Recently, I signed up to be a test dummy for a salon training boot camp. The particular salon hosting this training session specializes in all types of curly hair – from a slight wave to the kinkiest of kinks. I rank on the close to the end of the curly-hair spectrum so I anticipated who and what would be done to my hair.
I arrived midway during a session with a white woman with very loose curls. The (white) stylist was very intricate in describing how to give her as much volume as possible considering the woman’s curl pattern wasn’t very strong. I was up next and the previous stylist handed me over to another senior stylist. A black senior stylist might I add. Before I could blink, there were several hands of trainees in my hair, from mostly white stylists, making remarks such as “Wow, I just loveeeee this hair” (but would you love it if it grew from your follicles?) and “I can’t tell if she has a natural curl pattern or not.” Insert stale face. I remained cool as I squirmed internally. Besides, I’m not even fond of people I do know touching my hair.
After the wash and condition, everyone was amazed at how tight my natural ringlets were. Then came the actual styling. The senior stylist started it off and I felt ok. One (black) woman, two hands – I could handle that. Then she let the others take over. Some struggled with my kinks, others actually took control because they had one half-black cousin they used to practice on growing up. The rest watched in awe and figured they didn’t have to learn because they’d never geographically be in an area where “we” exist anyway.
More comments started pouring in like“Wow, this hair is so cool” — from the girl who had no idea what to do with my hair — and “This is my favorite type of hair to work with.”
After my final styling, some asked if they could they touch my hair. Um, isn’t that the whole purpose of this experiment? Aren’t you a stylist? Suddenly I felt less human, and more sideshow freakish. Why is black women’s hair still such a mystery? Why was I treated like a museum exhibition and not a salon client? Newsflash: get over it!
Besides, straight hair is boring anyway.
— Ariana Atwater