My Secret Reason for Avoiding Beauty Salons

You really gotta trust a woman who’s holding a 400 degree iron near your bare shoulder.

Black people have long respected the sacred spaces of beauty salons and barber shops as locations of empowerment and freedom. We don’t go just to get our hair “did”; we go to get our life right and to testify when it, like our hair, is perfectly laid. We trust our beautician to talk us off the ledge of a bad haircut and a bad life decision. And so a stylist’s chair is a confessional booth and psychologist’s couch rolled into one.

At least, that’s how I think most black women view beauty salons. I wouldn’t know, because I have largely avoided salons for the past seven years. This avoidance coincides with the length of time I’ve had natural hair, but it has less to do with the state of my hair than the state of my personality. I’m an up-do DIYer, a late-night two-strand twister, a woman who prefers seeing money in her account rather than on her head. I might go to a salon once or twice a year to get a trim or a press, but I haven’t been in a salon since December 2012.

Black hair is a family affair.

And the reason? Going to a salon is…well…awkward for me, and I hate how it makes me feel. It’s strange. I love the environment and décor of beauty shops: African art on the walls, women with skin the color of almonds in diva poses, a celebration of pretty things. Fingers massaging my scalp near the nape of my neck take me to a spiritual place. Having someone else’s hands “in my head” is a luxury for which I gladly pay. And tip. But late stylists notwithstanding, the service isn’t what keeps me away.

I am an awkward black girl who doesn’t know how to talk to strangers. And because I don’t go to salons often, the women who do my hair remain just that. I have never experienced the camaraderie with a hair stylist that inspires a client to say, “Girl, let me catch you up on what’s good!” I am too reserved, purse clutched like Kevlar against the black cape draped over me.

She asks me where I want my part. I trace a line on the right side of my head and she nods. Even over the hum of the dryer and the popcorn bursts of laughter from women in stylist-client tandems, the silence blanketing the space between me and her is loud. My tongue sinks to the bottom of my mouth and drowns all the words I would say. I want to be sassy. I want to make her laugh with a bawdy tale of red dresses and heels pointed skyward.

But that’s never been me. Stylists are often fashionable and fancy and up on trendy entertainment–I am none of the above. My gossip is NPR fodder and my funny is a linguistic double entendre. I’ve never seen Real Housewives of Atlanta, I tell her when she asks, hoping for common ground. The note of disappointment in her voice is an F-flat. Oh. Fail.

I battle jealousy when I hear other women speak of their relationships with their hair dressers. They are on first name basis and bestowed with nicknames that you would reserve for girlfriends. Because they are follicle-close, following the strands of each others’ lives to the point where cutting off a stylist feels like betrayal and not business. Not me. I break up with stylists like men do women in Atlanta: no phone calls, no explanations. There are other flat irons in the fire and the market is hot.

“And girl, you’ll never guess what that fool said to me.”

Ultimately, I feel like I am missing out on a special part of black sisterhood. Doing hair is such an intimate act that it feels wrong to sit in that chair and feel isolated by my own doing. I listen to the chatter around me and crack a smile. I want to join the conversation. But I am the black girl who watches the double dutch ropes swinging rhythmically and, intimidated, shuffles crestfallen in the opposite direction.

So I stay away from salons, but I also stay asking, “Who’s your stylist?” in hopes that one referral will lead me to a black magic woman who works wonders on my hair…and my accursed shy tongue.

How do you feel about beauty salons and your hair stylist?

21 thoughts on “My Secret Reason for Avoiding Beauty Salons

  1. Girl, Atlanta has natural hair salons like it has men: the market is flooded! I’ve been to at least two or three. Because going to the salon is so much a personality fit for me, none of them have stuck. But for the most part, they do a great job on my hair itself…I’m just not entirely comfy :(. The STRUGGLE! lol. Thanks for the listing, though; I’ll have to check it out.

  2. i fundamentally don’t believe in DIY so i truly believe in salons! it’s totally worth the experience of someone else washing all of this hair! there is a website i frequent that has a list of natural salons all over the US…maybe you could try one of the ones in atlanta.

  3. Your experience at salons sounds so comforting and relaxing! And yes, once kids come along, the struggle to get a free moment for hair is a luxury.

  4. i used to go to my stylist every week (before children lol). i liked to have my locs styled differently (sometimes intricately, sometimes simple), and trips to the stylist were my luxury. depending on my mood i will talk, read, listen and laugh, work on my latptop, or knit. there is almost always (old skool) music playing in the shop so someone is usually humming or singing along with the songs. but now that i have children and her shop has moved further away from me, i don’t get to see her much…and i do feel like i’ve lost a friend of sorts.

  5. Hairdressing can be quite a culturally segregated thing though, can’t it? I suppose partly because of our different hair types. It is interesting, though and I’ve never really given it much thought until now. But as you say, doesn’t matter where you go, put an introvert in front of a mirror, and silence will fall.

  6. You know, you’re the second person who’s mentioned that. Maybe it is more a function of personality type and disposition; I know a lot of introverts and they have echoed this thought. I speak primarily from my experience as a black woman because, well, it’s all I can be sure of 🙂 I appreciate you adding your perspective!

  7. I don’t know that it’s just a black sisterhood thing, I feel the same way in hairdressers. I never know what to say. And I’m always made more tongue tied by the fact that I have to stare at myself the whole time, and think how even more ridiculous than normal I look with wet hair in grips and an overall that does nothing for my sagging neckline. Yuck. Twice a year, tops.

  8. even though in real life I’m a talker & party bringer… I’m not one to talk at the hair salon… i don’t enjoy gossip when i don’t know the players, i don’t watch reality tv and i just wanna be in and out…
    we are family

  9. yesss, the scalp massage! I find myself leaning into it, like they’re petting me on my head lol. It’s all I can do not to thump my foot. I don’t think ANYBODY misses being at a salon all day.

    So far, it looks like all the natural-haired women stay out of salons anyway. hmmm!

  10. It has been a long time since I’ve engaged in the company of sister hairdressers, especially after going natural. My hairdresser back home is a Vietnamese woman at Aveda. I’d bring a magazine or book while she’d make my kinky tresses supple and moist. In fact, even at N’seya (I’m not sure if they are still in Atlanta) but hairdressers at Aveda salons are about the business. I love them for that. I don’t miss being in the salon all dang on day but I love having someone else do my hair, particularly the shampoo and magic fingers on my scalp. *fans self*

  11. Man, a book! I haven’t tried that yet. It took me years to understand that a book was social code for “Leeemee lone.” I used to bring books everywhere and read them when people got boring. Ooops.

  12. Ha! I’m a proud member of this club as well. Being from New York and all, I’m pretty unapologetic, and I’ve actually given up on trying to make small talk with my hairstylists. I haven’t been to a stylist in about 3 years (team natural), but when I used to go, I’d always bring a book. If the stylist was brave, she’d engage me with a “What are you reading…” Otherwise….silence.


  13. Oh nooo, they didn’t! That’s awful! I bet your hair is beautiful and people are ignorant. dk;aljlkajfd!!!

    I bury my face in those magazines, too. LOL.

  14. LOL at Gogogogogo! A blank space of time feels like empty hands, which is a foreign thing, with all that we mothers carry. All my stylists require appointments, so I definitely plan to go and take time off for it, but it’s always like, ahhh, another social situation involving small talk, which I’m horrible at.

  15. You just spoke my entire existence with this post. This is my life to a T. I enjoy the beauty salon atmosphere from the couch where I seated safely with the latest hair magazine in my hand. But once I’m in that chair…I am very awkward at making small talk with people especially when I feel like I’m on display. I’ve always hated my hair and sitting in that chair I was sure that everyone else was silently judging my hair. I am at my most vulnerable state and the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone. After I became natural, I needed a fancy updo for an event so I went to a referred stylist. When my hair is wet, it reverts into this super kinky coarse mess. I overheard one girl ask my stylist if I was going to get dreads. I was so embarrassed and I haven’t been to a stylist since.

  16. Ah! Dara. This speaks to me. I have lanky white-girl hair and maybe a different expectation of the beauty shop experience when it comes to specifics, but one of the reasons I hate to go get my hair cut is the same thing you talk about. I just can’t do the juicy gossip, let-me-tell-you thing. Since my daughter was born, I have my hair done maybe twice a year, and I always start the appointment by making a joke about my “mean face,” which is my resting face that looks like I want to kill somebody, which I have to stare at for the better past of an hour while the stylist snip-snips. I tell them I have little kids and they just say “Ah,” and seem understand when I just sit, silent, while they wash my hair. I have no stylist relationship because it’s always an impulsive decision — I have fifty dollars with no strings attached to it, and two hours? Go! Gogogogogo! Don’t look back! Don’t think twice! There’s no time for careful planning with one particular stylist. At least now I can talk about my kids, because that seems to be common ground for many people. 😉 All of that long comment is just to say, I know a little bit about what you mean.

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