Rapid City, S.D. — Discussions surrounding natural, unprocessed hair have grown in recent years, and while some people say it’s just hair, it remains an issue for African-Americans.
A movement has begun to ban hair discrimination. California was the first state to sign the CROWN Act into law in 2019, essentially banning natural hair discrimination. While discrimination can take place anywhere, for hair, it starts in the salon…
“People laugh at me when I say it’s hair washing day and why my hair is always the same as it is,”said Alysia Gibson, the salon manager and master stylist at Ulta. “Because once I‘m done shampooing, conditioning, deep conditioning, I‘m tired. I don’t have time to sit and style it because I‘m over it. But that’s the life of black hair, whether it’s me, whether it’s my siblings, anybody, it’s a work of art.
After years of providing little to no training, some cosmetology schools have begun to add courses teaching how to care for and style natural hair. The Salon Professional Academy in Rapid City is one academy working to make a difference. Although the course is not extensive, the academy teaches about natural hair care and styling, which is very different from straight hair, one example being the washing process.
“People don’t realize shampooing is a huge thing with natural hair,” said Holly Keszler, the schools director of education. “They just think, oh, you can just yank through it. No, you have a certain way that you have to shampoo it, take care of it, condition it, comb it out. And so we do have a class that shows them on how to do that.”
While stylists agree there has been great progress in education and styling products, they also believe there still a long way to go. Despite breakthroughs in the world of hair, naturalista’s oftentimes still have to vet the salons and stylists they go to, and it can be a very stressful situation. To ensure stylists are well rounded and can work with all hair types, the Salon Professional Academy is looking to expand it’s natural hair curriculum. This includes understanding hair types and textures, styling techniques such as braiding, and providing optimum moisture for the hair. For all the good being done in the community, the battle for acceptance of natural hair extends far beyond the beauty industry. For decades african-american women in particular have felt pressured to change, and in many cases damage their hair to maintain beauty standards not natural to them.
“I feel even when I go on a job interview, is my hair too loud for them?” said Ariana Smith, a licensed cosmetologist. “Is it going to be deemed as unacceptable and unprofessional, even though I am educated and I‘ve had all these experiences, I‘ve served in the military. And I feel that sometimes people look at it as ghetto, it’s not ghetto it’s cultural.”
As for standards of beauty and professionalism, Smith states addressing natural hair is addressing the way it grows uninhibited and must be maintained very differently than straight, non curly, kinky or coily hair. She stresses the importance of cultural awareness, and embracing what makes us all different. While curiosity is welcome, there are ways to broach the subject of natural hair, without objectifying people.
“Co-workers will say, do you wash it, have you ever dyed your hair, have you… And you know, that’s kind disrespectful to ask anybody,” said Smith. “What if I asked you, do you wash yours, you would be kind of offended by that, wouldn’t you?”
In the quest to understand the natural hair community, the most valuable thing a person can do is be respectful, and appreciate what makes us all unique.
Video credit: Jacky Battle