Black Women's Improvement Project (BWIP)

What REALLY Goes on at the “Hair Salon”…..

I was a single mother, on welfare with not much of an idea of how I was gonna make it in the world. I wasn’t comfortable making the rounds of the city’s social services offices and so I only collected welfare as long as I needed it and as long as my patience held me from not jumping over the counter to slap the dog ish out the next case worker that spoke to me like I was dirt on the bottom of her shoe. My parents instilled the value of education with me; but things are different after high school graduation. “Education” in the ghetto often means some useless ‘business’ college, “hair school” and the occasionally promoted vocational school class. Since I had tried to do an electrical course and found the hours, the sexist teachers and the prospect less than satisfactory, I quit.I never wanted to “do hair” and seriously had no use for getting my hair ‘done’ either. I wasn’t interested in becoming a Cosmetologist, since the cost of the program and the amount of time it took to complete it was too much for me. I finally settled on a course as a “Nail Technician” (the new fancy term for a manicurist) at Natural Motion.

I had been considering attempting to obtain more education so that I could work and support myself and since I had taught myself to do some mean ‘Lee Press-Ons’ I had been doing nails since late grammar school, so I figured I would at least be interested in a potential life as nail technician.

Once I came across the money by ill gotten means I trolloped up to the school and slapped down the cash to open a door to my future…..or whatever that sign said above the door of the school. Fast forward to after graduation and the non existent ‘job search assistance’ the school offered which consisted of the town yellow pages, and a phone for you to call and find out if anyone cared that you were looking to apprentice in a hair shop for the credits required by the state licensing board in exchange for tips.

I was fortunate (?) enough to find my way to several hair salons where I was hired as a Nail Technician. Not many people realize the licensing requirements that hair dressers, nail technicians and salon owners should follow. They are published by the state and anyone who has been to Cosmetology school has studied those rules and as customers you assume they are following those rules.As consumers you give your faith to the places you patronize and trust they are doing what they are supposed to be doing with you and your hair. These people use very harmful chemicals on you, after all, but trust me when I say the brown women that turned over their cash hand over fist, week after week, received anything but licensed, skilled and informed hair service from the places I worked at.

How do I know this…?

Because I was the one doing your hair..with no license. Did the salon know that I had no license? Of course they knew, who do you think told me to do your hair?


Shop #1

Random Hair Dresser: Hey, can you lay down a dye job? Me: Um, I know how to dye my own hair.
RHD: Oh, well, its the same thing. Do you mind taking care of this customer while I do this other girls hair?
Me: Sure

And I commenced to tying on a plastic apron, tucking a towel underneath the apron (as I had seen the others do and not because someone told me to) and applying a bottle of something that I presume was dye. Since the woman didn’t scream, yell or threaten me I’ll assume it all worked out for her.

Shop #2

I sit at my nail station and watched the popular hair dressers prance in at whatever point in time they decided to show up. Most mornings the only people that were there when the shop opened was myself and the owner who felt helpless about the crowd of women that took up every seat in her waiting room each and every morning.

If this was a holiday, the amount of waiting customers took up the front waiting room, the dryer section, the shampoo section and some people even sat on the stairs, while others stood.I would watch this one particular hairdresser remove track after track from her clients heads as she encouraged those with weave to try a short hair cut popular at this point in time, think Total, Monica and Halle Berry, short. This was the 90’s.In the mean time, she would remove the tracks, which would be washed, combed and dried at the shampoo station in the back. I asked the hair dresser what was she doing one evening as she swished dingy used hair in suds in a wash basin. I was confused because I did see her remove the hair from another client as she was switching out hair styles. I was shocked, disgusted and intrigued with the amount of hair that didn’t belong to these Black women and I wondered what prompted them to spend such money on something so stupid as hair especially since it seemed to only end up in a big card board box in the back.

I had no clue what was going on until one day….

Random Hair Dresser: Girl, you need more hair to plump up your cut. I have some hair in the back that I was saving for a hair style that I wanted to try on myself but I’ll let you use it. I won’t charge you too much because I get a discount, Girl. You know I gotchu!
Hair Victim: Really? You think I need more hair? Aight, then, thanks so much. I’ll try it with the extra tracks.

I then proceeded to watch this broad go to the back and retrieve a weft of the used hair that I had seen her remove from another client’s head only the day before. After a little gluing, combing and trimming the customer got up, twirled and squealed as she stuffed bills in the hair dressers hand, hugged her and happily dashed to the front to book her next appointment.

The glue pieces and strands of dirty, tangled hair will forever be a bad memory in my mind’s eye.

Did I mention how we all smoked cigarettes (among other things) on the work room floor? Yup, me and my customers would smoke Newports while we chatted over flammable liquids and aerosol fumes.

Young children running back and forth with hot curling irons and cords stretched to and fro and no chance in hell of getting any of these broads to control their bad ass kids. They played with bins of chemicals as their mothers gossiped about whose man was screwing whom. The end of my career came when I grew tired of the nasty treatment by the other hair dressers and the complaining customers.

Daily I would come to work, sit behind my station and do nails, which I actually enjoyed a lot. I grew a dedicated clientele in part due to my ability to do intricate nail art designs. I didn’t know it then but I was making a living due to my artistic talent. I gave the local Asian nail place a run for their money. People spoke of the Black girls that does nails art better than the Asians. Some people were kind enough to seek me out and support me with their patronage due to my race; I had some good people that I looked forward to servicing.I finally hung up my airbrush when I decided that I had heard enough complaints from customers about my insistence on doing things healthy, properly and safely, like I was taught in school. “Do it like the Asian lady does”, became the bane of my existence.

I figured if these people wanted service that included using metal implements to rip acrylic nails off rather than soaking them off with acetone; or a nail polish application that included the nail tech spit/blowing on your nails to dry them; and if the standard of a proper full set of acrylic nails included the clients insistence that I should use a dentist’s drill (yes, that was originally a dentist’s drill and deemed very dangerous to use) rather than a nail file on nails that I laid dam near perfectly upon application then they shall have it…just not from me. I barely get my own nails done, because after all of the inside dysfunction I’ve been privy to its hard for me to trust the person doing them enough for me to not aggravate myself and them. Aside from that, many places are dirty, the nail tech mediocre and unlicensed. I’ve since found my hair needs to be better addressed at Dominican hair shops who seemed to be a little more versed on the type of hair I have growing out of my head. I can only recall having my hair done twice in the past decade and that was only so that I could put my two separate graduation caps on my head. But I would be seen, serviced, and happily out the door without the exploitative charges and personal insults.As far as going to a “Black” salon to have my hair done…ain’t no dam way. My daughter had her hair done once, another story for another time, I debate if I should name names since everyone in my hometown knows this guy is hit or miss when it comes to laying his hands on you. He missed with my daughter to the tune of her hair falling out into a cute Halle Berry cut (don’t ask).

The abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of hair dressers is another post for another time. I know I’m not the only one with horror stories, but I bet you didn’t know about the trifling, disgusting and exploitative behavior going on behind the scenes.

Now you know.

Thank me later and don’t forget to tip me if you’re pleased with the service.

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