Hairpocalypse 2015: How One Girl Lost Her Hair, But Not Her Mind.
It was early afternoon when I got the first sign of my best friend, Chesney Lattuga’s hair disaster. I logged onto Facebook and saw her post, ”No ponytails for about a year I guess…”. I feared the worst. I grabbed a bottle of wine and waited. When Chesney walked through the door, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Her long, dark cascading mass of hair was gone. In its place was an inch long pixie do; the result of a catastrophic bleach reaction that killed her hair. I tried to conceal my shock with a hug. Then, in the safety of our apartment, Chesney let herself break down.
It all started when Chesney, a senior motion media major at Savannah College of Art and Design, went to a local salon seeking a more edgy color to match the fresh script tattoo on her wrist and new septum piercing. She searched the web, gathered photos and her nerve, and met with Kristen, owner of the salon, to plan her new aesthetic chapter. What Chesney had in mind was coloring her mid-back length hair a gray-blonde ombre. Instead, pages were skipped and, thanks to a bleaching process gone terribly wrong, Chesney was left with a short, atypical, and above all, unplanned cut.
In this city crawling with art students, it is not uncommon to see extreme hair dyeing on a daily basis. Blue, green, pink, purple, you name it, Savannah’s got it. Though you rarely hear about these dye jobs going wrong, dye is a chemical that can behave strangely when mixed with foreign substances like hair. Even professionals, like Kristen, can screw this process up.
Kristen is adorned with tattoos, piercings, and a sassy “don’t mess with me” attitude. She says that in her 12 years she has never experienced anything like this until Chesney. “She’s beautiful. I could shave her head and put her in a potato sack and people would be like ‘who is that pretty girl in a potato sack? “, Kristen says a few weeks after the fiasco.
Chesney is, indeed, beautiful and has an eye for style. It is her fashionable persona that makes her salon faux pas even more jarring. If Chesney were a color, she’d be a deep vampy red. She’ll stop wearing black when researchers develop a darker color. Almost always in heels, she has no problem patting the heads of the men she towers above. Her face is that of an edgy porcelain doll. Make up is her hobby and it shows. Never an eyelash out of place. Never an outfit thrown together. Her outward appearance is that of all things cool, which isn’t exactly matched in her personality. When she is home and comfortable, she is a video game enthusiast, no, worshiper. She is interested in all things Asian and speaks a fair amount of Korean. She is surprisingly shy around good-looking boys, yet she surrounds herself with a legion of guy friends. When she is around these friends she’ll make strange noises and warp her face in silly ways; the more chins the better. She’s a beauty guru, a nerd, and a seemingly perfect formula for any college guy’s fancy.
As I sat in her small salon, Kristen told me what she thought went wrong. She explained that on January 7th, they bleached Chesney’s hair with 40% volume lightener. It took her hair from dark brown to a slightly lighter brown. A week later Chesney went back. Kristen bleached her hair with 30% volume lightener. Shortly thereafter, Kristen realized something was wrong. As she began to blow out Chesney’s hair, clumps of it began to break off. Kristen says she didn’t account for the minerals in Savannah’s water, which she believes caused the unfortunate reaction.
However, Nicki Edwards, owner of Colorboxx Salon, offers a second opinion. She isn’t convinced the minerals are to blame. Nicki says, “It sounds like the hairdresser over promised, under delivered, and covered her butt. She may not know the lightening progression chart, which is lightening 101.”
Nicki explained that lightening is self taught in Georgia and cosmetologists aren't tested on this in order to get their license. According to study.com, a resource for online courses for college credit, “There are no specialized state licenses for hair colorists... A colorist who holds a cosmetologist license in one state will have to present evidence of training in order to obtain a license in another state.” In other words, license requirements vary from state to state, but lightening isn’t mandatory.
Once Kristen realized the gravity of the situation, she took Chesney outside, in case “she decided to punch [me] in the mouth”, she said, to break the news.
Chesney immediately called her parents in Sarasota, Florida for comfort. Her father is what Chesney describes as a ”femala”, due to his fastidiousness. He is extremely picky about his clothes, his steaks, and his daughters. His youngest daughter, Gianna, willingly chopped off all of her hair a few months earlier. Gianna notes the contrast and says, "I mean I was really happy with it. It wasn't like a dramatic experience like Chesney's because it was planned."
Chesney's father was not pleased to have two daughters with boy length hair, but he was outraged by Kristen’s screw up and wanted to sue the salon. Chesney’s mother, being easy-going, dismissed that idea and offered words of wisdom. “She was like ‘You are still you. Your friends will still be friends with you. Your hair does not define you,’” recalled Chesney.
During the actual cutting, Chesney was updating the world on Facebook. Almost instantly her family, friends, and even vague acquaintances started showing her love. Multiple friends let her know she could rock the style regardless of its length. A few brave souls cracked jokes and crossed fingers for a smile. “I think when I posted to Facebook I was sounding less like I was shitting my pants, hoping that if I think this way, that it wouldn’t be a huge deal. It’s like coping I guess,” Chesney said. Since those status updates she has been doing just that.
She didn’t go to class the Monday after her ordeal to avoid the avalanche of shocked reactions that were sure to come. Instead, she plotted her introduction online. A few days after hairpocalypse 2015 I was sitting on my bed, typing on my laptop, when I heard Chesney’s heels scurry down our long, brick hallway. Chesney burst through my door, hopped over a pile of dirty laundry, and leapt towards my bed face first. She landed with a smile and rolled onto her back, feet in the air, like a cat. She was in all black, of course, and was sporting earrings, which she wore almost everyday now, as they complimented her new cut.
“Which filter do you like?”, Chesney asked as she shoved her phone in my face.
This selfie dilemma was no small decision. The chosen photo would present her new hair to the world of social media and it had to look good. I pointed to the option on the left in which her hair was most visible.
“Are you sure?”
“Can you see my hair well enough?”
“Do you really like it? Like for real? I don’t know.”
After a little reassurance from me, she anxiously pushed “post”. Almost immediately the “likes” poured in, and Chesney’s confidence soared.
“Justin said I look so good! OMG people are being so nice on Facebook!”, Chesney said.
She sprang from my bed towards the kitchen all the while singing. Slowly I could see Chesney getting used to her new look. She talked to me about all the things her new do affected, like her make up and sunglasses, which she didn’t expect to change. Still not 100% used to it, she thought the pixie haircut fit her personality better than long flowing hair, and everyone agreed. Most people she knew didn’t realize the new style was an accident, but rather thought it was a conscious decision to chop it off. But with new people who were meeting her for the first time with short hair, she felt weird. “It’s kind of like that thing when you’re high in public. It’s like you have a secret but you know they know,” Chesney giggles.
She misses being able to throw her hair in a bun on bad hair days. Surprisingly, it takes her longer to style her hair now than it did previously, and she is dealing with a new cowlick as well. Chesney is upset about the time it will take to grow back, though she hopes to have a bob by her birthday on November 19th. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m confident with it but I’m comfortable. The biggest thing for me was that I didn’t feel girly anymore… I feel like I lost some of that girlish charm,” Chesney says, despite the roses on the coffee table from a secret admirer.
Even after all the drama, Chesney still recommends Kristen. Part of her wants to hate the girl that took her hair away but she can’t. After all, Kristen meant her no harm. She reminds herself, “Shit happens.”
When Chesney looks back at past profile pictures she thinks her old self looks as though she is wearing a wig. Every now and then she dreams she has long hair and can actually feel her locks again. In her dreams she doesn’t revisit “past” Chesney, but it’s as though her hair has grown back again overnight.
After a month she is still getting used to her new look. “It doesn’t shock me when I look in the mirror anymore, its almost like I can’t remember not having short hair, “ she says. “Having long hair just seems so far away.”