Splitting Hairs is our monthlong exploration of hair based on a survey of women across America. It’s like you brought a photo to the salon — we’re giving you exactly what you want.

By Lira Kellerman
Sep 01, 2018 @ 5:00 am
Courtesy Lira Kellerman

When I was 16, my dad asked me if I wanted to go get a haircut with him. He had always taken us three kids to a cheap haircutting shop in a mall where they’d spray our hair wet with water bottles instead of washing it in sinks. I’d never had my hair cut any other way. This time, my corkscrew curly hair was down to my chest, and I had terrible split ends. I told the barber I wanted a one-inch trim with long layers on the side. She grabbed a fistful of hair above my ear, chopped it to my chin, and questioned, “This is what you want?”

I stared at the foot of ringlets on the floor that had taken me four years to grow. “Just cut it all the same length,” I managed through clenched teeth. Before that, my super curly hair had been a huge part of my identity. Having to completely give up control over it, at such a formative moment, laid the groundwork for me becoming a hair model — which would happen kind of by accident eight years later.

I was on Craigslist looking for a creative gig to earn some extra money, when I came upon a post offering curly-haired women $400 to get their hair styled. It turned out the poster was a modeling agency based in Los Angeles, where I live, and they asked if I’d be interested in representation. The agency worked with hair designers, the kind employed by major beauty brands like L’Oreal and Toni & Guy, who teach technique classes at salons, conventions, and beauty schools — and they needed models to show off the latest hair styles, colors, and products. They were flush with straight-haired models, but had hardly any in their books with curly hair like mine. The logic was clear: Were I to get another haircut I hated, I’d be the one getting paid for it. But these stylists were at the top of their game, and at the top of the field — so a bad cut was far from likely.

Courtesy Lira Kellerman

Once I began booking gigs, I found the stylists actually make sure to work within their models’ limitations. They don’t want to cut someone’s hair only to have her start sobbing in the middle of a demonstration. So you can go to an audition and say you’re looking for styling only, or just a trim. The phrase that gets me booked the most, however, is: “Do whatever you want.” That almost always meant I’d be leaving with a chin-length cut, which few curly-haired models sign up for voluntarily. That is, until I booked a job for a hair designer who had just launched his own line of shears.

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This gig was in a huge convention hall, with a stage and photographers getting close-ups for the massive screen in the back. The designer turned me around and around as he snipped and cut, and I could see what he was doing on the monitor. I loved it — which was lucky because I had to keep smiling for the cameras. I watched my hair fall away as he kept going shorter and shorter. And shorter. And even shorter. “It’s too short,” I thought glumly, still grinning. And then, I hated it. But when I got home and ran a straightener through my tight curls, I thought I looked cosmopolitan. I have a neck! And cheekbones! In the shower, conditioning and combing my newly short hair took only a minute. Had it not been for relinquishing all control, I never would have had these (albeit minor) epiphanies.

Tanya Giang

The thing about hair designers is that they take everything about you into account before deciding what to do with your hair. They look at your face shape and structure, neck length, and skin undertones. They look at your hair texture, know what will work for your hair type and what won’t, and they stay current on the trends (if not ahead of them). Truly, it’s an impossible calculation to do on your own — at least it was for me. This is how, by not choosing my own haircut, I am almost guaranteed an amazing makeover.

RELATED: The Cathartic Power of Cutting Your Own Hair

For the last two years, I had blonde hair that I grew out past my shoulders, but I was tiring of it and wanted something drastic. At an audition, they asked if I was open to pink. I understand that lawyers, bankers, and a whole host of other career paths are not quite as forgiving of wild hair choices, but I work as an actress in L.A. — I enthusiastically said yes. Their next question whether I’d be open to a mohawk. I literally squealed, YES!

Anthony Diecidue

A hairstylist from a nationally recognized hair styling tools company colored my hair pastel and fluorescent pinks, and buzzed the sides of my hair on stage at the International Salon and Spa Expo at the Long Beach Convention Center. When I was finished, the other models rushed to my side and asked if I was okay. They anticipated tears, but I was not about to cry at all. I wasn’t upset: I felt badass. I never would have asked for these colors — but once I had them, I saw how they complemented my skin. Nor would I have even attempted this style that made me look so fierce.

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But the pink root maintenance took a toll on my hair’s health. Three years of bleaching fried my curls to hay. I needed to start over, and went to a hair designer again, who knowing only that I desired a grow-out, gave me balayaged brown roots that melt into a new magenta color. I have never felt more edgy, more cool, more hip, or more me in my life. And again, I never would have thought to ask for this. I trusted the stylist to know what would look good on me, that they know what they’re doing, and that I would look fabulous. It couldn’t be more different than that experience at my dad’s barber in 10th grade — except for the part where I let someone else go HAM on my hair, surrendering to whatever may come.

Tanya Giang

As a hair model, I’ve learned that my hair doesn’t actually define me, it's a complement to everything else I bring to the table. So while I may say that I honestly don’t care that I never choose my own haircut, I actually do, because freeing myself from that decision process has allowed me to live without worrying if today is a good hair day, and from attaching my self-worth solely to my looks. Every day is a good hair day when you let a true expert make the most of what you’ve got — and it’s an even better day when you’ve empowered yourself not to care.