CARROLLWOOD — In plush salon chairs, women dish about shopping sprees over manicures. They gush about their children's silly antics while getting their hair shampooed. They vent about stressful jobs during eyebrow waxes.
And sometimes, stylists say, clients might let little red flags slip.
Maybe they flinch when the stylist reaches out to brush their hair back. Maybe they say things that raise concern like, "My husband wants me to wear my hair like this."
That's when salon professionals become entrusted with more than shaping a style.
"You feel very helpless," said stylist Josie Ehlers, 27.
About 30 hairdressers and skin care specialists learned Tuesday how to spot and react to signs of domestic abuse through educators with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
The training session at the Salon and Spa at Mystic Hair, which included employees of Edge Salon Tampa, was the largest that the Crisis Center has conducted for aestheticians, said Marilyn Bray, the organization's outreach and empowerment coordinator.
"You might be the only person they tell," she told the stylists.
Stylists say the salon chair offers its own type of therapy. It's a safe, relaxing place for customers to spill secrets, free of the judgment they might feel telling a best friend or family member.
So as they treat women to spa services, many stylists say they sometimes pick up on conversation tidbits about a significant other's controlling behavior.
"My job is to help somebody know they're beautiful and they have worth," Ehlers said.
The hairdresser said she once had a bruised client who wondered about going to a domestic violence shelter.
Ehlers still wishes she had given the woman a place to stay.
Another young woman's husband supervised haircuts: "We only want 1 inch taken off the bottom," Ehlers remembered him saying about his wife's waist-long hair.
He stood next to Ehlers while she trimmed.
The Crisis Center educators explained to stylists the fear and routine that often keep people from leaving their abusers.
One in four women experience domestic abuse, the educators said. They encouraged stylists to pass out cards for 2-1-1, a 24-hour counseling hotline.
But the Crisis Center also said the best help stylists can give is to listen.
During the session, aesthetician Veronica Becker thought about a woman whose nails she manicures. She thought about the woman's breakdowns in the salon over stresses at home. "I know I can't solve her problems," Becker, 55, said. "So I make sure that we laugh a lot, and mostly let her unload."
The next time the woman comes in, Becker said she may slide her the counseling hotline's business card.
It's just in case, she'll tell her. Just in case you need to talk.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.