By Nicole Feltman
Anisa was sweeping strands of hair from the floor in sync with the song No Scrubs by TLC which blasted from the salon’s speaker, echoing woman empowerment wall-to-wall. In came a customer with hand gestures that touched every bit of air in her vicinity, and a face that reflected her irritation.
“Welcome to Supercuts, how can I help you?” said Anisa as she placed her dustpan down and smiled at her new client. “I want an old-fashioned haircut,” said the woman.
Unaware of what an old-fashioned haircut consisted of, Anisa grabbed her phone to find a similar style to what the woman was searching for and asked a few questions to get clarity.
“All I want is a cut here, and a cut here,” said the woman, aggressively waving her hands around as if she was trying to get a taxi in the busy streets of New York City. “Just an old-fashioned haircut,” was the one sentenced answer to Anisa’s handful of questions.
“Okay, I will just go ahead and start cutting.” Then silence.
With every question that Anisa prompted, and with every strand of coarse grey hair that hit the floor, the more the client became comfortable and confident. As the insecurities diminished, and walls were broken down, Anisa’s infectious laugh and relatability made the woman bust out a genuine smile and a few chuckles.
Anisa, about 5’5, stood close to eye level with the client, making it easier for the conversation to be more personal than what the rest of the Supercuts salon provided. The space was empty, but her laugh was able to fill the room.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made service industry jobs difficult for many, especially when the job doesn’t pay the bills. As a hair stylist at Supercuts on Oracle, Anisa cuts, colors, and styles hair day in and day out. She has been working 35-hour weeks, five days a week as of the past two months. Anisa goes above and beyond for her clients according to one of her two coworkers, Jesika Rivera. She serves as a place of stability for her clientele and supports them with their journey of self-expression.
She is a Tucson native, born on the Southside. She is the second youngest of three brothers and two sisters. As a young girl, Anisa described herself as a shy tomboy identifying as a “ponytail person.” Before her parents split, Anisa’s mother would always do her hair up real tight and would “hit you with the brush because you moved” Anisa laughed recalling the memory. After Anisa’s parents split, she was forced to learn how to take care of herself at a young age.
She remembers having to fight for the bathroom with her brother when getting ready for school. She ended up always doing her hair in her bedroom. The most she would do to her thick hair was to run gel through her natural curls with about five ponytails; ponytails for thick haired persons were not yet invented. Anisa would use a vent brush to put her hair up and it would always get tangled in her hair. She would then use a fine toothed comb to really get her hair slicked back before she could smooth it out and “plastered it with hair spray so the fly aways wouldn’t come out.”
Anisa stays dedicated and focused on many tasks in her life. One of the tasks being a mother to her son Jermaine, who competes on a soccer team in Tucson named Blue Jays.
On a recent October morning at 8, the Blue Jays were flying across the field as they tried their hardest to tie the score in the intense game. Anisa’s blonde fluffy high ponytail accentuating her natural curls made her stand out amongst the crowd of engaged parents. Her blue sneakers were propped upon the bright green field.
“GO GO, RUN RUN!” yelled Anisa and her supportive brother on the side of the field. The 10 year-old they were cheering for was the boy with the golden tips. Jermaine calls his mom’s masterpiece his “goldy-locks.”
Even though Jermaine’s team was going to lose, he kept his head high and powered through the game until the whistle blew.
Jermaine pushed his bold black framed glasses up his nose and jogged over to Anisa—the dedicated snack mom for Saturday’s game. He helped her pass out the packets of Ritz crackers and white Gatorades to his teammates, starting with his best pal, Landon.
In the past couple of years, Anisa has had to miss some games due to her inability to be flexible with her schedule. But after her dad’s passing, Anisa prioritizes being present for her son because they need each other, she says. “Even though sometimes it is stressful at work to get the days off and figure it out because I have two other people I work with, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Anisa.
Jesika Rivera is one of the other hairstylists at the salon. When asked what Supercuts would be like without Anisa she said, “It would be boring, definitely a little less busy too. Clients wouldn’t want to come if she wasn’t here.”
Anisa’s difficult and lengthy schedule has made her consider other options for a career. “What’s that saying? Your day doesn’t stop until you’re asleep,” she giggles.
Recently, Anisa entered a position in the medical field as a PBX operator at a call center at the Northwest Hospital to see if she might have interests that lay outside of hair. The hours she worked were from 10pm to 6am, leaving her only two to three hours to get to the salon to work another full shift. After a week of this, Anisa realized she wasn’t losing her passion for hair, she just wanted to see if hair was going to be a lifetime commitment for her.
“Because I have always thought to myself, am I going to be doing this the rest of my life, like it has already been 12 years, I am 31, do I have another ten years in me?” said Anisa.
In beauty school, right after Anisa had graduated from Cholla High School, she never thought about quitting. She always put her head down and kept going until she got the job at Supercuts.
Anisa loves a challenge. Branching out to another field was a version of what challenging herself looks like. Being a shy person, interacting with her clientele has been challenging for Anisa, but she has found a way to perfect her approach. Her patient, comforting, and positive energy only works to support her profession. “You learn to listen to people,” she said. “There is a difference between listening versus listening to get what you need and just cutting.”
Her favorite part of a haircut is the middle-to-end of the haircut. “I like getting to know someone besides just hair. Because sometimes I hate when it ends,” she laughs.
One of her favorite clients is this older man who has been coming in quite frequently since the beginning of 2021. He will only come into the salon during the weekdays before noon. He will start silent while Anisa preps for the cut. When the haircut proceeds, he will start pouring out his emotions to Anisa about his personal life and Anisa will listen. She does the same haircut for him every time, a fade on the side and finger length on top.
It is not the haircut this client seems to keep coming back for, instead the emotional support and therapeutic services Anisa provides for him every two to three weeks. The combination of the fresh fade and the friendship he receives from Anisa leave him feeling more confident than how he came.
“You want to be there for them, you want to be there for everyone,” said Anisa.
As the sun sets behind the towering purple mountains in Oro Valley, Anisa prepares herself mentally to hurry home to help Jermaine do his homework, make dinner for the both of them, then rush off to practice with him.
She wipes down the chair that has had multiple people of different backgrounds, lifestyles, and hairstyles on it throughout the day. As she brushes it off to rid it of germs, she is also brushing away the sorrows, negative energy, and attitudes from the day. She sweeps the leftover hair strands from the floor into her trusty dustpan filled with days, months, and years of baggage and insecurity, and tosses it into the trash can.
After a long workday, being an emotional stabilizer for many people, Anisa decides to take only the laughs, good conversation, and positive connections home with her.
Wow! I feel like I know Anisa and if I lived there would go for my hair cuts. The writer, Nicole Feltman, has been able to describe Anisa and the emotional and stressful life of a hairdresser, but the need of physical touch and real everyday of people of every age, gender and culture.