Salon Culture vs. Online Hair Communities: Are They Really That Different?

June 14, 2012  |  

I don’t know about you but I’ve never been fond of the salon, probably because no one in my family has ever been a slave to it. Even though my grandmother was a beautician before my mother was born, we just weren’t the type to have to hit the salon every week to maintain our hair and so I never experienced the whole beauty shop culture phenomenon black women speak of on a regular basis, and the times that I did, I could take it or leave it. With the natural hair movement rapidly growing legs, many other black women may not experience it either, and New Jersey college professor Cassandra Jackson wonders if they’ll be missing out on something if they don’t.

In an article for The Huffington Post asking, Is Natural Hair the End of Black Beauty Culture?, she wrote:

“While many, including me, celebrate the natural hair movement’s emphasis on self-discovery, I cannot help but wonder if something has also been lost with this cultural shift. For all the horrible things about hair straightening, the experiences associated with it have created a powerful thread that connects the vast majority of black women. Even if you have kinky hair now, you probably have memories of time spent with family and friends in kitchens getting your hair done by someone who loved you and who you trusted enough to wield a sizzling hot straightening comb next to your ear. You probably remember that first trip to the beauty shop where black women talked about grown folks’ business, and nearly every sentence began with the endearment, “girl.” It does not matter if your mother was a teacher or housekeeper, or if you were in New York or Alabama because these experiences crossed class and region. Hair straightening was a rite of passage, an entry into the world of black women.”

It’s interesting the author would use the very negative stories most natural women use as proof for why girls shouldn’t have their hair straightened as an example of a dying part of our culture we might want to save for the bonding effect. In a lot of ways I feel like the whole gather around the salon pastime is more rooted in mystique than reality. The shop was certainly the place to be for neighborhood gossip at one point in time but I’ve yet to hear a women talk about the salon with the same fondness as say our generation’s grandmothers may have in a long time. Anyone woman I know going to a black salon dreads it because they know their evening or day is pretty much shot, and whatever stories they get coming out aren’t worth the time and money spent getting them. From my perspective, and I’m sure a lot of others, black women who aren’t passing the time getting their hair fried, dyed, and laid to the side in someone’s kitchen or shop aren’t missing anything, but the truth is the social dynamic of the beauty shop hasn’t gone away with natural hair, it just changed.

For black women, hair has now gone the way of everything else in our culture: digital. You can’t tell me the shared experience of hair successes and trajedies doesn’t still exist just because less women are getting relaxers. The conversation has simply moved from a face-to-face interaction to Youtube videos, blog posts, and discussion boards. I’m not natural, but I’ve written, read, and engaged in the movement enough to know that the e-bonding that goes on over transitioning is real, perhaps realer than any salon experience could ever provide. For one, there’s no judgment—anything pretty much goes when it comes to creative natural styles—and there’s no misguided frustration. Everyone is on the board, blog or vlog, for the same purpose, to get knowledge and give encouragement, and it’s truthfully the most positive space I’ve ever seen for black women and their hair ever. It also helps there’s no tardy salon owner who didn’t style your hair the way you wanted but still charged you full price to get mad at.

Though natural hair has sparked a self-service industry of hair care with women learning how to maintain and grow their own locks, the communal aspect of sharing stories and advice and product knowledge as it relates to our tresses is hardly dying. It’s growing. You also can’t forget the natural hair mixers and grassroots meet-ups that women have begun organizing in various cities so that naturals and transitioners can match faces to usernames and share experiences and their journeys of self-discovery. I’ve never seen a weave support group or a relaxer party in my life, but big chop events are increasingly growing in popularity and signify the incomparable support black women have for one another and the way we’re choosing to not battle good hair versus bad hair any longer but celebrate all of the textures we were born with.

The natural movement has also sparked the same type of e-communities for women with relaxed hair and who wear weaves which is also pretty monumental. The advice is different but the end-goal of having healthy hair you can take care of yourself is the same. So yes, we may be rallying around laptops now instead of barber chairs and kitchens, but we’re more united than we’ve ever been when it comes to celebrating our hair and if anything this signifies what the natural hair movement is all about: transition and progression.

How do you think salon culture compares with online hair communities?

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