It’s a blustery, rainy day, a bad-hair day for anyone, particularly frizzy-haired Jewish girls like me, and I’m settling into Yigal Peres’s chair as he rubs straightening gel into my scalp. I haven’t had a blowout in months, but I’m doing it for science. Yigal, a 47-year-old gay Israeli, has a full shock of salt-and-pepper hair and dark eyebrows that make him look like a beneficent vampire. The mood in his salon is quiet and relaxed, maybe because of the rain. The only other customer is a voluptuous redhead getting a chemical treatment from Yigal’s cute young co-worker.
Yigal serves as the amateur therapist of choice to his well-to-do clients, hearing all about their blowouts in the course of their blowouts, and I want to find out why.
“What kind of problems do women come to you with?” I ask as he turns on the dryer.
“I had a client who was staying with a guy just because she felt sorry for him. I said, ‘When you’re that miserable, he’s also miserable. You should split so he can meet someone else.’ She met another guy and fell in love. Six months later, they were engaged, and nine months later, they were married.”
Not all the tales end so well, though; he hears more horror stories than happy endings. “One girl went out with this guy, and on the first date, he told her he liked honesty in a woman. They had sex, and she decided not to see him again. He asked her why, and she said, ‘You’re too small for me.’ He didn’t like that. She said, ‘You wanted me to be honest with you.’ ”
“Why do you think people are so willing to open up when they’re in the chair?” I ask.
“They feel glamorous and wonderful. We give them a security blanket with the hair, especially here, where the specialty is to make it straight. When a woman has beautiful hair, she feels very secure, comfortable.”
“Ow!” I cry as he burns my scalp. He doesn’t say sorry.
Of course, there are other reasons a woman opens up to her hairdresser: She has a captive audience, she might be uncomfortable with silence, and a wash-and-dry takes 50 minutes—about as long as a therapy session.
The intimacy also comes from physical proximity. Because Yigal sees women up close, he is attuned to things others might not notice—such as signs of domestic abuse. “One time, I saw a client with bruises on her face. She said she fell. I asked her if it was abuse, and I helped her. She got out of it.” Yigal’s father, an alcoholic, beat him as a child, so he has deep compassion for women in similar situations. “I encourage them to leave. They don’t have to take that.”
Yigal says men are just as likely to confide about their love lives as women.
“Women are pretty much secure with their love and sex lives,” he says. “Men are not.”
When men ask him advice about how to woo women, he tells them, “Women love a lot of attention.” He gives women the opposite advice: “The best thing you can do to a man is ignore him,” he says. “Men hate to be ignored. It’s a macho thing.
“They think they can get whatever they want. Women should take it day by day, and see how the relationship is going. Don’t give up everything for this guy immediately. And don’t go out looking to find the right man. Go out to have a good time.”
That’s what he does; he ended a ten-year relationship in the early nineties, he says, because “it was time for a change.” He’s not looking for anything serious. “I party big-time,” he says.
“Do you have a type?”
“He can’t be older than me.”
Yigal grew up in what he describes as a family of “very strong women” and considers himself a feminist: “My mother was a very wonderful woman. She raised ten kids on her own and worked.”
Because of this, he has great respect for women and gets angry when men don’t. “Men do not understand how much responsibility a woman has. They have to make a living, dress, do their hair, their makeup, go get a facial, take care of the house, and be ready at the same time as the man to go out. Women work three times harder than men. Men take them for granted and mistreat them. How pretty your hair is,” he says, not missing a beat, fluffing it out.
I’m beginning to fall in love with Yigal, and I can’t tell how much of it has to do with his worldview and how much with how hot he’s making me look. My fake straight hair is settling, and I look happier, if dumber, my jaw more angular and defined.
“Do you think I should get Japanese hair-straightening?”
He shakes his head no. “You want both—straight and curly. It’s like having two boyfriends. You want one for the Shabbes and one for the holiday.”
“What’s the difference between straight-haired and curly-haired women?”
“Women with straight hair think the whole world belongs to them.”
“It is up to them to feel that way.”
I nod, understanding all too well. About a year ago, out of boredom, I started getting my hair blown out twice a week. I got hit on so much more often that I started sleeping around too much, and eventually I had to stop the blowouts to raise the bar.
“How come men pay more attention to women with straight hair?”
“It’s sexy. It’s flattering.”
“But it’s boring. The guys who notice me when my hair’s straight are the uncreative ones.” It’s like wearing towering heels. You get noticed more, but by all the wrong guys.
He shakes his head to show he doesn’t agree and puts a hand mirror behind me so I can see his work. I flip my tresses back and forth like a human Barbie and thank him, standing to go. “Do you have any clients who sit down in the chair and don’t open up at all?”
“Celebrities,” he says. “They’re too busy on the cell phone.”