*This is a work of nonfiction as told to me by my mother; used with permission.
She wasn't even a client.
My mother sat in the waiting room of a barbershop, waiting for the barber to cut my brother’s hair, when something unexpected happened.
When my mother was in her early twenties, she brought her young son to the barbershop for a haircut. She was suffering from a severe case of dandruff, but that wasn’t the reason she was there.
The barber strode toward my mother with something in his hands and then rubbed it into her hair and scalp, leaving my brother unattended in the barber chair.
“You have a terrible case of dandruff,” he explained. “I could see it all the way from over there.” He returned to cutting my brother’s hair like he had done nothing wrong.
Meanwhile, my mother was embarrassed; she was mortified.
First, she hadn’t expected to be confronted with her horrible case of dandruff, of which she was well aware.
Second, she certainly hadn’t expected to have her dandruff treated, especially not while sitting there in the waiting room of the barbershop for all the world to see.
To make matters worse, she was sitting in full view of the window that looked out onto the sidewalk. Passersby probably didn’t even care about the frazzled woman in the window with a handful of smelly grease in her hair, but my mother cared.
My mother didn’t have dandruff after all.
What she had was a case of poison ivy on her scalp that didn’t respond to the dandruff treatment she neither expected nor requested.
I imagine my mother was pretty upset at the time for reasons that were probably obvious to everyone in the barbershop. After all, she was there for her son’s haircut. She wasn’t there for herself.
I wonder what would have happened if my mother had felt empowered to say no, or if the barber had said something like this: “I’m sorry, I can see you’re not comfortable with this. Why don’t we do your son’s haircut now and then schedule another appointment for you to treat your dandruff when you feel ready?”
My mother would have been able to decline. She would have never felt embarrassed or uncomfortable, and both mother and son would have walked away feeling good about the situation.
What makes so many people feel they are not empowered to say no?
What is it that keeps us silent in the face of impropriety, even when we find it unsettling?
I wonder if my mother would have felt empowered to say no had her situation been different. What if she had been at a spa and the employee had offered to treat her scalp with a treatment not requested or expected? Or if the barber had asked for permission before he did anything?
If you are ever in a situation where an employee offers something unsolicited, ask yourself if this person would have treated anyone else without permission. Ask yourself the following questions: Do I need this treatment? Why am I being treated this way?
Every one of us, regardless of gender, race, religion, or culture should feel empowered to say no. If you’re not comfortable with what someone is doing, it’s okay to say so.
Have you noticed that women often bear the brunt of these improprieties?
Have you ever noticed that the majority of service providers who treat customers in this manner are men?