A List of Things That Intimidate Me (Including My Hairstylist, John)

I still remember the day that JoJo’s single “Leave (Get Out)” hit the top of the Billboard charts. It was 2004 and JoJo was 13 at the time, making her the youngest solo artist to achieve this massive accomplishment. Unfortunately, I was also 13 at the time. Naturally, I compared my most significant accomplishment (an elaborate ceramic zebra collection) to JoJo’s and found that I came up short.

Now, at 27, I’m reigning in the self-destructive impulse to make comparisons like these. Therapy helps. So does deleting Instagram. But no matter how old I get, there are still things that will always intimidate me:

Certain small dogs, like Jack Russell Terriers and Miniature Poodles, exude a brazen, unaffected confidence that terrifies me. To be honest, I’ve never been a dog person, though I’ve learned the hard way that I should not cop to this fact in a romantic setting until at least the fifth date.

However, I like to think that I love my friends’ dogs, which is how I found myself dog sitting for an exceptionally self-assured French Bulldog named Zeus. On our first night together, Zeus and I shared a quiet meal in my friend’s otherwise empty apartment. When I crawled into her bed later that night, Zeus began circling the bed, barking and pacing. Essentially, he was sniffing out my many weaknesses, of which there are many. Unsure of what to do in response, I referenced the only episode of Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan I’d ever seen and deduced that Zeus was probably feeling territorial. I lifted him onto the bed and took the couch for myself. A few minutes later, as I curled up in the living room, I heard Zeus’ contented snores coming from the bedroom. We’d found our proper places.

The thing I love most about New York is that it provides complete freedom for crying in public, especially on the subway where I’m almost always given a wide berth mid-sob. A few weeks ago, I was on a train to downtown Manhattan to meet a friend for lunch. Thirty minutes into the ride, I realized I was somewhere in Queens. I started crying out of pure disappointment and frustration; after one-and-a-half years spent navigating the New York subway system, I was still lost.

A group of what I assumed to be fifth graders stood next to me on the platform, confidently waiting for the next subway, sighing with impatience and shrugging their tiny shoulders. A few of them glanced at me with pity but most of them were completely unfazed by the sight of an adult woman crying in public. These kids were solidly inoculated to the drama of New York City and it scared me. Granted, I was afraid of teenagers even when I was a teenager, but it’s easy to take yourself down a peg when you see someone younger than you taking on the world in a way you can’t. Despite my trepidation, I decided to ask this same group of kids for directions, assuming they knew best. I was right. I also missed my lunch date.

To me, there is no more perfect horror than going to a new gym for the first time. Knowing this, you’d think I would refrain from joining ClassPass — a service that enables its users to attend classes at gyms they’ve never been to before, over and over again — but you would be wrong. Boutique fitness studios appeal to me on a certain aesthetic level, which was apparently enough to convince me to sign up for Class Pass.

At my previous gym, I’d developed a habit of self-consciously upping the miles-per-hour setting on my treadmill to equal that of the runners next to me. But this self-consciousness was significantly magnified under the chic awnings of ClassPass studios. I spent the first 15 minutes of every class looking around in complete bewilderment. I wanted to impress my instructors but I failed to understand what Core Power Cardio 350 even was. All exercise, of course, leaves me feeling better afterward. But the residual embarrassment I got from these classes lingered long after I’d left the new studio. I barely escaped before convincing myself that I needed an all-new spandex outfit to fit in. Torn t-shirts and treadmills, I’ve since learned, are all I really need to break a sweat.

I would characterize my relationship with the man who does my hair as contentious. When I first discovered John, I thought I had discovered New York’s best-kept secret. A friend of a friend of a friend told me about him. He offered hours that were more flexible than a regular salon’s, appointments in my apartment and he promised lower prices, so I asked John to coat my hair in keratin, a process that turns frizzy hair smooth, every three months.

However, my current everyday hair regimen consists of refusing to brush or cut a single strand. John finds this problematic. He says I need to “trim” three entire inches every time he visits. After arguing a bit, I always concede. I usually don’t regret it but sometimes I feel as if I’m two haircuts away from letting John bully me into bangs. I endured two years of looking like Shawn Hunter due to a 2016 bang incident, so bangs are a look I simply cannot endure again. I hope I’ll be able to stand up to John before this happens, but I’m not so sure.

My particular brand of pop culture consumption led me to believe that my first time shopping for lingerie would be a pleasant experience. There would be friends. There would be laughter. There would be champagne. Lingerie shopping certainly wouldn’t involve me alone in an expensive boutique, desperate to save my long distance relationship and too afraid to ask for help.

Now it’s apparent to me that I may have confused shopping for lingerie with the first time one tries on a wedding dress. Regardless, as I stepped inside one such imposing store, I felt desperate for this fool’s errand to be over. I rushed to grab something, anything, from the nearest rack. The piece I chose can be best described as an “elaborate set of strings.” I soon had it on my body, both backwards and inside out. My compulsion to impress (or at least cajole) the intimidating sales clerk somehow justified the purchase of what I now affectionately call my “whole body thong.” I left the store swearing to complete all my future purchases online.

In the past, I’ve attempted to overcome this intimidation all on my own. In 2010, I was big into power posing (before the science behind that particular fad was proven to be fraudulent). I even threw away my “You Have as Many Hours in a Day as Beyoncé” coffee mug because no one should subject themselves to that kind of comparison. But I also understand that a certain dose of intimidation is a good way to stay humble — so whenever I need to get myself in check, I find my way to a Miniature Schnauzer.

Illustrations by Gabrielle Lamontagne.

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