So, I’ve written about many things so far that I feel pertinent to me and my experience of being an African woman in, and of, the diaspora. So many topics to tackle and I’m sure I’ll get to them all at some point or another. But the one I’m finally feeling ready to tackle is hair. Black hair. Thousands of words dedicated to the topic and I’m about to add a few hundred of my own.
I’ve mentioned black hair in my other blogs; not in any great detail but I have made reference to it when I’ve described some of the elements that bond and cement friendships amongst some of us. The shared experiences of the all day hair appointment; the burnt scalps; the growing out headaches; the Sunday night hair plait session with a tired, tetchy, head-conking mum.
These experiences do not define but they are certainly part of my personal story of black womanhood.
So I’ve decided to write a series on Black hair. I will gather a group of girlfriends to share our stories and experiences which will be as diverse as we are. Together we’ll cover issues around beauty norms, identity, the politics of black hair and the journey to knowing and loving your hair.
Hopefully some of them will resonate with you.
But for now let me start with a rant and an experience.
I’m gonna start this story 15 years ago with my decision to go natural. I had relaxed hair and one christmas (you know the pre-Christmas appointment, right?) I had one of those all day, half the night appointments which had me in a hairdresser in Finsbury Park (it’s still there) from about 2.00pm to about 9.00pm. I decided to locs up that night.
So I wore my dreads for 10 years which I loved. I cut them off about 5 years ago and have been growing my hair out ever since. And I’ve loved that too.
Today I had a hair appointment at 10.00 to put some kinky twists in. I have a party tonight, a photo shoot on Monday and an event of Thursday so I thought I’d mix it up a bit, get a new do and keep my head warm. These twist out dos are great but COLD. Any way, I arrive just after 10.00. There are 3 women in front of me and 2 stylists on. Now, when I book an appointment for 10, I expect to book a stylist who will be waiting for me when I arrive. I do not expect to share or wait for one.
The owner assures me that I will be seen shortly. I am sceptical because the woman getting small cane rows is only half done; the owner is putting two big side plaits with extensions into another woman’s hair and she has another woman waiting for a weave.
I am now contemplating leaving because I am on a tight time frame; I have to be out of this place for 2.30 because me and Husband are driving to Sheffield for a party he’s DJIing at. I cannot rock up at home 2 hours cos he will lose his mind. If I commit to starting the twists, I’m committed for however long it takes. I’m also thinking now:
I’m not paying full price for this, I’m getting me a discount today
At 11.00, I’ve been waiting for pretty much an hour. The owner has called a colleague to do it for me, as long as I’m happy to go to another salon. A pain in the butt, but I’m still wanting to get this hair done so I’ll go with this woman. I ask how much she’s gonna charge me. The woman quotes me a price higher than I normally pay. I say no, this is what I normally pay. Before I have a chance to say anything else, she negotiates with her colleague. Turns back to me and I tell her I am not paying the regular price as I have been waiting for an hour. The colleague walks out the shop, clearly unprepared to be paid any less than her quoted price.
I tell the owner that she should be offering me a discount for keeping me waiting so long and putting me an hour behind schedule. She starts arguing with me. I get up, out my hat on, put my coat on and prepare to leave. She starts trying to tell me that she got me someone to do my hair, etc. I am not having this. I have been a semi-regular customer of this woman for 3 years. I had my scalp burned in there before (I should never have gone back after that). I had my wedding hair done in there. If you keep me waiting for an hour, you offer a discount. So this woman is trying to ‘wrong and strong. And I leave.
I have never walked out of a hairdresser before but I am sick to the back teeth of this kind of service and the presumption that my time is not valuable; you can keep me waiting an hour, not offer a discount and expect me to be happy with that.
That is not happening.
There are many things I could say about this experience. I’m angry because I do not want to be forced to go through this every time I visit a hair salon. I’m angry because, as a paying customer, I expect to be treated professionally and reasonably. I am angry that my time is being valued so little that it is deemed perfectly ok to keep me waiting for an hour and not offer an apology or compensation.
I am angry because this, unfortunately, is not an isolated experience.
So, I’ve decided that I’m gonna locs up again. I’ve come full circle.
Here’s a pic of me with my solution for hair nightmares and another with my trusty twist out style.
Look out for the next blog in my hair series. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories and opinions so please leave me your comments.