When my several mentions to my non-black friends that I would be “going to the beauty supply to pick up a few bags of hair” elicited the good ol’ nod’n’smile, I realized that they most likely have no idea what a Beauty Supply is! How were they [somehow] living their lives without fully knowing the wonders of the hair-filled, product-playland of the Beauty Supply?! Well, THIS!, I decided has just got to change and because we here at the Natural Selection blog are all about cross-cultural experiences and building understandings, I decided a field trip was absolutely in order.
So before my last set of braids, I invited my roommate, Paloma, along with me to the beauty supply. Pal, I figured at the very least, might be mildly interested in where I scamper off to every time I’ve been in need of something for my hair. It was to be a quick trip, we agreed, after all we had a dinner party to attend and all I was doing was grabbing a couple items and we’d be out the door.
Well, an hour an a half later, we emerged from Discount Beauty Supply, located in the Fillmore district of San Francisco: I with my bags of hair and Paloma, proud as a peacock, with a newly established sense of reverence for her own hair. What happened in there? Why did we spend 18 times the amount we intended in there? Why was Pal all smiles and super jazzed? Well, it appears that the Beauty Supply offers something for everyone: bags of hair for some and epiphanies for others.
Here’s a little roadmap to our educational and enlightening trip
to the Beauty Suppy:
1st Stop: “Those Things”
Growing up, I called them “pretties” and have heard others call them “knockers” or “thingamabobbers”. Whatever their name is, they adorn the hairstyles of all black girls from 2 - 9. When you're young, they were great! You get to choose the colors (but moms can ALWAYS veto questionable choices) and then walk around with something resembling skittles called “pretties” in your hair?! As a 5-year old: Awesome.
Left turn at the Heated Straightening Appliances
Here, Paloma is able to check out her first hot comb. She is fascinated by the concept, by how small the teeth are, by how it is such a wide spread means of smoothing curls out. I am having flashbacks. Time to go.
Continue straight to the Weave
I’ve never had a weave before, but I can explain the general concept: if you can’t achieve it, weave it! Either by sewing or gluing in tracks of human (way expensive) or fake (usually looks like it is) hair. We parked ourselves in front of the first weave aisle (home to the super expensive, imported, human hair in every color imaginable) to discuss the different styles, techniques, pros and cons of a weave. Soon, the store owner told us to take the chit chat (ahem! You mean LESSON!) elsewhere.
Left at the next aisle of bags of expensive human hair
Pass through the curly/textured human hair
Slow down at the extensive array of wigs
Red light at the synthetic straight hair
It was here, beneath the dangling bags of synthetic, silky, smooth, weave on the weft, that Pal really opened up about her personal hair experiences. Paloma has inherited a super thick head of curly hair. She revealed that because of its unique texture, she often had difficulty in managing it, thus relegating it to ponytails and subjecting it to quick trims for most of her life. Growing up, there were no celebrities with curly hair and as a result, she felt like it was something that she had to manage, an unruly feature that made her feel disheveled if left alone.
And then! An epiphany!
On the sojourn from the heat appliances, through the unbeWEAVEable amounts of bagged hair, to the synthetic department, Paloma had seen how hair, no matter what its texture, is a unique attribute of a person and that taking the time to style your hair is a way of celebrating it. To have a good looking head of hair on your shoulders(whether it is your or not), is something to be proud of! Then and there, Paloma decided that her own hair was TOO an asset and that she should maintain it as such!
It was truly a beautiful moment to see Pal go from processing all of these feelings and memories to deciding to take pride in her crowing glory! How was she going to do this exactly? Well, we were in a Beauty Supply, they surely had to have something to get her started!
Detour: Acquire hair for my braids
The Home Stretch
We cruise the aisles of shampoos, conditioners, relaxers, moisturizers, and greases, looking for something for Pal. Along the way, we run into some old, and not-so-missed, friends:
For Paloma, we settle on a shea butter deep conditioner and a wide tooth comb, two essential ingredients in maintaining a beautiful set of curls.
Whatever you call it, this experience truly attests to my ever-increasing belief that our hair, and specifically our relationship to our hair has the ability to both hinder, heal, and exalt the expression of our personal identities. My advice? Next time you're in the throes of an existential crisis or struggling to figure out who you are, maybe check out the Beauty Supply...you never know what you'll find...it might just be yourself.