Today it was announced that the treatment and styling of afro and texturised hair would be included as part of the standing training for all hairdressers in the UK. On the face of it, this announcement doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is.
It’s a big deal because having afro hair has always made those of us who have it an “other’ It isn’t intentional, it’s just a thing. A thing that until recently, a lot of Black British women didn’t even question. A thing that was a big deal, that none of us really paid attention to. It is a big deal that in a multicultural society, made up of people with ancestors from all over the world, it was only just decided, that none European hair should be included in the training routinely given to new hairdressers throughout the country. It’s a big deal because it is making some of us question, why this has taken so long.
Before today, anybody wanting to cater for black clients, had to obtain their hairdressing qualifications and train separately to learn what they needed for clientele with African or Caribbean heritage. This means that it’s generally more expensive for people to learn how to deal with our hair and it gives certain salons a “free license” to charge more for delivering specialist services.
Being able to get your hair styled or even just trimmed at one of my local salons is a privilege I don’t have. It’s not a big deal, but it is a problem when you start to look at it through the lens of inclusion. I live in a village with nine hairdressers and five or six barbers, but I have to go elsewhere if I want my hair done. It’s not the end of the world and trust me, the last thing I want is for every single salon to suddenly start offering services, that they’re not skilled in, but what message does that give to people with the same hair as me? We need to go to specialist places, because our natural hair has never been considered “regular” enough, to even be included as part of the standard training and qualifications for hairdressers.
It isn’t only hairdressing services, there is also an issue with haircare products and cosmetics. I’ve spent my entire life unable to buy a bottle of shampoo or any cosmetics from my local Asda, Tesco or Sainsburys. A few years ago SuperDrug made a commercial decision to stock afro hair products, which meant that for the first time, I didn’t have to travel to another town to buy shampoo, conditioner or any of the other products that my hair simply can’t manage without.
I have often joked about having to make a 30 mile round trip every time I run out of shampoo, but once you stop laughing, you realise that it isn’t funny. Having a car and some knowledge about what my hair needs (most of which came from a long painful process of trial and error) means that throughout the 25 years that I’ve lived in Stockport, I have been able to travel into Manchester and buy what I need for myself and my children. How much of my life have I wasted driving to and from Longsight, Hulme and more recently Gorton when I need something, meanwhile my friends and neighbours have always been able to grab what they needed whilst they were in Asda, doing their weekly food shop?
These days my television screen and social media feeds are full of cosmetic brands, proudly declaring that they can provide foundations, concealers and an assortment of other cosmetic base products for every skin tone. On the one hand that looks like progress, but on the other, I want to know what took them so long.
All the big brand cosmetic household names are older than me. Why have they suddenly decided that I deserve their products? Did RiRi cause this by making it a point of difference for the Fenty brand?
I am almost fifty years old and I have been right here all that time. Stood right here with my beautiful brown skin and money to spend, so why is it only now that they can offer me a range of foundations?
I’m pretty old and unlike the teenagers of today with their Mac lip palettes and contouring skills, I started my make up journey with budget brands. I’m not ashamed to say that I had my ugly cheap eyeshadow, drying pink lipstick and blue mascara phase. It’s how schoolies learnt back in the eighties. No matter how bad the thickly applied, cornflower blue eyeshadow and clumpy electric blue mascara looked, the worst part of my early attempts at make up artistry (if I dare call it that) was always the cheap, terrible, badly applied, 10 shades too pale foundation. Over time my skills improved, but the choice of budget foundations didn’t. Luckily my skin was always pretty good, but what about the brown skinned teenage girls who needed that coverage and weren’t at a stage in their lives where they could upgrade?
Haircare and make up sounds petty and frivolous, but it isn’t. Caring how we look isn’t petty or frivolous. It is self esteem. It is forming our adult personalities. It is a rite of passage. It is belonging.
The 2020 Christmas tv ad campaigns caused uproar because some people were disgusted at the number of black faces on their TV screens. How dare Sainsbury’s show families, who weren’t white, eating food! How dare they! “You’re all just copying America because of one bloke” [insert additional racist bullshit here] On the one hand it’s great that there is more diversity in advertising, but on the other, it’s the same old question, what took you so long? People with brown skin have always eaten food and we usually buy it from supermarkets.
Representation matters and during my childhood, representation really wasn’t important (apparently) Black people certainly existed, but you wouldn’t see black families on adverts or anybody with brown skin advertising beauty products. If television adverts had gradually become more inclusive over time, then the obvious and performative nature of so many brands, suddenly including black people in their advertising, might not have triggered the disgusting wave of toxicity. (Who am I kidding, of course it would!)
I’m glad to see the new changes to hairdressing courses and I’m glad that there is more diversity on television, but now that these processes have finally started, let’s not treat this as a tick box exercise. Let’s look for other opportunities to be inclusive. Let’s be genuinely diverse, without the temporary, performative nonsense. It’s ok that we’re different, but that shouldn’t mean that I have to be excluded.