Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Service Salons

I’ve been denied service at the two major hair salons in Amherst. Why? Because I choose to keep my hair natural. So see a black hairstylist, you say. Well, that would work except the black stylist I saw, funnily enough, didn’t know how to cut my hair either. Most likely because she is used to cutting the hair of black women who choose to have their manes chemically treated. In addition to her dry cut consisting of taking a random handful of my hair and chopping, she made judgments about my father. The only thing she knew about him was that he was black, and that he liked my hair natural, and that was enough for her.

“Did those salons really turn you away,” you ask? In the first instance, the owner of the salon where I get regular waxing took one look at my hair and said, “You don’t want me to cut it. Really.” Her reasoning? It will be frizzy for two weeks because it’s raining. As a semi-native of Seattle I am well aware that a haircut in rainy weather does not result in two weeks of frizziness. Perhaps she was confusing it with a hot iron treatment, which is probably what black clients usually come in for. Nevertheless, I decided I did not want to trust her with a pair of scissors, and even my confused expression was met with nothing but continued assertions that "you REALLY do not want me to cut your hair."

The second stylist, who I had been seeing for the past year, accosted me today as I walked in for my haircut, saying, “Because you’re growing your hair out you’ll want to find someone who knows how to cut your kind of hair" (emphasis mine). Funny, as the first time I saw her I lamented being turned away by the other salon. She was completely sympathetic to my plight, yet also terrified because she could not restyle my hair the way it was when I walked in. No sweat, I said, I just need a cut; I can style it myself. Now apparently even the cutting is too much for this seasoned stylist. Now that I’m growing my hair natural it’s the healthiest it’s ever been. But stylists seem unwilling to tackle this curly black beast in its natural state and instead send me on my way to “my people.” Tell me where my people are, and I’ll be glad to make the journey. None of my people, at least in Amherst, have successfully found a stylist.

This sounds like your typical consumer rant, but it is much more than that. It is an awareness that hairstylists are not taught how to work with natural black hair. It's an awareness that blacks and whites alike are more comfortable giving or receiving lye treatments than they are combing through hair that will remain as curly when it leaves those four walls than it was when the hair walked in. Not that blacks and whites don't love natural black hair and wish they had it for themselves. After finishing my cut today my stylist played with my ponytail puff, commenting on how lovely it was. It reminds me too disturbingly of adults who will declare your ebony beauty but not let you marry into the family. I see a change coming, at least throughout New England, where women of color are rejecting the Caucasian-inducing lye and embracing their natural beauty. Hopefully hairstylists will soon follow suit. Until then, I’ll hop from salon to salon, feigning remorse at my unruly curls, and eagerly await Chris Rock’s black hair documentary entitled, ironically, “Good Hair.”

--Shannon Luders-Manuel


  1. Hi Shan! How frustrating, but love your hair :)

  2. Where I'm from, there is really NO one that knows how to do natural hair. They only thing they really know what to do with it is make it go from natural to relaxed, dye it or press it. It is really frustrating. People make natural hair seem more difficult than it actually is.