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:

1. Small, Confident Dogs

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.

2. Children on the New York Subway

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.

3. ClassPass

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.

4. John, My Hairstylist

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.

5. Lingerie Shopping 

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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  • Courtney Johnson

    The ClassPass intimidation is REAL. I once asked a very intense front desk woman what bike I was assigned in a spin studio that doesn’t assign bikes and now just can never go back there.

  • Cassandra

    I love this. I’d add that going to any brand-new-to-me location is weirdly intimidating. So many potentially disorienting roadblocks that could lead to being late (biggest fear). Also, parallel parking.

  • Kara

    I feel all this. I hate walking into new places… If I’m with people I’ll always hold the door open, which they think is me being polite, but in reality is me refusing to confront my own fears.

  • Jules

    I’m in my early twenties and middle schoolers/high schoolers intimidate me… maybe because I still feel 12 on the inside sometimes… and they are all just way cooler and hipper and more together than I ever was at that age. sigh

    • Na Perego

      I’m in my early 30s and still feel the same. When I’m passing by these giggling girls, my inner teen screams: they laugh at youuu, you’re just not cool enough.
      I wonder if it stops one day)

    • Monica M

      I work with kids this age and I can promise you they are riddled with insecurity and self consciousness! They’re very much just trying to figure it out 🙂

      • Jules

        good point 🙂 nowadays they just appear to have skipped over the awkward phase my generation and the ones before suffered through! lol

    • Kailevee

      I was so nervous to meet my boyfriend’s family for the first time. Specifically, his 16 year old sister. Mom’s I can handle- once you figure out their “momming” style it’s all pancakes & deep questions. Teenagers though!? It didn’t help to check out her Instagram for clues either…it’s like they speak a different, effortlessly cool, nonchalant language.

      • Jules

        omg I totally feel this!! moms are easy to impress whereas its like teens can sniff out your efforts to connect and relate to them, I have a 17 year old brother and I always feel like his friends are silently judging me for being a try hard loser hahahah oh well

  • Mikaela

    well shit. i just realized my bangs are exactly shawn hunter’s bangs.

  • Jessica

    I too HATE lingerie shopping. It turns me into an anxious, sweaty mess of a human and I cannot cope. I have found one style of bra from VS Pink that fits well and I like, and I refuse point blank to try any other bras now so as to avoid this horror.

    My other weird fear is being the one to choose where we sit when I’m with a group of people. I always try to lag back so someone else will have to select the table or seats at the bar. What if there’s not enough space? What if it’s a loud table? What, if for whatever reason, someone else does not approve of my table selection!? EURGH. NO.

  • snakehissken

    As far as I know, the research behind power-posing wasn’t fraudulent. It just couldn’t be duplicated, so it was most likely wrong.

    I don’t want to conflate researchers that didn’t get it right with researchers who actively lied for personal profit.

  • Samantha s

    As an over-analyzer/people please-r/compare-r/introvert/diagnosed anxious person this resonated with me. I’m trying to think of a witty response and I don’t have one and am now thinking that, in general, comments sections are my scary place, because they usually highlight my lack of wittiness and general lack of relatable humor. So, I’m adding comments sections to this list. Even though I do love the MR comments section, I’m just saying a lot of clearly very cool people hang out here (this is me trying not to make everyone feel bad about my insecurity).

    • Anne Dyer

      You nailed the comments section. Nice work.

    • L Winfree

      You’re not alone–I come to MR as much for the comments as the articles and I’m always blown away by how smart and funny the community is. When I visit other places on the internet I’m terrified of being trolled, getting into a flame war, or being told I’m wrong (I hate confrontation, can’t you tell?) so it’s just more comfortable to lurk.

  • Adrianna

    I’m going to assume you and/or some of these commentators haven’t worked in customer service. The quickest way to learn how to speak to any stranger or enter a new room is to work in retail in Manhattan.

  • THE KIDS ON THE SUBWAY. Every time I get on the car with them I’m immediately intimidated. I don’t make eye contact. I feel like at any moment they could look at me and shout “Ha, YOU’RE DOING IT ALL SO WRONG.” …..and they’d be right….

  • Emily M

    This is so REAL. I laughed and nodded and could add to this tenfold, thank you.

  • laura

    I was never afraid of teenagers until I moved to LA. Now I’m afraid of all teenagers.

    • Troublepuss

      I’m afraid of my teenage neighbor who is flunking out of school and thinks Johnny Rockets is fancy.

  • New York City kids are definitely frightening! They are like a zillion times more in the know and more phased than anyone! Especially someone like me who grew up super sheltered. My roommates in college had grown up in NY and boy, had they seen it all!

    Eva | http://www.shessobright.com

    • L Winfree

      NYC kids have this look on their face like they have seen some shit. It the child version of resting bitch face and I do not wanna mess with that.

  • These are all very intimidating to me

  • Emma

    The most terrifying dog I know is a Yorkie the length of my forearm. To this day I still don’t know how a dog that doesn’t even come to my shin managed to scare me away from my bedroom at midnight just by growling at the doorway.

  • L Winfree

    Oh gosh I feel the same way about new gyms. It’s like being at a new school and not knowing where to sit in the cafeteria. Then the workout starts and I’m always a step behind everyone or waving the opposite limb around like a confused octopus.

  • Sophia Cangelosi

    I remember I started going to punk shows when I was really young (like, 12 or 13) and I was surrounded by so many people who were so much older and cooler than me. I was hanging out outside of the venue with a couple friends and acquaintences (and the first girl I ever had a crush on, which was intimidating enough). I don’t remember if I was responding to something in the conversation or if I just said it, but I said, “Man, I feel intimidated by some of the people here.” And everyone kind of gave me a funny look and the girl I liked asked, “why..?” And I felt mortified! Why did I say that? Why was I the only one who apparently felt intimidated by all of these punks who were way older than us? I’ve been afraid to speak exactly what’s on my mind ever since that, I think. Ha!

    I also fear comment sections. MR comment sections are the only comment sections I even delve into online since most other places, they can be so nasty and depressing. But I feel like I’m way too impermanent of a person to put a permanent artifact of my candid words out there in public. I could feel totally different in the next 5 seconds! (Ah!)

  • Erica H

    Always listen to John.

  • Troublepuss

    When you’re nearly a B-cup in 5th grade, you have the choice to be relegated to your mother’s matronly purchases or control your bra destiny. I took control in junior high. One weekend, I went into the lingerie department of Broadway Southwest and told the saleswoman I did not want to grow up to be the kind of woman who wore Playtex and Maidenform. I was going to be a foreign correspondent based out of the London or Paris bureau and needed the underwear to start my glamorous, exciting life. And I bought my silky, lacy, sophisticated bras, panties and camisoles from the same ladies until I landed my first job in a newsroom. It was there I realized cotton Jockey-For-Hers were more compatible with the sweats/pajama pants uniform worn by most news producers. But the bras are still exquisite.