The Hair Appointment

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the hair appointment

written by chioma nwana, photographed by jeremy rodney-hall and reece williams

Hair is a sensitive topic.

Aside from skin color and other prominent biological features, hair is one of the most undeniable signifiers of both race and gender. Now, imagine standing at the intersection of Blackness and Girlhood: when a Black girl enters a room, her hair speaks volumes before she can even open her mouth to introduce herself, and this often acts as the foundation of the relationship between Black girls and their hair. From sitting between mothers’ legs, to sitting under the dryer at the hair salon, to sitting at the side of the pool watching everyone else splash around in the water, hair can be, for little Black girls, just as restricting as it eventually can be freeing. So many of us spent much of our childhoods answering for and defending our hair as little boys made fun of our ponytails, as critical aunties asked us why our crowns resembled birds’ nests, as frustrated hairstylists basted our scalps with perm and reprimanded us for waiting so long to come in for a touch-up.

As a little girl, trips to the hair salon were often traumatic experiences. I would spend the days leading up to the scheduled appointment flipping through magazines or scouring the internet in search of the perfect hairstyle. On the day of the appointment, I would run inside, picture in hand, excited to show the hairstylist what I wanted. However, I was almost always met with, “Your hair’s not long enough,” “Your hair’s too kinky for that,” “That’s for girls with good hair.” The hairstylist would see the hurt in my face and then assure me that everything would be alright because she knew just what I needed. I would spend the following 2-3 hours sitting in silence, nervous but hopeful that she really did know just what I needed. She never did. Rarely did I leave the chair with a hairstyle that I liked, but rarely did I complain—I didn’t want my mom to know that she wasted her money. On the car ride home, when my mom asked me if I liked my hair, I moved the lump in my throat aside to whisper, “yes,” and I held the tears in until I was alone in the comfort of my room to stare at myself in the mirror until I cried. 

I wish I could say that my childhood experience was a rare case, but this story was common. However, the narrative is changing: more and more Black girls are being taught to love their hair the way it is. More and more Black women are unlearning many of the ideologies that led them to believe that their hair was a burden in the first place. More and more hairstylists are encouraging their clients to pitch them unique hairstyle ideas and are challenging themselves to bring them to life.

The story of “The Hair Appointment” embodies all aspects of this shifting narrative. It takes an intimate approach to the experience of little Black girls struggling through the process of getting their hair done and guides us through all of its stages—the fighting, the crying, the compromise, the final product, the satisfaction. It explores the culture of the hair salon, from the candid conversations, to the children running around, to the cultural significance and generational power of hair—for many Black women, hairstyling is a skill proudly passed down from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. The story highlights the diversity of Black hair and brings to the forefront a number of unique hairstyles, destabilizing the notion that our options are limited due to our hair texture or length. Most importantly, “The Hair Appointment” celebrates the beauty of Black kinship and sisterhood, the foundation upon which this culture was built and the glue that continues to hold the culture together. “The Hair Appointment” taps into our sense of nostalgia, as it presents to us a story that is all too familiar, while simultaneously providing us with an alternative ending to our traumatic hair stories—the happy ending that the little Black girls inside of us all deserved.

On November 30, Sunday School, a Toronto-based creative storytelling agency, hosted a live gallery exhibition for “The Hair Appointment” at the OkaySpace in Brooklyn. The exhibition was sold out—attendees traveled from far and wide to bear witness to the live presentation of a story that resonated with them so deeply. The night was full of laughter, memories, conversations of shared experiences, and celebration of Black hair. Below is a series of pictures from last Friday’s event, captured by Reece Williams:

Directed/Produced:

Josef Adamu

Photography:

Jeremy Rodney-Hall

Videography:

Sooflight

Co-Produced:

Helena Koudou

Wardrobe Styling:

Habitat Adetonwa-Julmat

Make-up:

Ernest Robinson

Talent:

Taylor, Yohanna, Idayat, Aziza, Hamzia, Zakia, Jackie

Event Photography:

Reece Williams

Chioma NwanaComment