“I got my new attitude, waving at the ugly hoes, smiling at the pretty hoes…just feeling gorgeous.”
Watching Episode 1 of Real American Beauty featuring Mr. @ Ms. Hair Studio made me smile. This short documentary that was directed and filmed by Liza Mandelup gave people a peek into what goes on at a black hair salon. I remember going to the salon with my mother when I was a child and staying all day. I didn’t understand how my mother could willingly give up her entire Saturday to sit and wait for her hair to be done–until I got older. Going to the hair salon as a black woman is a reunion of sorts, a safe space that we’ve created for ourselves. We walk in feeling very self-conscious and vulnerable and after getting our hair done leave feeling as though we can conquer the world.
For black women the upkeep of our hair is more than it simply looking nice, for us, it’s a sacred act that only other black women are privy to. Outsiders look in and see splits ends, grown out color, old braids and kinky hair waiting to be straightened with the creamy crack. But if you’ve ever spent time in a black hair salon you know it’s so much more than that. Black salons are like a sanctuary for black women, we talk about our kids, jobs, men, money, and everything going on in the news and entertainment.
We freely put our personal business on the table with hopes that someone can offer wisdom or at best make us laugh and forget our troubles. A black hairstylist whether they know it or not has one of the most intimate relationships with black women. We allow them to have free rein over one of our most valued and cherished possessions–our hair.
There is a community in black hair salon’s that can’t be matched. Last year my edges thinned and I went into the salon with a hat, head down, and was nearly in tears. I was so self-conscious, I slowly removed my hat and felt exposed. An older lady getting braids simply said, “Girl, just put some black Jamaican castor oil on your edges and it will grow back soon.” I hadn’t asked for a remedy but it was clear by the way I kept touching my edges that it was a weak spot.
Another lady showed me her edges and said, “Girl, don’t feel bad, I am growing mines back.” Once I sat in the chair I didn’t feel as bad, my stylist whispered, “It’s not that bad, I’ll hook it up.” She told me she would make the swoop a little longer so my edges could breathe and grow back. I was getting a sew-in so my hair could take a break, it’s a protective style for black women with natural hair. Once my stylist was done, I looked in the mirror and all traces of the girl who walked in with her head down feeling bad about her edges were gone.
I felt powerful and if you’ve ever wanted affirmation, go into a black hair salon after you’ve just finished getting your hair done. The ladies sang praises of how good I looked and made me feel good about myself. It’s black woman empowerment that most black women don’t really acknowledge because we are used to it in that setting.
Once our hair is done we look in the mirror and examine every piece making sure our stylist didn’t mess up or forget something. We ask for opinions of other women in the salon who are also paying close attention to the finished product. They were either up next or had sat long enough in the salon to see the before so they were invested in the after. With approval, we leave feeling like we can take on anything that life throws at us because after all–our hair is done.
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