‘Ooh, you do have thick hair don’t you?’ the hairdresser said, as she ran a roller brush through a large lock of strands, twisting it outwards with a force that made my head jerk violently with it. ‘Yes it is a bit,’ I smiled, shrugging apologetically. I am 29 years old and still hadn’t found a hairdresser who seemed at home with my hair.
I’ve always found it strange that I have never had my hair cut by a South Asian person. I’ve never had the pleasure of coming across one in all the usual chain hair salons. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I would prefer a South Asian person doing my hair for any other reason than the fact that they would likely have a better chance of understanding it. My hair is extremely coarse with frizz that isn’t quite ringlets, but definitely isn’t straight. It’s extremely dense. It’s a pretty untameable mane that I’ve grown to love for its wildness.
I’ve tried black hair salons since most products that work best on my hair tend to be for afro/curly hair. But when I get to the salon, they always give me the stylist who has trained in Caucasian hair, which, sure, makes total sense from their point of view. But for me, not so much – I don’t quite have Caucasian hair, nor do I have afro hair, so I wonder how South Asian hair salons are not a thing by now. I know most of the threading spots in London that are run by South Asians also offer haircuts as part of their beauty menu. The only problem is that they tend to stick to the basics, and I want high fashion, fly-girl hair. I don’t have the confidence that any of them have been trained to that level.
It’s the same whenever I want to get my hair coloured. I wanted the cool colours that I saw others rocking effortlessly – candy pinks, lush aqua blues, lilacs that shimmered in the sunlight. The only problem is, no professional would touch my hair with a barge pole because it was ‘too dark.’ It just wasn’t possible, according to them. With no other options, unless I wanted to pay £400, I ended up bleaching it myself. That’s when I found out it was possible. I’ve just changed the colour from purple to green actually, and I love it.
I grew up with my mother cutting my hair. That’s another thing mothers get stuck with, isn’t it? As the untrained hairdresser of the household, she would sit me down for a cut, and then she’d do my father’s weekly trim, before cutting her own hair. My first memory of going to the hairdressers actually traumatised me. It was in my neighbourhood, a very traditionally English area. I wanted a shoulder length do with some cool choppy layers (listen, it was the 90s and that shit was in, okay?) A blonde lady began chopping into my hair – chopping, chopping, chopping. When I looked at the finished result I looked like I had a mullet from the 80s. It was huge and dreadful. I cried all the way home, and I had to wear a hairband to hold my poufy ‘do’ down for about two months.
It took me some years until I felt okay with returning to the hairdressers. When I did, I still got the same old comments every time. The most popular one was ‘you need some weight taken out,’ as they’d chop into my hair hoping it would make it less unbearably thick until I had a puffed up 60s style; my short layers bouncing upwards like gravity was failing. I’ve come to learn that actually, I don’t need weight taken out. I am happy with my mounds of endless hair. I don’t need extreme layers to lighten the load and, as I now know, that doesn’t even work with hair like mine.
The same applies to when my hair is shampooed, when I have had a fringe cut in, even when they blow dry my hair. Ninety percent of the time it seems to be out of their realm of comfort, and it goes wrong because they don’t change their techniques to suit my hair type. My hair needs a little extra shampoo and my fringe must be cut with caution, never too thick.
And my blow-dry? Well. As I sat in the chair watching the stylist blow-dry my hair with the roller brush, pulling my hair left, right and centre with a force I couldn’t imagine was part of the paid service, I knew it was gonna end up bad. So many of my South Asian friends tell me that after a trip to the hairdressers they usually wash the blow-dry they’ve been given out, because they always hate the way it looks.
‘You look like a new woman!’ Tessa said, and I thought, man, this girl is smart, because it’s not strictly a compliment but it is definitely true. I do look like a new woman, I thought, as I looked in the mirror and saw an idiot staring back in masked horror. I felt disappointment as I looked at my huge hair bouncing with harsh curls at the bottom, looking drier than it did when I walked in, thanks to the lack of the right product and overly-aggressive styling. But before I let myself get pissed off, I asked myself if I had really expected anything different.
I went home and washed my hair before combing it through with coconut oil and it was only then that I felt like myself again. At that moment I vowed to teach myself how to cut my own hair from now on. I think my mother was on to something there.