Hair: a work in progress

Hair: a work in progress

Photo by Peri McIntosh

She decided in her senior year to take out her extensions. From the start of her freshman year no one from Lee University had ever seen her natural hair, but as her time at Lee came to a close she wanted to let her hair breathe.

Senior Tiana White recently decided to go natural for the first time in three years. Like White, many other women on Lee's campus are embracing their natural hair texture, but don't always find stylists who have the experience to work with their hair type.

'When I am home [Portland, Oregon], my sister is the one who does my hair,' White said. 'However, I am a long way from home, so usually I will get one of my friends [to cut my hair].'

According to the Office of Information Services at Lee, 18 percent of the student body is made up of international or minority students. Some students, like White, have expressed a desire to have salons in town that can treat their specific hair types.

'I'm thinking about getting braids and there are people who can't do this [at Lee],' White said. 'When it comes to treating my own natural hair without extensions, it would be really nice to get advice from professionals ' and have a place to show me how to work with my hair.'

When the Clarion cold called the top 17 hair salons listed on Yellow Pages in Cleveland about whether or not their establishment cut natural ethnic hair, three numbers were disconnected, five said they did not, seven recommended only one stylist who could and two said yes without hesitation.

For the salons that recommended just one stylist, many expressed that they did not have extensive experience in cutting natural ethnic hair. The two salons that said yes without hesitation are Bruce's Cut and Curl and All About U Salon.

The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology requires 300 instructional hours in order for students to receive licensure as a natural ethnic hair stylist. Because the program does not meet the requirement of 600 hours of instructional training, it does not allow students to receive federal financial aid.

Franklin Academy, a local cosmetology school based in Cleveland, offers licensing in cosmetology, aesthetics, nail technology and shampoo technician training.

Deanna Kesley, director of education and an instructor for Franklin Academy, said they do not provide licensure for natural ethnic hair styling at their cosmetology school because of a lack of demand and lack of student willingness to pay for the program without the help from financial aid.

'There's just not a lot of demand for it,' Kesley said.

Cosmetology is Franklin's broadest and largest program. At 1,500 hours of instructional training, it is broken down into three separate categories: physical, chemical and general.

In the physical category, students learn procedures such as hair wrapping and massaging. Chemical teaches techniques such as perming, coloring and foiling of the hair. General teaches basic anatomy and physiology in order to better understand the hair and scalp.

While a natural ethnic styling licensure also teaches all three categories, Kesley said the program is geared toward a specific culture because of the focus of the license, which includes services such as weaving and braiding hair.

White said natural stylists help their customers to understand what hairstyles and products are best for one's individual hair.

'Everybody starting out on their natural journey has to figure out what works best for them, [the journey] is your own,' White said.

Kesley said students learn to style natural hair in the cosmetology curriculum; however, their experience is limited.

'If ladies come in we require they bring the artificial hair in with them,' Kesley said. 'We can weave, sew, and braid it in, [however], the skill level of our students doing that isn't quite as high as some of the other procedures that we offer because we don't have the exposure in this area.'

Dan Reed, currently a barber at R&B barbershop in Cleveland, has been cutting hair for over 15 years and often cuts Lee students' hair.

Reed, who attended Chattanooga Barbering School, said in terms of hair education, Cleveland is limited.

'We had all different kinds of customers at the school we went to, but the school was [more often] geared to if a black customer came in [the instructor] would send them mostly to a black barber and if a Caucasian customer came in, [the instructor] would send [the customer] to him,' Reed said.

Reed said he understood why the instructor assigned customers to students based on whose hair they would cut most often.

'[Though], if you're going to do that you've got to reinforce it with mannequins,' Reed said.

Kesley said she thinks a lack of educational background is not so much to blame for why certain people may be better at doing certain textures of hair, but rather, people are more comfortable dealing with hair that is similar to their own hair they style every day.

White said she believes a stylist should know how to cut all different textures of hair, because unless you are only working with one type of hair group, everyone will be coming to you.

'There's really no way to learn how to cut hair besides doing it and if you don't get to do it, you don't learn,' Reed said. 'You can read all you want to but when you get to [cut] that hair and you've never experienced that before that [can be] kind of tough.'

Junior Victor Ngo trained at a hair school in his home country of Vietnam for a year before he came to Lee. He has been cutting his friends' hair on campus since his freshman year.

'When I was training, the only type of hair I cut was Asian hair,' Ngo said. 'When I came here [I] started cutting more ethnicities' [hair].'

Ngo said that everyone's hair is different and that he uses different tools to cut various types of hair.

'Everybody's hair is different,' Ngo said. 'Some people have stronger hair, some people have weaker hair ' I learned to notice what type of hair it is to give it the care that it needs.'

Rodney Williams, owner and barber of R&B Barbershop, also said he learned how to cut different kinds of hair on the job.

'You can't learn to cut hair until you do it,' Williams said. 'It's something you just work at, no one is great starting out it's something you learn. You learn by [knowing] you're going to make mistakes here and there [and so you] give yourself room to mess up ' whether it's amateurs or people who've been doing it [cutting hair] for years, everybody starts the same way.'

Sophomore Andrew White said, in his experience a good barber knows his customer.

'If you don't know whose hair you're cutting, you're not going to do a very good job,' Andrew said. 'It's like an artist with [his/her] canvas, he's trying to paint the perfect picture or draw the perfect figure.'

Reed said R&B is more than just a barbershop. It is a place that gets involved in its community, whether it is through a fundraiser to help local families, or coaching little league football, they believe in supporting the community that supports them.

When asked what sets R&B a part from other shops Williams said it is the people.

'It's just a connection. You come again and you're going to see somebody you've seen before ' you just never know who you're going to see [at R&B].' Williams said.

White said she realized after going natural, the texture of her hair doesn't matter.

'I've always been me, [but now] I can be me [and] I can wear my hair [the way I want]. This is me and people still think it's beautiful and I don't have to add anything else to it. I can wear my natural texture and [that's] fine,' White said.

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