A Duty to be Beautiful

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The French manicure, the French twist, the French kiss. Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Louis Vuitton. Hermès. Baguette, pâté, café. In Paris, the women dress chic, eat chic, are chic. Their voices are musical, tuned from birth to adhere to perfect pronunciation, their faces blemish-free thanks to Avene and Evian, who have provided alternative face-washing methods that don’t involve tap water; they are skinny; and they sport haircuts straight off of the Victoria’s Secret runway.   In Paris, it’s what’s on the outside that counts. So, after a long weekend of Deepak Chopra and the Dalái Lama, I’ve decided to put in a little time bettering my outside and get a haircut. With Emanuel. Of Emanuel Montecino.   I called to make an appointment for 10 am, for a haircut and highlight. I made sure to apologize profusely to the receptionist for my poor French skills before making my request, and then reading the perfectly translated version of “ I would like to make an appointment for a haircut and highlight with Emanuel” on my computer, provided by Google. The French are big on that. Apologizing for nothing. A French person will invite you over to their house for dinner, spend all day cleaning and preparing the food, only to beg forgiveness from you for the “terrible mess” upon your arrival. Emanuel was delighted to take the appointment.   In honor of “Look Better On the Outside Day,” otherwise known as “Operation: Get Pretty,” I also decided to start my diet. I have recently been diagnosed with several food allergies, including bread and cheese, which is what I had for dinner the night before and why my skin is all broken out today. So, first step, is eat only foods I am not allergic to.   I stopped wearing foundation when I ran out three weeks ago and had to make the choice between YSL’s Radiant Smoothing Foundation or food. I chose bread and cheese, broke out, and now need the make-up. I found a small tube of a Lancôme sample in my travel case, not quite Yves Saint Laurent, but it’ll do. And indeed I do look better with foundation: it was poverty and hubris that prevented this realization sooner. The same hubris that empowered me to believe that I knew better than my doctors, which resulted in my consumption of le pain et frommage, and now like Oedipus, I too must be punished with a single blemish at the base of my chin.   I arrived at my appointment eight minutes early so I ducked under the green neon cross into the pharmacy next door. A whole wall dedicated to fighting aversions to the skin! I chose a face wash that supposedly guarantees to suck all of the “sedum” away and leave my face clean and fresh. For 12 euros, it had better. But the woman in the long white coat with oversized pockets behind the counter gave me quite a few “free samples.” So, really it was a bottle of face wash plus three miniature bottles of moisturizer for the price.   I was not nervous as I walked through the doors of Montecino Coiffure. I have been blessed with a generous streak of haircut luck. I have been to salons in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London, and not once left with a bad hair cut. The key is this: pick a very expensive salon that is not too large–four to six stylists working.  They will take their time with you, as opposed to getting the job done so that they can get the next client in. Secondly, when asked “What do you want?” always, and I mean always, reply, “I don’t know. What do you think?” This shows trust. And allows the stylist to believe he has creative freedom, thus making him feel like an artist. Now, the haircut is about something bigger.  Bigger than your hair, bigger than his reputation, something…big.   Ten years ago my friend Samantha and I were in our middle school production of Hello Dolly. (I was Dolly.) For the show we each had our hair done at the same salon. When Samantha’s stylist turned her around to see the matted beehive in the mirror, Sam cried. We all did. As I rose up from my chair to console my friend, loud applause broke out throughout the room, some people even stood up. Yes, it was a French twist to be marveled at.   What question did Samantha fail to answer correctly? When asked “What do you want to do?” Samantha pulled out a page of a magazine and pointed to the model in her underwear with the long blonde locks done up in a French twist. What did Sam get? A beehive.   Hubris and haircuts don’t mix. Granting the stylist creative freedom is imperative. One unintentional flick of the wrist and you could end up with a mullet, which is, unfortunately, back in style.   The middle-aged man all in black with the electrified brown curly hair was Emanuel. I pondered…crazy hair, Einstein/genius or crazy hair, psycho, and was the actor who sang, “Beauty School Drop Out” in the musical Grease.  He asked me if I wanted a café, but I refused. From experience I have learned that those who hold the scissors do not like it when you lean back and forth to take sips after they have taken the time to perfectly position my head. The only other option is to take the coffee and wait until the cut is finished, but then those who hold the scissors are annoyed because they went to the trouble of getting me a café, only to have me not drink it or gulp it down cold. So, no café.   Emanuel sat me down to examine mes cheveux before taking me over to the sinks to wash my hair. “What do you want to do?”   “Qu’est-ce que vous pensez?” (“What do you think?”)   A slow smile spread across Emanuel’s face when he took the pair of scissors out of his pocket. Wait! Why weren’t we going over to the head sink things…to wet my hair? From this point on there was no talking. He whisked away. I say whisk, because he didn’t use the scissors to actually cut my hair, but took the edge of the blade and ran it along pieces of hair, as if he were curling the ribbon on a small package.   “Don’t look,…
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