Hair Talk The hair is the richest ornament of women. ~Martin Luther
A Hairdresser as a heroine?
Carolyn Taylor-Watts, June 2014
Why I chose a hair stylist as my protagonist in my novel, Helena: An Odyssey? A hair dresser heroine is original. It’s unusual. And hair is one of the most powerful and persistent statements of who we believe we are and how we feel about ourselves. Over centuries, among different cultures, it has been considered glorious. It has been thought of as shameful and to be hidden. It is often shaved. Some religions require it to be grown and never touched by razor or scissors. For many centuries in Europe when a woman married she was required to cover it.
More than any decoration, make-up or beautiful dress, hair, and what we believe about it, what we do with it, is the most easily identifiable marker of how we perceive ourselves; what we believe, and even whether we care much about ourselves. It is the quickest way to announce (or alter) our identity. Mood, and even character, can be interpreted from it.
Because we are the only animal species with hair that continuously grows, we use it to express our differences in gender, in age and sometimes in class. Its very potency is the reason the major world religions – Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims - give significance to it and relate it to the Divine. Its sex appeal is the reason these religions insisted women cover it. Hair, and hair styles, go to the very core of a person’s identity; beautiful hair is the major item in a woman’s seductive armoury.
Hair is a woman's greatest weapon!
Carolyn Taylor-Watts, July 2014
I’m Helena’s daughter Georgia. I just picked up a copy of Toronto Life Magazine and am looking at the cover. “Young Greek immigrant makes a splash in the Toronto world of hair. No one in our family appreciates the extent of Helena’s achievements, I think. She knows that hair and how it was – maybe still is – is a woman’s greatest weapon. It transforms her, gives her illusions of beauty. Helena had learned all the secrets of how to do it. She’d worked on Hair Salon Row with the best stylists in the city, surely a position many aspiring stylists would die for. She’d travelled to conferences, won awards, taken business courses in Montreal. Hair, and the business of it, came first in her life even before her marriage, even before my sister and me. Clattering images hit me: Helena’s furious striving to rise up in her profession, not only to make money, but to be known among people who count.
“But who’s to notice a hair dresser?” I once asked her.
“You ever hear the name Vidal Sassoon? Jie Matar?” Helena had said. “The rich follow them around the world.”
‘Okay, what’s with the name Kouvalis?”
“Think, Georgie. If you got a name like Onassis, or Kennedy, you’d want to live up to it, wouldn’t you? If your family, called Kouvalis, once owned lands and titles and lost it all, you’d want to get it back, wouldn’t you?”
Hair styles go to the very core of a person’s identity
Carolyn Taylor-Watts, September, 2014
Georgia here again: I’m in the back of the Kouvalis Salon, writing up my notes … hair - and hair styles - goes to the core of a person’s very identity, beautiful hair the major item in a woman’s seductive armoury …’ Oh Mother of Jesus. I rush to the small mirror in my bedroom. What does my hair say about me? You’re a slob. You don’t believe in yourself. You don’t care. Forget it, forget it! I struggle to concentrate. The colour, texture and scent of hair: ‘Comb it away from the forehead in a nun-like fashion and you get sexual repression− or elegance− depending on your interpretation. Do it in ringlets and you have cute or sensual.
I think how intuitively Helena understands all this. Another thought hits me and I write: ‘But then, like Narcissus, she looks into the oval mirror one day and falls in love with her beauty and its promise.'
Ah, Beauty is merciless
You do not look at it.
It looks at you and does not lie
Looking Good is the most you can offer some people
Carolyn Taylor-Watts, September, 2014
At times, my hair dresser Helena questions, even dismisses, her chosen career. She asks herself: why the need to have importance other than what reality gives you, or that you make for yourself? She complains about the work, the hours, the way she’s treated. She asks her colleague Mario how can she ever have her own salon when she hasn’t been to school, and how will she ever find the time anyway?
“You’ll go when you finish your work in the evenings,” he tells her. “And study your books instead of going to church. You’ll struggle days and nights for many years and all the time you’ll think of little things you can give to your customers they don't know they want.
“Some people sneeze at a stylist like they are a servant,” he adds. “They call the work a trade, but it is art, something creative. Helena, you must study the anatomy and physiology of the body and how it affects the hair – which is a living thing, it keeps on growing even after a person is dead …”
“So it has immortality in it,” his brother finishes. “It’s true, don’t laugh.”
Still in a depressed mood, Helena says: So what if you paint yourself up - or someone else - and get a fancy hair style? After it, you think you are beautiful, or more important or better than somebody else. It makes you for a little while something you are not. Where is the glory in this?”
“Looking good is the most you can give some people,” Mario tells her. “It’s all they want really. Listen: Take a lawyer. He pockets your money and you see little for it. A doctor gives you bad news. An accountant tells you how much money you owe, and a psychologist says how crazy you are. But a hair stylist will make you feel good about yourself.” The brothers shoulder-punched each other.
Being alive in this world is about the giving of love.
Later, Helena repeats what she has said to her mother, complaining that after all her struggles she fears she’ll never rise up and become famous.
“Never mind being famous, for what good does that bring to you?” her mother says. “You are important to the people who come to you. Being alive in this world is about the giving of love, and you give love to many. You’ve built a place where everyone can come and be happy. Think how you make women to feel beautiful, and then they go out feeling good and so make the world a better place.