A Duty to be Beautiful

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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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?”)


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.


look, don’t look,” stare anywhere but back at my haircut. It is
important not to watch the haircutting process, otherwise I will
undoubtedly become nervous, as Emanuel had not only chosen not to wet
my hair but he seemed to be shaving individual strands off. “Please
don’t give me a mullet, please don’t give me a mullet.” I looked to the
top right corner of the mirror so that I could see a woman getting out
of an Aston Martin with a signature Christian Dior bag. I don’t like
her haircut. I like the car. “Don’t look! Don’t look!“


averted my eyes from the mirror again to see a pigeon on top of the
18th century white building behind me. Suddenly it dropped off the
ledge, and fell straight down head first as if it were nose-diving into
a freshly baked blueberry pie, but in this case I don’t think that the
dive was intentional, or was it? Omigosh! Did I just see a bird jump
off a building to its death, moments after making eye contact with me?
Had the bird seen my haircut in the mirror? “Don’t look! Don’t look!”


palms started to sweat and I breathed in and out slowly. Emanuel must
not sense my nerves or he would lose all trust and might accidentally
flick his wrist. I repeated a Tibetan Buddhist mantra over and over
that I had learned this weekend during Operation: Improve My Soul.


mane of long brown hair swept through the door way.  The skinny
figure with disproportionally large breasts (especially for a French
woman, who are generally flat), in a mid-length ruffled army green
skirt and knee-high leather boots, brushed past us. She would be
gorgeous if she hadn’t spent a few hours too many in the tanning salon,
causing deep-set crow’s-feet at 40.


minutes later, Emanuel passed me off to the colorist in the white knit,
completely see-through sweater. I don‘t want to look at her black bra,
but I had no choice as I was still trying to avoid catching a glimpse
of my new do in the mirrors lining the salon. What else to look at? She
wore pearl earrings and had her almost black hair tied back in a loose
bun. Her color is fantastic! Very natural, so hopefully mine would be
as well.  If I were a lesbian I would be attracted to her. Her and
Catherine Zeta-Jones. 


Thirty minutes
later I was getting shampooed and a head massage, trying not to fall
asleep because I feared my mouth would fall open and the metro-sexual
washing my hair would put something in it by mistake. And then I saw
them. Emanuel and the 40 year-old with the crow’s-feet coming out of
the back room. Did they just have sex? C’est pas possible! I couldn’t
believe it. She just came in and had sex with him and now she’s
leaving. I noticed that she didn’t pay him.


metro sexual brought my head up and wrapped a fuzzy green towel around
it. Now, they will blow dry it. A team of them. This is when the
stylist, colorist and hair washer all come into play simultaneously.
While one dries the others ooh and ah. But I’m still wasn’t looking,
until, “Voila,” they turn me around. And it is…..FABULOUS!


than a Victoria’s Secret runway model. Better than I could have ever
imagined. Emanuel was not a psycho after all, but Johnny Depp with a
small pot belly in Edward Scissorhands. I paid the expensive but
well-worth-it fee via Grandma’s For Emergency Use Only credit card. It
was the same one she had instructed me to use to buy my YSL mascara at
Saks. I knew that she would understand. I tipped each of them,
including the hair washer, and kissed Emanuel once on each cheek and
said thank you.


As I stepped out  into the
cool autumn day watching the leaves fall to the ground, I thought about
my own rebirth, call it a make-over, whatever you will, a hair-cut. But
I couldn’t help feeling a profound sense of self, the same self that I
had felt Sunday reading His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s  The Art of
Compassion in the Luxembourg gardens; and the same self that had
watched the children laugh as they pushed their wooden boats around in
the fountain, only prettier. Much, much prettier. Victoria’s Secret
catwalk, pretty! “I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty, and
witty, and gay…and I pity any girl who isn’t me today!” La, la, la, la,
la, la, la, la, la!