Friday, February 15, 2008

"A lesson in hairdo lexicon at a more than fair price"

(Published February 16, 2008 in The Guadalajara Reporter)

Inspired by last week’s Mexican film release of the gruesome Stephen Sondheim musical “Sweeny Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which admittedly has more to do with cutting necks than hair, I decided to take a step to overcome a long neglected fear: a haircut.

Let me clarify: a haircut in Mexico. It has been almost four years since I have let a professional take to my locks, which started the day I stepped foot into this country as a study abroad student. Half of the fear comes from the aesthetic backdrop I witness here every day, sort of prom night ’84 meets Menudo reunion tour. Mexico has a style; it’s just not mine.

And the other half has to do with the language of beauty. I feel uncomfortable having a stranger design my head when I can’t articulate the desired style in a foreign language.

So it was time to get empowered, in that dazzling pink, post-feminist, Cosmopolitan, Carrie Bradshaw kind of way. Because if women have learned anything from Hollywood, it’s that it takes beauty and brains to win that million-dollar lawsuit.

The beauty school Instituto Sol, located on the corner of Independencia and Revolucion, offers the right price for a cut: free. They’ll also do your nails and make-up for the same rate, and any extras, like hair color, are greatly discounted. The disadvantages might overwhelm the customer used to a professional, relaxing environment. It’s one big room choked with primary colors and people—students, teachers, and clients waiting with babies and guitars.

And if your stomach turns at having a 16-year-old with one month of scissors in her hands cut your hair, it’s not the place for you. But Gaby (who was careful to point out she’ll be 17 next week), a slight, effervescent girl with a zebra-printed flat-ironed mane, gladly helped improve my vocabulary and, in fact, worked wonders on the poof that was my hair.

Let’s start with anatomy of el cabello (that’s your head of hair). El fleco (bangs) rests above la frente (the forehead). The top of your head is called la coronilla, where your crown would go if you were royalty. Depending on how your hair falls, la sutura sagital is the line that parts it down the middle. Las puntas are the ends of your hair.

Gaby told me that the most requested cut is based on the look (the same in Spanish) of Barbara Bazterrica, a popular protagonist of the telenovela “Amor en Custodia” played by Mexican actress Paola Nuñez.

There are three integral elements to that ’do. The first is a short, razor-cut fleco framing la frente. The second is shoulder-length capas (or capitas, which mean layers) onduladas (wavy, coming from onda, or wave). And the third is pieces of long hair stemming below the curls and falling flat (lacio) over the shoulders. The result looks silly and cumbersome on anyone other than the actress herself, but it’s a great vocabulary builder.

As coloring goes, rayos or rayitos will brighten up el cabello by highlighting strands of hair. Gaby explained that cortinas (literally, curtains) are an exaggerated form of lowlights—a dye job alternating between natural and colored layers on the underside.

If your hair suffers from orzuela (split ends), or is reseco (dry) and maltratado (damaged), Gaby recommends la ampolleta, a special treatment to help the mistreated cabello recover. The Instituto Sol offers la ampolleta for around 30 pesos.

My nuevo look was painstakingly but agreeably completed by the young stylist, who next asked if I wanted a moldeado and brushing—a blow-dried styling with a round brush and a puff of mousse (also the same in Spanish) the size of a grapefruit. Gaby’s teacher glowingly approved, I was relieved of the barber’s chair, and thanked Gaby for her care and insight. I paused by a mirror to tzuj and re-fluff my mousse helmet, and was set to go.

So, I survived unscathed, broke the language barrier of la belleza once and for all, and stood empowered and satisfied after the ordeal. Elle Woods would have been proud.