A brief look at my first and last time in a Barbershop as a woman

A lot of lessons learned the hard way.

words by: Alee Kwong
Mar 10, 2021

There was a point in time when I thought having short hair (read: a blunt bowl cut) in my early 20s was a revolutionary idea that would serve as a style catalyst for years to follow. I got my shoulder-length hair cut at a salon, leaving with a cute little mushroom top and the under portion cut down to roughly between a 6-7. I really thought I did something and I thought that my identity as a short-haired girl was here to stay for the long haul.


A few months later, I have no clue what possessed me to go even shorter. Something in my soul said the classic line, “But wait! There’s more!” I was working in San Francisco’s Mission District and one day, on my way to work, I walked past Fellow Barber. If you aren’t familiar with Fellow Barber, it’s basically the embodiment of what 2014 Tumblr showed us when it came to white barber culture – lots of pomade, denim, tattoos, BEARDS, wooden floors, and aged leather chairs. I called them up during my break and I was scheduled for an appointment an hour after my shift. Now that I am taking a brief moment to reflect on the “why” behind my decision, I think my train of thought was, “I have short hair so it makes sense to go to people who work with short hair the most – barbershops.” So naïve, so myopic, so wrong.


I walked into my late-afternoon appointment, with all the energy and excitement I could muster up after a long shift at the café I worked at just a few blocks away. As soon as I checked in with the girl at the front desk, a cold sweat broke out on my body as I somehow became fully aware of where I was and that I was the only girl there apart from the front desk girl. There I was, an Asian girl wearing black skinny jeans, a striped T-shirt, and a trashed pair of Vans, sitting nervously in the waiting area, waiting alongside your typical white hipsters and Asian streetwear aficionados, those of which would occasionally make awkward eye contact with me and amplify my anxiety.


Once I got in the chair, the barber asked me what I wanted. I had no idea what to say so I just mashed a bunch of hair terms together and made a Frankenstein-description that he reasonably could not understand. I was so used to having an empathetic and patient dialogue at a salon and the lack of reciprocation from my barber had me more tongue-tied than I could even imagine possible. I think he sensed my anxiety and was not vibing with it (which I can’t even blame him for, honestly) and he said calmly, “Don’t worry, I think I get what you mean.” In an effort to alleviate any and all anxiety, by any means necessary, I took that statement as a lifesaver being thrown to me in deep waters.


Moments after that were a blur. I just remember internally screaming when I saw that my hair was about two snips away from turning my charming bowl cut into a full-on short, textured cut with the sides shaved down to a 1. Again, I can’t even blame the barber. I was watching this play out to match the immensely confusing description of what I “wanted.” The barber did the final reveal, spinning my chair 180 degrees to show me the back. I put on my customer service smile and said with the shakiest voice, “Wow, I can’t believe you managed to do this after I fumbled my words. This is awesome, thank you!” My legs weak and noodle-like, I wobbled over to the front desk to check out. Simply put, my head was empty and I had no thoughts. The front desk girl looked at me with somber eyes, expressing regret by proxy and just overall “in our thoughts and prayers” energy. We both knew that I made a mistake and to this day, I think she felt bad for taking my money.


That was a teachable moment and I learned a lot of lessons. First and foremost, don’t go to a gentrified barbershop full of millennial white men and expect them to know how to cut POC hair. Second, short hair on women is best handled by people in a salon who work the sides with shears. And last but not least, short hair is not for me. I’m glad I did it once in my life, but having super short hair will be restricted to my nightmares.