black salon problems

 

*Names and locations have been changed to protect identities. And because I don’t want to get shanked because I’m too young to die even though life gets hard sometimes.

It’s Sunday morning. You’ve woken up late because the post-church youth group hang out/ turn up was particularly lit and you drank too much Mighty Malt and Appletiser. Drowsy and blurry eyed from your non-alcoholic hangover, you reach for your glasses. The world slowly comes into focus. Your room is a mess. It’s because you’ve worked too many late shifts, because really you’re a tidy person and you like things to be in order, you tell yourself. You look at the time on your phone. It’s 0930 hours. You have an appointment to get your hair braided in exactly 20 minutes. The stereotype is that black hairdressers are always running late, but this hairdresser is gentrified and has a strict appointment policy. (More evidence that gentrification is traumatic and inconvenient for everyone involved except the gentrifier – which in your case has a Jamaican accent and is called Simone).

You tumble out of bed and manage to shower, lotion, brush your teeth, get dressed, talk to Jesus, salute your parents, say your daily affirmations and argue with your younger brother in exactly 8 minutes and 53 seconds.

You arrive at “Motivationz” at 1007, 3 minutes shy of the 10 minute cancellation policy window. As far as you’re concerned, you’ve arrived early and you’re breaking stereotypes.

The receptionist lady smiles concernedly when you tell her your appointment time and asks you to take a seat and wait, in order to make you nervous that your late arrival might result in you entering the working week with 2 large canerows and a headwrap as your only companions. This is all fake news. You are Simone’s first and only customer till 1230.

You are brought a cup of lemongrass tea and you browse your Pinterest ‘DOPE HAIRSTYLES’ folder to finalise the style you want.

Simone walks over to the chair. You exchange the usual pleasantries. She starts to run her fingers through your hair. “Do you know what style you want?”. You nod excitedly and show her the picture you’ve saved on Pinterest.

teyonahparisbraids.jpg View Post

I didn’t grow up being the ‘pretty girl’. My awkward phase lasted quite well into my late/teens early 20’s, and when I did finally throw off the shackles of thick rimmed glasses and badly done natural hair, and stepped into the glorious freedom of decent skin, contacts and natural hair youtube, it took me a while to get used to the compliments. I still don’t think of ‘pretty’ as one of my primary identifiers, even when I get random people approaching me at to compliment me. I’m actually quite thankful that I didn’t think of myself as attractive as a teenager –  it meant that I always relied on my wit, smarts and generally trying to be a good person as my main selling point.

In fact, as I’ve grown into my looks, I’ve actually developed a weirder complex – I’m scared that being pretty and well dressed will mean that people will assume I’m not as intelligent. At work, I get uncomfortable when  my consultant calls me the ‘pretty junior doctor’ – not because I don’t want to be seen as pretty, but because I’m worried that if I don’t work hard enough it will translate as ‘ditzy and superficial’. View Post

hair salon

Diclaimer: There are some great black salons. In London – Hype Coiffure, Adornment365 etc. This is for humour…

It’s Thursday. You look at your perm and realise that alongside the 8 inches or so of straight, jet black hair, there’s also a couple of inches of curly wurly. Or you’re natural and decided that you want a temporary straight look for a change. No problemo – you pick up the phone to get your local hairdresser to sort it out.

*brrrriiinnggg brriiinng*

“Hello…Beyonce’s, how can I help?”

“Hi, I’d like to make an appointment with Natalie for a relaxer touch up?”

“Hold on..”

*In the background*

“Is Natalie still doing Fridays?….Yeh….yeh..”

“Can you tomorrow at 10?”

“Yeh, that’s fine.”

“Ok then, see you tomorrow at 10!”

“Thanks!”

“No problem, see you tomorrow”.

You put down the phone, excited about your 10 o’clock appointment. That’s because what you don’t know, is that you actually made an appointment for 11:30.

You get to the salon at 10:05, a bit flustered, apologetically late. You rush over to the receptionist’s desk..”I have an appointment at 10:00??…Sorry,I’m a little late!”.

“That’s alright darling..” she says, smiling at you. “just a second..”, she whispers, nodding in your direction. You then notice the bluetooth headset. “Ok darling, ok, ok, byyyee!”. She swivels her chair round and smiles at you again.

“What time was your appointment?”.

“10 o’clock with Natalie”.

“No problem. Have a seat over there, someone will be with you shortly.”.

You sit down in the comfy sofas, next to a stack of Essence magazines. The smell of shampoo and fresh perm wafts up your nose in a chemical cocktail that makes you feel relaxed. You pick up a magazine and flip through. One of Will Smith’s kids is having an existential crisis so Jada is on the front cover. There’s an article on 10 reasons why black women love Scandal. You skip over it to the hair section. You spot a hairstyle you might like. Time passes. It’s 10:30.

A lady with a Halle Berry cut strolls over to you.”You’re waiting for Natalie, right?”.

“Yes!” you exclaim, ready to get up. “Ok darling, she won’t be long, she’s just popped out to get something to eat”. You settle back down into the sofa and pick up the latest edition of Black Hair.

3 magazines and 1 hour later, a lady walks over to you with a big smile on her face. “Hiii! I’m Natalie. You’re my 10 o’clock right?!”. You smile tersely. You can smell the Caribbean takeaway creeping out from the plastic bag in her hand (who by the way, also offer a unique consumer experience). Not wanting to be burnt with a hot comb, you smile again, less tersely this time.

You make your way over to the sink. Natalie scrubs your hair. At no point during the scrubbing is anything mentioned about the hour and a half hiatus between arrival and said scrub. Not wanting to be burnt with a hot comb, you remain smiley.

You move over to another to the hair dryer helmet thingy. Time for Natalie’s patty break.

You emerge from the helmet, hair smelling freshly of Mizani shampoo, to the chair where Natalie styles your hair. You point to the hairstyle in the magazine that you wanted. Natalie assesses it and nods her head sagely. It’s doable. “I don’t want too much cut off though!”. You say. You make various finger gestures that are meant to symbolise an inch, half an inch, thereabouts.

Natalie gets to work. Half way through, she receives a phone call. She answers, and holds the phone between her ear and her shoulder artfully, whilst curling your hair.

“Hello? Oh my days. I was gonna call you about last night you know!….Is it?….Is it?…That’s so rude….He’s so disrespectful”. You sit there and silently murmur something about irony. Natalie doesn’t hear you and carries on gossiping. She smiles at you in the mirror. You smile back. Still too scared of that hot comb.

She whips off your gown with a flourish and holds the mirror up at you. You smile.

She’s completely ignored your half inch finger gestures, but you must admit, it does look good. “Thanks!” you exclaim.

“That’s alright darling. Your hair is past shoulder length, but I won’t charge you extra this time!”

You pay at the desk, with no mention of a discount for your one and a half hour interval, and skip off into the fumes of London. You’ve spent 2 hours longer than you planned, but you look like a model on the cover of Essence mag. That’s all that matters.

Can anyone else relate? Men, are the barbers similar?

Image

Pic copyright: www.nymag.com

Sidenote: For my less melanin affiliated friends reading this who might not be au fait with black hair, this link gives a good 3 minute synopsis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTP96_61sGc

There are a few hair moments that stand out to me over the 24 years I’ve had this coily, curly, kinky sponge on my head. I have great memories of sitting in between my mum’s legs on a Sunday evening watching Mr Bean, a pot of Dax hair oil balanced precariously on the arm of the sofa, and a comb stuck in one side as she braided my hair.  I remember wash days where my Mum would use the shampoo to shape my hair into crazy cones or Mohawks or quiffs in front of the mirror, and I would perch on the landing as she blow dried into an even bigger ball of cotton like fluff. I remember year 5 when some of the girls who bullied me at school took my hair out the band, let my coils spring in all directions and  pinned my arms behind my back, pushing me across the playground for my schoolmates to laugh at me. I remember my hair being braided by a friend’s Mum, and being secretly pleased at her asking me who in my family had Indian in them, because the back of my hair was ‘soft’. I remember being aged 11 and begging for a relaxer.  Age 14 I wore my afro on the bus on the way home from school and mocking schoolboys would throw up black panther esque fists at me. Over time, I realised that the conversations that surrounded my hair weren’t the same, or even as frequent as my white friends. My hair was political.

It’s apparent that hair is important to all women, regardless of race or ethnic background. Sit down with any group of women and mention hair – and there will be some sort of conversation. We’re all invested in keeping the hair on our head looking good, and getting rid of the hair anywhere else. Having said that, I think it would be fair to say that the black community (and I use that term to broadly encompass people across the diaspora, of African descent, including those who choose to identify themselves as mixed race) especially value hair. Within that broad community there are different textures, different standards of beauty and different narratives about the way our hair is worn, but one thing is certain – black hair is political. Regardless of whether we want it to be, it is.

The past few years have been interesting because of the ‘natural hair movement’ that seems to have swept across – well, pretty much anywhere where black women live. Type ‘natural hair’ into Youtube  and there will be women from the Caribbean,  South Africa, the UK, and of course the U.S offering tips  Along the way, there are ongoing conversations, lines drawn in the sand, and questions raised about how we wear our hair, why we wear our hair the way we do, and the implications of those choices.  In fact, the natural phenomenon has been big enough to garner attention from so called ‘mainstream’ media, including  CNN and the BBC.

CNN aren’t doing exposes on the fact the ombre is the latest (or was) hair fad. The ebb and flow of non-outrageous hair fashions aren’t significant enough to catch the eye of most mainstream news outlets outside of their fashion section.

Black women’s hair, however, isn’t ‘just’ hair. We might want it to be. And for some of us, the decision to go from weave to natural to relaxer and then back again is based on nothing more than flight of fancy or the particular ‘look’ we’re going for that year. As a group though, the decision for as to whether our hair is political or not has already been made for us.  Our hair carries the weight of slavery, colonialism, civil rights movements and questions about whether we are ‘mixed’ or not. Hair could could be used to spot a  runaway slave who was light enough to try and ‘pass’ for white. Hair told some high class blacks at the turn of the century whether you were right type of black to be admitted into their esteemed company. Hair is used by some to determine whether we’re the type of black girl who listens to Erykah Badu and drinks vegan water, or the type who watches Real Housewives of Atlanta. Our hair can be the type that we can wear to work, or the type that we feel we have to straighten to fit into a corporate environment. Our hair can be the baby-mama type hair, or the type that makes men question whether their babies will have ‘good hair’. Our hair tells others whether we are down for the cause, or on course to be a video model.

We cannot ignore the pathology in our community that meant that until recently, 80% of black women used sodium hydroxide, at the expense of possible chemical burns, alopecia, and hundreds of pounds, in order for their hair to be straight. We cannot ignore the fact that unlike white women, the vast majority of black celebrities refuse to wear afro textured hair – whether their own or a replica. We cannot pretend that our hair choices exist in a vacuum, devoid of any form of social pressure or historical suggestion.

It’s true – not every woman wearing a relaxer or donning a head of synthetic weave desires to look white. In fact, many black hair styles that are ‘straight’ are a world away from the hairstyles of their white counterparts. They are straight, but they are uniquely ‘black’.  So it’s not primarily about wanting to look like a white woman – that would be an oversimplification.

Despite this though, there is still a beauty hierarchy that has at its root the notion that kinky, West African (I note that not all black Africans have this hair), won’t –allow- a- comb- to- pass- through -it hair, is something to be fixed, tolerated, or hidden. I’m not saying that everyone has to wear an afro. I’m not saying that weaves are from Beelzebub, or that perms are the mark of the beast. I am saying that when we make choices about our hair, we should be cognizant of the possible reasons as to why we make those choices. It’s not just hair.