I come from a long line of seriously coiffed women. My aunt Diana, who is Diahann Carroll gorgeous, gets her hair straightened every week. I’ve known her my entire life, and I’ve never seen anything close to a kink on her head. A long time ago I had my hair straightened too, but I hated it—the expense, the time suck, the way one rainy day could send you right back to the salon.
For me, a more natural style was all about freedom. For years I groomed my hair myself, setting it on rods for a head full of cascading curls. When I had more money, I went to a colorist a few times a year, and my locks have been a startling array of shades, from blonde to Run Lola Run red to the golden brown that is my signature now.
I’ve never missed getting my hair straightened, but I would miss the camaraderie, high drama and low comedy of a black hair salon. There’s a reason why films like Barbershop and Beauty Shop were box-office gold. I love that while I’m waiting to get my hair done, I can buy a leather bag or a pair of thigh-high denim boots. (There’s always a little something extra for sale at a black salon.) I love to hear my fellow clients’ unabashed tales of men who’ve done women wrong and women who are doing men they had no business messing with in the first place. I love that if I have a Saturday night appointment, I can be guaranteed not only a deep conditioning but also a plate of Jamaican or Liberian food and sometimes a glass of Champagne.
I don’t live in a black neighborhood. My best black girlfriends are spread around the world: Tenryu, Japan; Pasadena, California; the Upper East Side of New York. There have been times when I’ve seen more black people at the salon than I’ve interacted with all week.
So I guess my beauty confession is this: I pay a stylist to set my hair, when I could do the very same thing at home. I go to the salon for something deeper: sisterhood, connection, gossip, laughter and the occasional rinsing bowl of tears.
Originally published in MORE Magazine, October 2008.