Black Parents Have To Know More About Styling Hair Than Most Salons

Those of us with kinky, coiled, or tightly curled tresses struggle to find support with our hair needs. We've traditionally relied on knowledgable "kitchen beauticians" to bridge gaps, but this may be changing.

Girl get her hair cut in a salon while her mom watches
Photo: Getty Images

The potential of Black hair is infinite, but our possibilities for stylists have always been limited. Family members and loved ones have been there to fill in the gaps—with supplies like hot combs and perm kits, and skills, like braiding hair. Most of us can recall getting hooked up from a family "kitchen beautician" when something—time, access, or money—prevented us, or our children, from getting an appointment at the beauty shop.

That loved one was familiar with the rich diversity of texture, length, and shade in ways that countless cosmetology schools and hair salons weren't. And even if you had to hold your ear to keep from being burnt, or were told to keep your head still, you knew your tresses, whether kinky, wavy, or tightly curled, were in good hands. And in a nation where hair discrimination still impacts the livelihood of Black families—and the self-esteem of Black youth—this was a big deal.

Recently, the Louisiana Cosmetology Board made a decision that is leading the way to bridge the gap between the Black family hair needs and formal stylists.

The decision, which will take effect in June of 2022, will require Louisiana cosmetology schools to teach stylists how to cut textured hair to receive a license. It's one of few formalized efforts from state boards to achieve equity in hair care. Despite our shared memories of kitchen hairstyling, universally embracing Black hair textures is an important and necessary move.

Renee Gadar, global artistic director of texture for Aveda, says there are multiple factors affecting why so few non-Black stylists know how to do Black/textured hair, and whether the issue comes down to curriculum, culture, or something different altogether. Still, some of this issue could be because state tests don't typically test for understanding around textured hair, leaving schools to determine if they will teach it, on an individual basis. As a result, even when white stylists have an interest in Black hair, they will have limited opportunities to improve.

Gadar says many Black women—including herself—would prefer an unlicensed loved one styling their hair to a luxury salon where they would feel unwelcome because of the lack of Black stylists and images of Black models and hairstyles.

"The hair industry is only now addressing making textured hair standardized and mandatory," she says, drawing parallels with the recent effort to consider Black skin care needs in other areas of the beauty industry. "And like so many other industries we are left out of, we have to think communally, like our ancestors, in order to take care of, look out for, and tend to ourselves."

As we witness the impact of this decision in Louisiana, and beyond, Black communities and parents are finding innovative ways to fill the gap. Alternatives, like informally trained stylists or kitchen beauticians, and social media advice, have been crucial as Black parents navigate beauty and styling for their families.

"I get style inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest. But mostly, I let my daughter tell me what she likes," says Tonya Abari, an author and homeschooling mother of two in Nashville, Tennessee. As a kitchen stylist, she makes her own butter and oils to save money, and uses it as an opportunity to learn science with her oldest daughter. "We have found styles that we love and are less consuming and we usually come back to those,'' Abari says.

She says her mother was a cosmetologist in the 90s, but back then stylists weren't doing much natural hair because everyone had a relaxer. She used YouTube videos as a resource to learn her own texture and makes similar choices with her children.

Abari is just one of many Black parents who was hungry for suggestions to style her children's hair and, like so many others, she found her own resources and thrived. But, hopefully, universally embracing Black hair textures, the way Louisiana plans to, will move us closer to the quality hair access we deserve.

Until then, our family kitchen beauticians got us.

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