as she stared at the upper-right corner of her Vanity Fair. Seeking reconnaissance on the woman next to her, Janet applied this spy gesture she had learned as a teenager when she wanted to check someone out but didn’t want him or her to know.

“You talkin’ to me?” Janet initially thought. She also wondered if the woman would regret talking about pussies on a hot mic, just as Donald Trump had on that now infamous bus ride with Billy Bush.

From the corner of her gaze, Janet saw that the woman was wearing a strappy conservative-heel sandal, even though the temperatures had dropped and fall was in the air. Strips of aluminum foil dangled from her head. Janet wondered whether she was getting blond highlights or channeling Martians. The woman’s ear buds connected to the iPhone microphone that she held up to her mouth. Her conversation lingered on the “V” topic.

“Here we go!” Janet thought. She nonchalantly looked at her fingernails. The cuticles were overgrown and the polish needed refreshening.

“I mean, it’s the same information but it’s not a true inflammatory disorder,” the woman said. “Let me go back to the beginning.”

Janet wondered whether she was writing a paper and talking to her co-writer or editor. The woman continued, briefly touching on vaginal gels.

“The word ‘exclusionary’ should be in the text, too” she continued. “These are the primary facts to consider. We don’t want to lose the meaning. What I’m not crazy about, though, is the sentence. Can we change it? Is the perception of engorgement pertinent to this paragraph on genitalia? Let’s just make sure it makes sense.”

The distraction continued. Janet read, reread and re-reread the same three paragraphs on page 12 in Vanity Fair about Kate Middleton dazzling the Netherlands in her billowing Kate Spade dress.

“These are all theoretical,” the woman said as she futzed with her ear bud. Perhaps she was getting static from outer space. “But what we do know is that it’s the engagement that creates sensitivity. They’re not really ideologies. I think we need more sentence.”

Hearing the phrase “I think we need more sentence” was like the SNL skit in which Christopher Walken tells Will Farrell that they “need more cow bell.” Janet was also starting to get confused between the words “engagement” and “engorgement.”

“Clinical conditions may contribute to many things and cause peripheral engorgement,” the woman continued.

Although Janet considered herself an enlightened woman, she had never heard some of these physiological concepts. “You live. You learn,” she thought as she turned the page to a dishy story about Jennifer Lawrence with photos by Annie Liebovitz. Janet gazed closer and admired Lawrence’s diamond collar as grammatical technicalities started rolling in from her neighbor in the swivel chair.

“Should ‘vagina’ be lowercase? I mean, it should be the same in all the tables,” the woman said.

There was a pregnant pause.

“Let’s move into inflammatory infections of the vulva. People are afraid we’d be changing evidence and that’s why we don’t want to do it.

“We’ve gotten to love sexual medicine, haven’t we?” the woman asked into her mouthpiece. From a bystander’s perspective, the obvious answer was, “Yes. She liked sexual medicine. Very much.”

Janet glanced over. Dye had dripped down the woman’s forehead. Flashes of the movie “Death in Venice” came to mind.

Janet’s colorist walked up to her, parted her hair and looked down. “It’s looking good,” she said. “Ten more minutes.”

It sounded like Janet’s neighbor was finally closing the last paragraph with her writing partner.

“We just need to make a clear distinction between vulva and labia,” the woman said. “Readers should know whether the words are singular or plural, and then whether the female reader actually knows she has one or two. This is one of the cornerstones of our research, right?”

Janet was sure she had one of the first and two of the second. She reminded herself to check later.

Janet gathered her magazine and pocketbook as the assistant beckoned her to the sink to wash out the dye. The footrest lifted magically when she sat back. Janet stared at her feet then at the clock on the wall. Had she really been at the hair salon for two-and-a-half hours?

The assistant positioned her head onto a scratchy white towel nestled under her neck.

“I like the water hot and a hard scrub,” Janet said gently as she tried not to lift her head from sink.

Time took on a new, truthfully boring, dimension now that the woman in the swivel chair next to her had left the salon.

Janet’s hairdresser gave her the rudimentary comb-out, trim and blow-dry. She gave her tresses one last tussle to be sure the bob was equal length on both sides before Janet departed the salon to live the rest of the busy Saturday.

“You look beautiful!” the person at reception exclaimed when Janet dipped into her purse for her wallet. “The color is perfect.”

Janet felt like the cashier said that to everyone to make him or her feel good. She gazed into the mirror above the register. Maybe it was the lighting, but to Janet, it looked like the colorist had gone overboard on the red highlights.

“Thank you,” Janet responded. “May I have two fives and a ten?” She looked at herself in the mirror again and hoped her hair color didn’t look too brassy.

The cashier handed her the bills. Janet slipped them into a tip envelope.

“Would you like to book your next appointment?”

“Yes, let’s look at four-weeks out,” Janet said. Eager to hear how the woman’s research went, Janet was hopeful that she would run into her again. She proceeded to book the same day next month at the same time. If Janet was lucky enough, perhaps the woman was on the same monthly cycle to get her hair done.

Bonni Brodnick

Written by

Author of “Pound Ridge Past”, blogger at “Bonni Brodnick Blog,” contributor to HuffPost, and really fast typer.

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