Collage by Kayleen Dicangco

Introducing Texture Talk, a column that dives deep into the dynamic world of curly hair, from crowns of free-flowing curls to locks that are tucked away in protective styling.

My first visit to a beauty salon is one I will never forget. It was in Detroit, on one of many family day trips. That afternoon, my dad and brother were visiting their own grooming center: a barbershop around the corner, where the bass of hip-hop, the boom of laughter and the hum of electric razors mingled with an intoxicating chorus. My mom grabbed my little sister and I, and we walked until we reached a nondescript storefront with a sign that simply said, “Beauty Supplies and Salon.” A window full of heads wearing wigs stared at passers-by. Mom pushed open the door and the chime on the hinge announced our presence. I looked around and with a deep breath realized where I was – a black beauty paradise on earth.

My mom briskly walked the aisles looking for the products we couldn’t find in our hometown of London, Ontario. I quietly trailed behind her, running my finger over the colorful boxes and bottles that lined the shelves. The boxed hair dye display was by far my favorite. Rows and rows of bundles featuring beautiful black women showing off kinks, coils, waves, braids, and slicked back hair in all shades caught my eye. They smiled happily at me and I noticed some of their sultry looks over their shoulder. I admired the variety of potential hair shades, all described as shades of black. I picked up a box of “Jet Black” and held it next to a box of “Soft Black”. The difference was subtle but distinctive. It was a first message for me that while being Black may seem simple, the nuance and plethora of our beauty is not.

I quietly waited my turn to get my hair done, secretly hoping that the grown women around me who were talking about men and sex and the co-workers they couldn’t stand wouldn’t notice that I was listening and digressing. I watched them take turns in the stylist’s chair, timidly unwrapping their headscarves and apologizing for the sorry state of their hair. I studied how the hairdresser took out her tools, creams, sprays and potions and transformed them all – including my mother and me – into beautiful, confident beings who couldn’t walk past a reflective surface without a satisfied look.

Part of the magic, beyond the inspiring visuals, was what the supply store could offer: a way to create something amazing for yourself in the comfort and privacy of your own space. My excitement for my mother’s purchases – which she made based on the looks she wanted to create for us – turned into a sense of pride when we saw the final results in the bathroom mirror and we were witnessing the transformation that we had concocted by ourselves.

Image courtesy of Getty

It also went beyond the hair. When I was growing up, my friends would raid the aisles of drugstores and department stores looking for foundation shades like “Tawny” and “Alabaster” while I would quietly hang back and decide on one or more. two clear lip glosses. But at the beauty supply store, there was no question of whether my beauty mattered. Mom has always been able to choose from a wide variety of shades for her dark brown skin as well as her dark red lipstick. I soon learned to experiment with my own style, which often included the kind of accessories found by the cash register – glamorous earrings, hair beads, headwear and a host of other up-and-coming trinkets. . I didn’t have to wonder if I would find items that fit what I wanted. I just had to walk the aisles and grab as much as my budget allowed.

However, as in any utopia, this space of freedom and creativity also contained messages that confused me about my relationship with beauty and darkness. At first, Just for Me hair straightener boxes featuring adorable young black girls with bouncy, healthy-looking straight hair made me wonder if my thick ropes of braids were pretty enough. Was there another way my hair was supposed to look? My mom would always push me past another particular aisle, telling me to keep walking. It housed skin whitening products that had descriptors unequivocally explaining that lighter skin was preferred.

Now when I look in the aisles of any supply store, I feel like they are telling my story. There’s the beloved hair dye section where I finally picked up a box of “Red Hot Mary” (named after Mary J. Blige); it promised a lot, but my hair wasn’t as shiny as I had hoped. And there’s the hair dye my mom finally got me to apply to help cover up her gray. I’m teased with all the creams and potions I’ve experimented with to the point of nausea to “lengthen” and “stretch” my natural kinks and curls after deciding I’m done with the damage from chemical straighteners. (I had hoped I would look like Tracee Ellis Ross, but I didn’t.) As a mother, I know these stories are far from over. When I introduce my two young daughters to these hallowed halls of black beauty, I know they will find the magic in discovering what it means to feel beautiful.

This article first appeared in THE FASHION Can emit. Learn more here.

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