Photography by Tony Valainis
Madam Walker has always been an inspiration for me, not just because she made her fortune doing hair, but because she was the first black woman to make that much money in the United States. Whenever I see that picture of her driving in her fancy car with her girlfriends, it gives me a sense of pride.
The cool thing about my business is that curly hair has a spectrum, from white to Asian to Indian to black. So you come into the salon and see all different races, which is something I’m sure Madam Walker wanted to see in the future—women and men getting their hair done in a place with lots of different people.
But, of course, I have a special place in my heart for black women, especially because they have been told that wearing their hair the way it is isn’t professional in some settings in America. My business is different than a lot of other salons for black women because I teach people to wear their hair naturally. I don’t add hair for extensions or sew-ins. I don’t iron out the hair. I don’t even have flat irons in the salon. I’m teaching people how to style it and keep it moisturized, recommending products based on their hair.
I’m 30 now, and most of us in my generation were told, “You should straighten your hair. Straight is popular.” And then with the generation before me, their mothers were telling them, “Your hair is nappy. You can’t walk out of the house looking like that.” The thing that speaks to me most is when young children come in with moms who weren’t taught how to wear their hair naturally. A daughter starts asking for straight hair, but her mom doesn’t want her to feel like she has to wear it that way. So a lot of times, the mom starts wearing her hair natural because of her daughter. I can teach them both how to do it. To see a young girl say, “I love my hair” is a beautiful thing. When they walk out feeling that way, it doesn’t just change the child. It also changes the mother. It can even change the grandmother’s perspective. Hair care is evolving, and we don’t have to use chemical relaxers to feel normal in today’s society.
Another fact of life for us is that black folks have always been subject to having people randomly come up and touch our hair. It’s hard to even verbalize how it feels. It can be so degrading. A friend of mine was having breakfast by himself recently, and an older white woman came up and started petting his locks. He’s a big guy just minding his business, and to have this woman feel so privileged was very sad. You have to ask someone before you randomly touch them.
I have been doing hair since I was 13 years old, and I’ve been licensed since I was 18. I still have some friends who I’ve been working on since I was in middle school. This has always been a dream of mine, to be in a position to tell people, “Your hair is perfect the way it is, just as it grows out of your head.”
The words of Britteny Davidson as told to Suzanne Krowiak.