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A better haircut for Cyprus?

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‘The world is changing. Cyprus must change too!’ Ten years after the island’s haircut, ALIX NORMAN meets an unusual barber who’s challenging our long-held beliefs

 What do you see the most of in Cyprus? Pharmacies? Coffee shops? Mercedes? Here’s another one to add to the list. Hairdressers.

Salons tend to be 10 a penny in this country; there’s one on every corner. In fact, while research suggests there are 258 official pharmacies, and 366 registered coffee shops across the island, the number of hair salons eclipses both: 394 at the last count. (Mercedes are too innumerable; just look out your window!)

Of course, that doesn’t include barbershops. Nobody (including the Hairdressing Federation) has an exact number. But there are probably just as many.

What there aren’t, however, are many female barbers. Especially those who own their own shop. So, Despina Kyriacou comes as a bit of a shock…

feature3 there are not many female barbers on the island
There are not many female barbers on the island

You’d have to be a pretty interesting person to go into a traditionally male profession. Especially in Cyprus. On this island, 75 per cent of teachers, health and social workers are female, while 87 per cent of those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are male.

But then Despina has never been what one might consider traditional. Unafraid to take on the establishment, her Instagram is filled with pithy comments: ‘The shorter the hair, the harder they stare’ and ‘Barbers rush in where stylists fear to tread’.

‘Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers’, says one post. Another suggests it’s ‘Barbers and philosophers who transform personality’.

Clearly, Despina sees it differently. And she’s unafraid to take on the challenge Cyprus is laying down with its traditional gender expectations.

“I always knew I wanted to do something different,” admits the 36-year-old. “Initially, I studied graphic design. Then, swayed by the number of family members who are actually hairdressers, that’s the field I went into.”

Although hairdressing was never a profession Despina had considered, she found herself enjoying it. “After graduation, the hairdressing school kept me as an instructor for new students. I did that for three years; working in a very typical salon. And then I began to question my decision…

“Short hair is harder,” she reveals. “The details are more challenging, but the process more creative. It was something I enjoyed a lot. So, after three years in a typical salon, I decided to follow in the footsteps of another family member: not my hairdressing mum or brother, but my grandad. A barber.”

Despina launched her barbershop in 2018, in a quiet street in Engomi. The shop, she said, was found by chance: “To be honest I was looking for somewhere, and happened to find this one.” But the location seems savvy: she’s within walking distance of 10 embassies – places where employees might conceivably be far more open to a female barber.

“I have clients from America, Russia, Austria, Croatia, England, Greece, Egypt. For me, the shop is a place for selected individuals; people who bring diversity, whatever their orientation. We’re LGBTQIA+ friendly. If you’re looking for a beard shape or trim, or a short haircut we’re here. For women too – the majority of my clients may be men, but I happily work with women who prefer non-traditional short hair. It does not matter what society thinks a female haircut should be; we’re different here. And we’ll always make you feel safe.

“As a diverse person myself,” she adds, “I know how it is to feel unwelcome, not safe. Here, everyone is welcome. Any gender, any age, any background.”

The name of the shop pays tribute to this diversity. Platform 9¾ references Harry Potter; an allusion to the magical gate between the world of Muggles (normal humans) and the realm of magic.

“I’ve always been a Potter fan,” Despina grins. “I’m half Gryffindor, half Slytherin – good and bad intertwined! And the name of my barbershop is a tribute to people who are different from what society expects: like Platform 9¾, regular people don’t’ notice it as they walk by – just those who are different!

“You can see instantly from my appearance” – backward baseball caps, huge glasses, and baggy tshirts are Despina’s uniform – “that I don’t follow the norm. And I offer everyone a judgement-free environment. As long as you can take responsibility for who you are, that’s fine.”

The sign on Despina’s door says ‘If you are racist, sexist, homophobic or an asshole don’t come in!’

feature3 an example of her style
An example of her style

“But I’ve had customers who’ve said, ‘well, I’m all of these things in one way or another. Will you cut my hair?’ And I always answer, ‘Look, if you can take responsibility for who you are, that’s fine by me. You won’t be judged here if you can hold yourself accountable.’”

Still, what happens within Platform 9¾ is not always the way of the outside world. And Despina has encountered prejudice many times for her choice of profession.

“I’ve been dismissed, judged and criticised a lot for taking on what many people see as a traditional male role. Being a female barber is certainly not expected. But I think my work speaks for itself – I just ignore the hateful comments and keep doing what I do best.”

The fact that clients have to book at least a week in advance speaks volumes for Despina’s talents. And for her attitude.

“Look, if people didn’t like having a female barber; if they weren’t in favour of the diversity or inclusiveness I advocate, they wouldn’t come back – no matter how good the haircut! But they do,” she concludes. “They do come back again and again.

“I think Platform 9¾ is doing its small part to influence the island for the better. It’s making us more accepting, more able to escape the stereotypes and norms that are embedded in Cypriot society. The world is changing. Cyprus must change too.”

 

For more information, visit the Instagram account @thebarber934

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