Dealing with pressure from hair stylists
September 26, 2015 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Help me manage the pressure and judgement from stylists when I go to the salon.

My hair is more grey than many of my friends. It grows out in a shock, front and centre. Within a week or two of colouring my hair, you can start to see this creeping bit of grey.

I don't have much in the way of extra money. I can't afford to get my hair done at the salon all the time. $200-$300 is just way too much money. I recently have moved to box dye, which I didn't really like, but it was $15, not $200. But, two weeks later, I have this shock of grey in the front. I've been getting by with root touch up kits for a couple of years. But the amount of grey is increasing.

This is all having the effect of keeping me from going to the salon. No matter which salon I go to, they all go on and on about how I'm not keeping on top of my colour, how it's time to touch it up, etc. I think part of my upset is coming from the long-time stylist I had who would go on and on about how I was letting my hair look horrible and that I would never get hired to do more work or get referrals if I'm looking like this, etc. I kept explaining that I really don't have the money to spend $200-300 every couple of months and that this sort of talk was making me not even want to come in for a $45 cut and then my hair was looking worse and I would really just like to know how to do my hair within my boundaries.

So, even though I was with her for years, I started going to another salon. But then they had (not so bad) pressure about my colour and it makes me uncomfortable going there.

As I noted, the whole world of salons and spas and so on is still kind of foreign to me. And I didn't grow up in the middle class world in which I now live. Before my kids got sick and when I was still married, I made a lot more money. So there's an expectation that I look a certain way and I think probably even the people working in the salons think I'm in that world. I just find it very hurtful the way they will attack what's going on and it just makes me not want to go and then my hair looks worse and then I want to go even less.

I'm not generally anxious about being judged and things like that. I don't worry about my appearance much and I'd say, in some ways, I have more body acceptance than a lot of my friends. And maybe I'm more conservative than other people about my money, but things are so precarious for me and, honestly, I just cannot justify dropping massive amounts on my hair.

This hang-up seems to be about salons and really only since my hair started greying so fast. It's possible a lot of this emotional damage just came from my long-term stylist, who went on and on about how grey I was getting, how awful it was looking, etc. Another friend quit going there for a while for the same reason.

I just sort of feel frozen with this and don't even want to book anywhere else because I don't want them going on and on about my grey hair. I can't help that I'm going grey so fast and, as a feminist, I really don't like the judgement. And I just don't have the money and I don't want the comments about how I shouldn't be using the root touch-up stuff.

Sure, I can take this up in therapy, but I would actually feel better hearing how other people navigate this sort of thing. I kind of feel like a fish out of water with this stuff - I've never had a pedicure or manicure and I only recently started going to a brow bar. I should note that, while I work part-time at my business, I am working in a field where people do have a lot of expectations about appearance, so I do need to make sure my hair looks better than it currently does. And yet I can't afford to have the hair of the top people in that field, you know?
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This may not be helpful, but I absolutely can't tolerate this kind of shit either. I'm furious just reading about it. I cut and color my hair myself. I think if I were in a salon and it started I would get up and walk out. So...if you don't want to stop going altogether, maybe have a plan to do that? You can even have a "cue," like, "if the stylist mentions gray, that is my cue to leave."

(Walking out is VERY liberating, by the way. It gets your point across in a way that arguing or acquiescing never will.)

Other, perhaps less combative suggestions: if you have any friends who are gray, ask them where they go and go there. You might also have a better experience at a barber-shop type place that mainly serves men. As horrible as this is, men don't put up with this shit and therefore are less likely to get it.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:57 PM on September 26, 2015 [12 favorites]

Wow I'd never go back to anyone who did this. I've never experienced this and I've been getting my grey covered for a couple years now.

Honestly here is what I would do. First of all, go to lower cost salons - the places I go are some of the cheapest in town, they are run by Asian ladies who do a great job and don't presume to give advice (and indeed, don't speak a ton of English.) And then just don't engage in conversation. Just close your eyes, it discourages anyone from expecting a response.

And don't put up with this kind of shit from people whom you pay! Good lord. It's ok to push back. People think you want their advice, but if you don't, just tell them so. Heck it can even work out really well. Like when I finally told my dental hygienist I wasn't going to floss because it hurts and I didn't want to hear about it from her anymore, she magically produced these cool little picks that don't hurt at all and do the same thing. Anyway, if you're the one paying, it's fine to say "that isn't going to happen, so let's not talk about it anymore. I don't want to hear it."
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2015 [16 favorites]

I've started getting the same lovely comments from my own haircutters: "oh, you've got grey! shall we color it today? highlights would look good! we can cover that grey nicely!"

If they don't take a simple 'no' for an answer, I flat-out tell them no, I do not want to color my hair, I do not want highlights or anything else, I don't give a damn if my hair is grey or brown. I don't color it myself, I don't get it colored at a salon, it is what it is and I am fine with that. I start with a simple 'no', and escalate to 'I said no' and 'Are you deaf? I said NO, I am not interested' as needed.

So what if being blunt hurts their feelings?!? All I want from them is a cut, not conversation or a sales pitch for expensive salon shampoo or hair coloring: just cut it and let me out of here if you want a decent tip!

Hrumph. Basically, give yourself permission to tell them to back off, that you do not want anything more than a haircut. Being nice about it is just giving yourself stress.
posted by easily confused at 1:11 PM on September 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I maintain my hair myself with semi-permanent colour. (Actually I do get it professionally coloured about every 8 weeks, but I do touch-ups in between, at the front where the grey shows up first. It's easy once you get the hang of it.) So, you absolutely can maintain your hair colour without spending a lot of money or effort.

But the shaming thing is a separate question, and outrageous. A person saying those things doesn't have your best interests at heart. Ordinarily I'm not quick to attribute financial self-interest as always being the main motivator for people in the service sector, but in this case I think that's what it is.

I wouldn't tell yourself (or them) you can't afford to get your hair coloured more often, because that puts you in a subordinate/needy position. Instead, I'd frame it as a time and energy thing. You don't want to spend four hours in a salon every few weeks, because you are just too busy, and don't have that kind of time. Tell them that, and tell them to stop hassling you. What they're doing is disgusting. And yeah, like others are saying, I would try t find another salon.
posted by Susan PG at 1:15 PM on September 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Calmly saying "I'm happy with what I'm doing for now" has generally gotten stylists to back off with the unwanted advice in my experience. The trick is not to apologize or make excuses. If they think you are dissatisfied with your color they may keep trying to persuade you, but if you are happy with it, it makes it harder for them to justify suggesting a change unless they are willing to insult you by insinuating that you shouldn't be happy with it. Which is what your last stylist did.

I have never had anyone badger me to that extent. I'm glad you didn't go back, shame on her.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:19 PM on September 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

That sounds really uncomfortable.

I think you have two things going on, one, your discomfort with your gray hair and two how to deal with those people.

For one thing, lots of women rock gray hair, seriously rock it. You could choose to be one of them. You update your make up, keep your hair trimmed and styled, wear clothes you love. You decide it gives you gravitas and this whole thing is no longer a problem. If you have a shock of gray hair, that could be a feature, not a bug.

That's one option.

The other is find a salon you're comfortable at, which is a godsend. You couldn't get me out of mine with a crowbar. My *husband* goes there. My *kid* goes there. And it's high end for our area -- surely there are options. Can you ask someone who you relate to where they get their hair done?

You're stuck with that person for up to forty-five minutes. That's an excruciatingly long time to be suffering through something you're doing to feel good about yourself, staring at yourself in the mirror as some dingbat babbles on about you *should* be taking care of your hair and you're looking old (I hate that you have to look at yourself the whole time).

I do get my hair highlighted because my normal hair is this mousy brown and the grey looks timid in it, there just isn't enough of it for it to look like a thing yet. but when it starts to look like if I stop dyeing it'll be mostly gray, I'm going to knock it off.

I suppose the only response is 'Thank you for your thoughts.' That's the only thing that stops my mother.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:19 PM on September 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have a close friend who has a similar greying pattern to yours - a big chunk of white at the front. She leaves it! she will maybe twice a year add a bit of dye around it, to just clean up the delineation between the white and not-white bits. She looks totally badass, like a superhero. She is also the CFO for a pretty big company, the last few years of her career has been all about being sought after for promotions and such, so the bit about not being hired to do more work is total bull.

to do this yourself, get a box colour to match your darker shade, separate the part of the hair that is all white and wrap that in foil, then use a dye brush to carefully paint the dye onto the mixed colour hair around it. when you rinse the dye out, carefully ensure that the dye and water isn't running into the undyed area, so it doesn't end up getting tinted.

the cool thing about leaving a streak (aside from looking way cool) is that when the roots grow in they blend in with the streak, so you can leave them a long time between touch ups.

ultimately, though, when you go to a salon, you are the boss, and you are hiring them. It it totally fine to say "if you try to make me feel bad about my hair colour, I will just go to a different salon" Say it with a smile if it seems to harsh, but just get it out there. I understand where you're coming from with feeling uncomfortable about navigating a relationship with a stylist, though I've given up, and just cut and dye my own hair. It's actually pretty fun!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:25 PM on September 26, 2015 [22 favorites]

I think you need a fresh start again.

Ask around and find the most experienced colorist in town. Remember, the more experience means that person is older. And has grey hair. And has been trying to live off salon wages for their whole life.

My colorist is over 60. She has no problem telling clients which box to buy at the drugstore to get as close as possible to her tools.

Tell the colorist you want to see them twice (three times?) a year, and you will do touchups at home. If the colorist knows the overall plan, they can dye your hair so it most easily matches drugstore dye, and they can help you make a home care plan.

My colorist would be great at coaching you through this as she went grey at 29 and raised a daughter as a single mom on salon tips. I'm sure you can find someone like this that will partner up and make a sensible plan.
posted by littlewater at 1:29 PM on September 26, 2015 [15 favorites]

I used to have my hair dyed at the salon. Once my stylist very quietly told me that if the expense ever became a problem he would tell me how to take care of it myself. That he did so quietly and when no one else was close by suggested to me that his boss might be unhappy with him telling me how to not spend money there.

Anyway, they are probably trying to give you what they believe is good advice while also trying to look good to the boss (assuming the stylist isn't also the owner).

I might ask around on FB or among friends for someone who specifically won't hassle you about color. And when you call to make an appointment, start by saying "I'm looking for a stylist who won't hassle me about coloring my hair, and I understand that's you." And say some variation of it again at the appointment.
posted by bunderful at 1:39 PM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think it's really important that you understand that they are SELLING something to you. They are undermining you and making you feel bad about yourself and threatening you about lost work for one reason and one reason only, which is to SELL YOU MORE OF THEIR SERVICES. Nothing they say to you necessarily reflects anything about their actual judgment about how you look, and it is even less reflective of any real-world truth about how likely you are to get a job or whatever. They are playing on your insecurities to try and trick you into believing you have to pay them exorbitant amounts of money. You shouldn't listen to them any more than you should listen to, say, a car salesman who would try to convince a middle-aged divorced dude that unless he buys that red Porsche, no girl will ever sleep with him again.

So what do you do? I'm thirty-four and I've got some significant grays and when hairstylists mention them to me, I say really brightly, "Yeah! I'm kind of into it!" If they pushed me to dye them (which no one ever has - get a new stylist, seriously) I'd say, "No way, I like my grays!" And if they kept pushing me, I'd do a little dance in my chair and sing "GRAY HAIR DON'T CARE!" and I'd dance my way right out of that salon.

The world tells ladies they've got to do lots and lots of things - shave! dye their hair! get manicures and pedicures! Take out your belly button ring that you got in the 90s, you're 34 for God's sake (who, me?). But the truth is you can ignore any of the rules you want, and as soon as you do you'll look around you and find lots of awesome women who are doing the exact same thing.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:55 PM on September 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh, and on a more serious note, I think a phrase I've heard before is: "I'd love any advice you have about gracefully going gray," and they may have a whole chunk of products & purple shampoos and fancy haircuts they'll start pushing on you once they realize you're committed to that.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:58 PM on September 26, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks. The above is helping. Just to clarify, I don't want to go grey right now either - I would prefer to self manage and maybe sometimes go to the salon.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I go to a trendy salon and have my hair done by the owner. I flat out told her that I wasn't willing to color my (50%) grey in the salon more than 4 times a year. We worked out a plan as a team. I box color (only) my roots at home every 4-5 weeks and she does balyage highlights every 3-4 months. My hair looks 'done' which is essential for my particular social environment, I don't spend a billion hours at the salon and I don't spend $$$$$.

Maybe it's time for you to rock the grey streak? Ask everybody you know who their colorist is and find someone who will work with you. Remember- you pay them.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:04 PM on September 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would look them dead in the eye and say, "Are you implying that there's something wrong with who I am and the way I look? Because that's what your comments are suggesting to me right now and that doesn't make me want to continue this appointment."
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:07 PM on September 26, 2015 [12 favorites]

I have no idea if this is true for all stylists who work from home, but the two I've been to do not seem interested in pushing anything on me. In fact, I asked my regular one for her honest professional opinion on the very minor grey coverage I do at home and she took a close look, said it looked fine and to keep doing what I was doing. She then Told me which drugstore dye she considered the best quality and least damaging, and suggested an additional technique I could try with home colour. No judgment, no pushiness, lots of encouragement and help.

Colour isn't a huge part of what she does (though she offers it) and she is her own boss, so maybe she is not under the same pressure as stylists who work for a salon.

Perhaps you could ask around and find a stylist in a similar situation?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:17 PM on September 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you mostly need root and hairline touchups you may be able to stretch a box of dye to two or maybe even 3 sessions.
Get a little plastic container that seals perfectly (like a travel toiletry jar).
Dump half the liquid into the jar and save it for next time. You will be left with an open bottle half full of liquid. Then squeeze half the paste into the bottle, shake it up and use it as usual.
Keep the other half of the paste in the tube for next time.
When you're done dyeing hair, carefully wash out the dye bottle and keep it empty for next time.
When you're ready to dye again, pour the saved liquid and squeeze the remaining paste into the reused bottle, mix and use as usual.
Use regular cheap latex gloves to apply the leftover dye next time.

The trick is, of course, not to mix the liquid and paste parts of the dye until right before use.

Anyway doing this, you can make one package of dye stretch to two touch ups.

Another option of course is just to go grey, which can look amazing, especially if you have a chic haircut and wear silvery or cool-toned jewellery, glasses frames, clothing etc. to compliment the silver in your hair. (Oh sorry just saw you're not into going with grey right now!)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:11 PM on September 26, 2015

Another line that works: "Oh no, I earned that grey. It's mine. I'm keeping it." You can say it with a smile, but it's quite firm.
posted by ourobouros at 3:49 PM on September 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Go to a different place. I've gone to the same stylist for years, went to the previous one for MANY years and before that i went to the same one for over a decade until she retired(since i was a child!)

The key is i go in, they suggest nothing, and just ask "so whats your plan?" or "what do you want to do today?" and suggest nothing unless i ask for suggestions.

I have very unusual hair with a different texture, and suggestion-y people have always screwed it up. I've almost never gotten bad service from people who just ask and then listen.

With any luck, i'll be going to the same person for decades.

I realize this is probably a different experience since i'm male, but i have a unique style and i'm very specific about how my hair looks. And all the friends(of any gender) i've referred to the good people i've gone to have had good experiences.

You just need to find someone less judge-y. The place i go is kind of hipstery in vibe, but a lot of people older than me go there and i see them back there. Maybe look for a different type of salon?
posted by emptythought at 4:57 PM on September 26, 2015

I have a fairly straightforward cut. I have chosen to get it cut at a place that costs a basic $18 ($28 for wash/cut/style). That means that I can fart around with drugstore color boxes and whatever, and they just kind of shrug and get on with doing the haircut. They're not in the business sector where haircuts are all about person style maximization, it's just a haircut. The kind of place where people trim their own bangs in between cuts. The kind of place where of course you don't have $200 to spend on hair color maintenance every time you come in for a trim. The guilt factor is much lower.
posted by aimedwander at 5:34 PM on September 26, 2015

F*ck that noise.

Seriously, you are getting grief when you eek out the time, money and energy to do something nice for yourself? That would make me cry tears of anger. No wonder you're feeling anxious and stressed about something that should be a positive experience. Get yourself to a new salon!

Salons often schedule a little extra time for a first time appointment and you can use that time to be really up front about what you want. When you schedule your appointment, you can even ask if there's a way for you to send an email to the stylist or have the receptionist leave a note with your appointment time. They should want to know more about your needs! I think most good stylists are frustrated when a customer doesn't know what they want. You know what you want! I'd suggest saying something like, "I'd like to cover my grey and maintain my current cut for $XX/month and XX minutes/day. Can you help me come up with a plan for that?" If they can't work with you or provide sensible options, then you should feel free to move on to someone else.

Good luck! Your preferences are totally reasonable and a decent salon should be able to accommodate that.
posted by annaramma at 5:38 PM on September 26, 2015

Another thing that might help is to decide what you want, so that when a stylist says "you should really do X," you can reply, "I've decided to do Y," instead of just freaking out because X isn't managable/possible/pleasant/affordable. The whole pressure to be fashionable is one of the things I hate about hair salons, but it's gotten better since I started being more up-front with the stylist about the level of effort/maintenance/cash I was willing to put in, even though that meant shrugging and admitting that perfection wasn't important to me.
posted by aimedwander at 5:42 PM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shaming is an outrageously common tactic in salons, and it just infuriates me. When I go in for pedicures, I very frequently get nail techs and even salon owners telling me, "Hey, we can fix those eyebrows for you while you're here." "No." "Oh, but they're so messy! So bushy!" "No." As you can probably guess from my name, my eyebrows are fucking magnificent and I am not going to pay money to have my most distinctive feature torn out by the roots because they don't meet someone else's beauty ideal.

And even though I know my eyebrows are fucking magnificent, this is hurtful because nobody likes to be told they don't look good. Even when it's just a sales tactic. The only strategy I have found that takes the sting out of it for me is to laugh out loud, slightly bitterly, at the ridiculousness of the offer. It often does pull the shamer up short because they expect you to respond with shame, and when you laugh mockingly instead of becoming flustered, they're not quite sure what to do, and often look ashamed at having transgressed the boundary.

But yeah, try to find a stylist who is more willing to work with you and your budget and not be shamey. It is definitely nothing to do with you, it is just their horrible, awful, anti-woman sales tactic that trades on women's insecurities about their bodies like a thousand tacky cosmetic ads -- but worse, because they're doing it personally and in your face. Ugh, I am so enraged on your behalf.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:43 PM on September 26, 2015 [11 favorites]

Ugh. It sounds like you're going to very high end, snobby salons-- can you try going to a more "alternative" salon? There are a lot of salons that look very freaky/punk rock/wild but they do a lot of normal, more conservative cut and color jobs, and for much cheaper than what you're looking at paying.
posted by easter queen at 7:17 PM on September 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

My hair is kind of unruly and unpredictable, so much so that it took me roughly 25 years to work out what the heck was going on up there. A lot of hairstylists think that they can work out what hair type a person has, and that they'll know how to cut that hair. But with me they often end up doing it wrong. They think that layers will calm things, when really layers just make my hair stand up at strange angles. So my suggestion would be to be assertive. It might feel rude at first. But at the end of the day? You're the one who has to wear your hair around.

My suggestion would be to say something like, "I try to be pretty low maintenance with my hair. I want to let the grey grown in, so that I'm not reliant on colour and can focus on cut and style instead. I would like [this cut]/[that style]/[whatever]." If they bring up colour? "No, thanks. Like I said, I'm not interested in colour. It's just a trim today."

Once you've found a regular stylist, I think you'll find that you don't have to worry about it coming up very much. My regular stylist knows not to suggest layers to me.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 7:18 PM on September 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is some bullshit. I don't know where you are, but I have an amazing colorist in LA who would never act like this and I'm happy to recommend him. I am SUPER GREY -- I got my first grey at 18 -- and it is a PAIN IN THE ASS and he and I have spent the last 10 years making a variety of plans for how we're going to manage it so that I don't have to come in every six weeks. (Eventually, I'm going to just have to bite the bullet.) We even have a plan for how I'm going to transition to letting my huge grey steak go natural in about 20 years. I think that's a good way to put it, too. Let the person upfront that you're looking to come up with a way to deal with your grey so that you only come in every X amount of time, and see what they say. I also think you could say, cheerfully, at your first appointment, "I left my last colorist because he was so pushy and judgemental about my grey hair, and I'm really looking for someone who will help me figure out how to XYZ."

But before that, definitely get a recommendation from someone.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 9:46 PM on September 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

My front tooth is chipped from a cycling accident. Dentists always want to fix what they call this "cosmetic defect." I find that responding by saying "I like it. It gives me character!" shuts them right up.

I'm sorry you're being treated like this. People in appearance based professions don't always do a good job of being kind when they're out to make a buck.
posted by sockermom at 10:32 PM on September 26, 2015

Color your hair at home a week or so before your hairdressing appointment.
posted by Coffeetyme at 2:49 AM on September 27, 2015

I go to an "alternative" salon where there's a lot of wacky dye jobs and dreadlocks and customers with differing approaches to performing femininity. I feel totally comfortable there with my "giving the minimum possible fucks" approach to hair, even though some of their other clients are having complicated expensive stuff done. None of the stylists look like they have to spend two hours with the mirror every morning, which is a great relief. Nobody there ever made me feel uncomfortable about anything.

+1 try an "alternative" hair place.
posted by emilyw at 6:31 AM on September 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing the try a different salon. When I had somebody give me a hard time about my diy (well done by my cousin) highlights I never went back there and I'd been going to them religiously every 5 weeks for a trim. So, you know, find a different salon, perhaps a different kind of salon, where they will work with you not against you. It sounds like the place attracts primarily the sort of clientele that will spend a lot of time and money on salon colouring and women from the sort of demographic you appear to belong to but say you don't belong to any more. So embrace your being different and find a salon that embraces differences rather than trying to force you into a mould.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:37 AM on September 27, 2015

What is your original hair color? If it's brown, you can use a shampoo-in color and you'll get a lighter shade where it's gray, and it looks like streaks, and you might love it. Mine's black and this doesn't work, but I knew someone who did her brown hair in a chestnut color, and it was stunning.

I go to Super-Cheap-Fast-Cuts and they don't give me a hard time at all. Tip well when someone does a good job, mention how nice it was they they didn't bug you about the gray, and go back to that person. i have had expensive cuts and cheap cuts and the same luck with either - it's a crapshoot, so I might as well get a cheap cut.
posted by theora55 at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2015

What I would do is sit down and just *tell* the stylist up front. If they give you any grief, go to another place and tell them why you left.

I am seeing myself in your spot, sitting in the chair. Stylist starts saying something about color. I hold up my hand and say "EHN! Nope. We're not talking about color. I'm doing the best I can with the resources I have, and that excludes getting frequent salon touchups. Don't ask me about color again, because it makes me feel like shit, and I don't want to feel like shit. And you do not want me to feel like shit, I hope. If I want to get color, I'll schedule it, but otherwise, OFF LIMITS." (I'd say this with arched brows, and not in an angry tone., but really more flirty almost.) And then, with a thumbs up gesture: "Got it?" and a big smile. When I say this to myself here, sitting at my kitchen table, I have my index finger raised and my head tilted.

If that doesn't work, leave. New place, and say "Hey, this is how I am managing my gray hair. I do not plan to get frequent touchups, and frankly I feel like shit when people try to push them on me. I left my last place because they kept hounding me. Please let me take the lead when it comes to my hair. You're awesome. Now, let's do this thing."
posted by Stewriffic at 1:25 PM on September 27, 2015

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