Monday, December 19, 2011

Will You Date My Hair?

Finding a good stylist is like trying to find a good boyfriend. You want someone who "gets" you, who knows what they're doing when they touch you, and someone who makes you feel beautiful instead of ruining what beauty you already have.

I have no trouble rejecting men. I can usually tell within five minutes of a date if I'm going to like the guy or not. There's that instant chemistry (or lack thereof) that speaks volumes. If he's an hour late, that's one strike against him. If he forgets his wallet, that's another. If he pressures me to get into his car I know to run the other way, and if he wants me to drive an hour to his house on the second date with no plan other than coming over, I know not to get behind the wheel.

What's funny is that this confidence and intuition doesn't translate when I'm on a salon chair. I can pour out my sob story about how a previous stylist refused to do my hair or cut off uneven chunks at random, but every time I get in a new salon chair I'm convinced that this stylist will know exactly what to do. And it's not that I don't do my research. I just seem to be destined to have horrible stylists. Maybe they should make therapy sessions for people who have codependent relationships with stylists and who always seem to "choose the wrong one."

Last Tuesday I went to a new stylist. This was an inevitable change as I'd moved from the Pacific Northwest back to California. I found her salon on Yelp as one that got high recommendations for working with natural black hair. My first faux pas was in not making sure I got the stylist recommended on the site, but instead booked an appointment with the one who answered the phone.

I got in her chair, chatted her up, and entrusted her with one of my most valuable and only painstakingly-replaceable assets. I went in for a highlight touch up at my roots and a simple cut. Four hours later all I'd received was the highlights. Though my previous highlights were only 6 or 7 small sections, this stylists kept going and going with what must have been close to thirty. My hair began to sizzle a little under the dryer, but I chalked this up to it being hotter than the one I'd been under at my previous salon, and fell asleep. After the normal 30 minutes under heat, I got my rinse, paid my money, and dashed out the door to work. Once I got to work I realized that the "copper" highlights were bright orange/pink. Once I got home I realized that I'd also been partially balded. Not only that but she'd charged me $20 more than what she quoted me over the phone and I came to regret my $15 tip.

To make a long story short, I called her and she discovered that she wasn't supposed to put me under the dryer. She offered me a partial refund and a reconstructor treatment and then cancelled my treatment half an hour before it was scheduled because she wanted more sleep. Later that afternoon we each pulled up in front of her salon and I felt like I was in the middle of a drug deal as she handed me the cash. Once she saw my hair she insisted it was copper ("copper is orange, just like your [bright] orange sweater") and proclaimed my hair healthy even though it had been entirely sapped of natural oils and lay as dead on my head as if I had put my finger in a light bulb. (Yes, for kinky curly haired girls, "dead" does not mean flaccid.)

I took my partial refund to a Regis which is the chain of my previous stylist in Washington. I had her on the phone at the new salon, and my stylist said to run away as fast as I could, which I wasn't surprised about as the woman took one look at my hair and didn't want to have anything to do with it. Not because of the color but because my hair is so thick and curly. My stylist's sentiment was reinforced when the woman behind the counter lost my hair band, searched the entire salon and couldn't find one, and then tried to give me a rubber band instead. In a salon.

I'm reading tragic mulatta literature for a graduate class and so I'm immersed in mulattas who do not feel like they fit in either white or black society (though by the end they often choose black). I'd like to say that this double-consciousness is long gone, only, through my discussions with other mixed-race women--and black women who have decided to go natural--we're finding that there is almost no one out there who is willing or able to touch our hair. I for one I have decided that I will give myself a haircut, and that the only other person I'll entrust with scissors is my Washington stylist when I next go up for a visit. She is the only white person who will cut my hair (yes, I've been turned away that many times!) and black stylists always fry it to pieces because that's they only way they know how to deal with their own hair.

After a period of being worried that I would have to chop off my mane and start all over, home care, a well-placed hair wrap and a little bit of patience looks like it will slowly bring my hair back to a normal state. As for my mentality, stylists will now have to meet me, woo me, and prove their worth before I'll hand myself over.


  1. Oh, my goodness! I am so sorry you had to go through such an ordeal. SMH

    How do you plan on nursing your hair back to health? Have you checked out this hair forum?

  2. Anonymous:

    Thanks for the link! So far I haven't done anything at all with my hair and that seems to be working the best. :) I've just been cupping water through it every morning, adding conditioner that I leave in, and then braidiing it at night, which is all part of my daily hair care routine that I copied from the book Curly Like Me.

    The conditioner I use -- Biolage Ultra Hydrating Balm (I think that's what it's called) is my wonder drug! Each day my hair gets a bit more hydration back.

  3. I also started cutting off my frayed ends myself with a pair of hair cutting scissors. I've been advised to always cut your hair at an angle so that the ends don't look choppy.

  4. Hmm. I wonder if there are any mulatta hairdressers out there? You can't be be only one needing someone who understands your hair! Seems like an opportunity for a new business!

  5. The best stylist I ever had was Puerto Rican. She's the one who first got me to understand how my hair works, and how I could work my curls to my advantage. Who would have ever thought that my best stylist to this day would be located in a tiny town in Southern Oregon! Wish I could remember her name so I could pass it on.

  6. Always ask people who have hair like yours that is styled as you would like yours to be where they got their hair done. Alternately peek in every salon window you pass checking for stylists with hair like yours. I was a stylist for 10 years, and my population of curly-heads grew exponentially each year via referrals. I have hair like yours, but thinner. Also, because I never had a good stylist growing up, I decided to master haircare for ALL kinds of hair, all ethnicities, so I wouldn't have to turn anyone away. As a result, I was the only stylist in a black haircare salon who had customers from a diversity of cultures and ethnicities. By the way, that stylist who didn't want to 'tackle' your hair then offered you a rubber band, should be ashamed. It will take time to find a compatible stylist (if you haven't found one yet), but they are out there, and I wish you all the best! P.S. If there is ever a next time that your hair suffers damage (knocking on wood that there won't be), use a little Nexxus Emergencee reconstructor, 2 treatments 1-1/2 months apart, to help fix your situation. It is now sold all over the place, not just illegally in privately owned beauty supply shops, but at Kmart, CVS, and elswhere.