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What one Phoenix hairdresser hears from her salon chair at Mix ‘n Mac Hair Lounge

It’s an age-old trope, from "Steel Magnolias" to "Legally Blonde" to "Grease," hair salons are not just a place to get a trim and color. They are places to bear your soul — and transform yourself in the process.

But, it’s not just true in the movies, according to our next guest. 

A.J. Mixan is the owner of Mix ‘n Mac Hair Lounge, and she’s been doing hair in the Valley for more than 20 years. And that means she’s heard it all. From divorces and affairs to pregnancies. She told me, she often hears it first. 

The Show sat down with her in her Phoenix salon recently to get the dish. 

Conversation highlights

A.J. MIXAN: I love connecting with people. I love connecting people with each other. And it's a great way to incorporate art and creativity in working with my hands into my everyday life.

There are many movies kind of based on this, this premise that hairstylists are sort of like therapists or confessionals in a way. But has that really been true in your experience?

MIXAN: Absolutely true. I know before most other people in your life, what's going on in your life, a lot of times before people are ready to tell the world they're coming in and telling me, which is amazing.

Why do you think it is that people are willing to sort of tell you things that they didn't tell the closest people in their lives yet?

MIXAN: I think they know that it's safe with me, that I don't always know all of their people and that it's not gonna go anywhere. So I feel like maybe I'm a good sounding board. People come in and see what I think or see how I react to things before they're ready to tell their whole world of people, which is cool. And I'm lucky that I'm in an industry where you come in, and I'm going to connect with you in a physical way, in an emotional way. And we can chat and get to know each other without it being anything of concern.

You know, you go see a doctor, and they're touching you and talking to you, but you're worried or you're sick. Here, you come in and you feel great coming in and you get to feel even better going out. So it's like this physical contact you have with people, but it's in a positive way.

Give us some examples of the kinds of things people have sort of confessed to you over the years.

MIXAN: Oh, so many things I know when you're going on your first date. I know when people are getting married. I typically know before most other people, when someone's having a baby. They won't, they're not telling their family yet, but they'll come in and tell me beforehand. I often know when people are having affairs. I know when they're, you know — who knows what, whatever little things are going on in their life. I'm a safe space to, to let those things out.

Was there ever any training for this? When you were training to become a stylist, did they talk to you about this — the fact that people will tell you things?

MIXAN: There's a little bit, there is mention of it, but they certainly don't give you any sort of guidance on how to deal with it. But they will, you know, they'll say you mirror your clients when they come in. If they're happy and beat and energetic, you be happy and beat and energetic. If they seem like something's up, you can be calm and let them guide the day.

Let me ask you about the dark side of this. Because I'm sure there are times when people tell you things that are scary or hard or, you know, even things that you feel like you need to help them with in a way.

MIXAN: Yeah. It's definitely a benefit of being a hairdresser is that I know so many people in different areas of life. And so if someone comes to me with a concern, I often have a contact for them that can help them. And if I don't, I definitely know where to get it.

What kinds of things have popped up where you felt like you need to sort of refer someone or give them, you know, some contact out of you?

MIXAN: Sure. There's definitely cases where people are in relationships that might not be really safe or positive where I've thought, "Hey, I want to make sure that you have this resource that can either help you identify whether or not your relationship is safe and, or help you find a way out should you need out."

That's a lot of responsibility. Do you ever feel like a little overwhelmed by this? Is this exhausting?

MIXAN: No, most of the time I feel honored that they know that their issues are safe with me and I feel happy that I can pass on the right information to get them where they need to go. But, you know, it can be heavy for sure. And if I'm worried about someone in particular that is definitely a lot to deal with. And I certainly have my own therapists/hairdressers who I also know things are safe with. But for the most part, I just feel grateful that I can connect them to who they need to be connected to.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.