Salon Tears: A Coily Hair Struggle

Salon Tears: A Coily Hair Struggle

Rough shampooing, a painful blowdry, burns, an unexpected trim, and a style you didn’t ask for. Sound familiar? How many times have you (or someone close to you with coily hair) experienced this or something similar and stayed silent? You probably wanted to spare your hairdresser’s feelings or didn’t want them to get upset with you. You sat, miserable in a chair, knowing that you’d have to mess around with style in hopes of making it work. Then you paid, tipped, and left with a smile just to be distraught on the way home. It’s okay, a lot of us have been there. Wiping away tears of sadness and frustration, your time and money are gone with nothing to proudly show for it.

This is a common coily hair struggle.

Most of the time, people will reframe from expressing their honest feelings in order to avoid a negative reaction. Some of us may genuinely fear telling a stylist that something is wrong because we don’t want to cause an argument or destroy a relationship. People who avoid this type of confrontation typically learned this method after experiencing a damaging interaction.

The hair trauma cycle starts with children getting their coily hair done. Children may express to their caretakers that they don’t like the style that was done. The beautiful thing about young children, they are honest. Sometimes painfully honest. Whether it’s a minor or major change they want, they tell their parent what they think when asked, “How do you like it?” When they tell the truth, the parent, who spent time concentrating and trying their best, is dejected by this “rejection.”

That feeling can quickly turn into frustration, embarrassment, or even resentment.

They feel as though their child doesn’t appreciate the hard work they do. As a reaction to their child’s request, they may make passive-aggressive comments (“Are you sure? Mommy will be sad if you don’t like it.”), re-do the hairstyle with very little gentleness, or flat out refuse to redo their hair because they’re the ones doing the work.

This reaction is complex because we as humans seek approval for our hard work. We want people to appreciate the labor of love we went through for them. We’re social creatures that want praise and approval, this directly correlates with our self-esteem and self-image. As adults, this is comprehensive. But young children can’t quite understand that, and they definitely aren’t born believing they have to lie in order to please others.

However, they will understand and learn from a bad reaction from their parent. They’ll likely stop voicing their honest opinions when asked similar questions because they upset their caretaker or were somehow punished. That child grows up and refuses to say they’re in pain at the salon or that this wasn’t the style they wanted. They may be a teen, crying in the car on the way home because they hate their hair. Their parent may ask, “Well, why didn’t you tell them why you were there?”

They couldn’t speak up for themselves because they didn’t develop healthy hair boundaries.

Some hairdressers also carry their childhood trauma into the salon.

Their experience is reversed from the client’s, taking on the role of a caretaker. They may handle the hair roughly, ignore requests, make decisions without consultation, and still expect gratitude from their client. Their feelings might be hurt because they put time and effort into your hair, and you don’t like it. Instead of creating helpful, positive solutions (such as asking how they’d like the problem fixed), they might react instinctively. The response could be passive-aggressive or defensive. The defensiveness comes from not wanting to feel rejected or hurt. Sound familiar? Other stylists may scold you and try to put you down once you complain, becoming an authoritative figure. This is another way to shift accountability. It’s the same reasoning that many parents have with their children: “You’re not the one doing it, so be happy with what you get.”

Unhealthy hair boundaries are ingrained in many of us, from both ends.

We may think we must suffer to have nicely styled hair. There are stylists that don’t think pain is a big deal because they still go through it themselves. We associate our crowns with discomfort and horror stories that we tell as jokes. The lack of boundaries actually fosters perception issues with our hair. We are quicker to believe we have to yank, tug, and damage our coily hair in order to make it presentable.

For those of us who grew up in this cycle, we have to identify how we carry that trauma today. It’s important that we examine how these experiences bleed into our everyday life and decide if we want our children to live similarly. This may seem overwhelming, but rest assured, Brown Skin Women is a community. We’re going to expand on how generational hair trauma affects us, and how we can create a future with No More Tears.

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