The New Naturalista: How DIYers and Trained Pros Can Coexist for Healthy Hair

by Bee Quammie

Intersections are a funny thing. When driving up to one, you hope that everyone meeting in the middle stops appropriately, proceeds appropriately, and merges as needed. Everyone essentially needs to stay in their respective lanes, and failure to do any one of these things can be detrimental.

When it comes to the natural hair community, a similar phenomenon occurs. The intersections between professionally trained hair stylists and those of us who’ve figured things out for and by ourselves are converging, with varying levels of success. Who knows best? Who is more helpful? Whose knowledge can you trust?

I recently attended an event called A Celebration of Curls that, by its very design, reflected the dichotomy in the natural hair sphere. Featuring well-known natural hair blogger/Youtuber Jeré  Reid and celebrity natural hair stylist Felicia Leatherwood, approximately 200 women came prepared to ask questions, take notes, and soak up the guests’ knowledge. It was interesting to be in a space where both of these women could share their experiences and learnings, but the discussion often circled back to the differences between self-taught and professional natural hair “gurus.”

Felicia Leatherwood spoke to this to some extent. The catch-22 has been that recent adopters of natural hair options have largely had to rely on their own self-teachings and those of other natural hair wearers due to the lack of professional stylists. With the information spread available through the internet, blogs, hair care forums, and social media sites have become a vital support system for women choosing to wear their hair naturally. Leatherwood couldn’t blame anyone for relying on the internet - “Professionals trained in natural hair care haven’t been around!” she stated.

As the number of women embracing their natural textures has boomed, professionals have finally caught on. “Kinky,” “Curly,” and “Natural Hair Friendly” salons and stylists have proudly opened their doors and offered their services to the natural hair community, finally providing the professional resource many lacked in the past. However, two interesting conundrums have now surfaced:

Do naturals need hair salons anymore?
Do naturals trust professionals?

Many natural-haired women will admit to only visiting salons for specialty care, not for regular maintenance as they may have done prior. Less reliance on what can be a costly expense is one of the highlights of wearing one’s natural texture, but shifts the business plans of many professional salons. The bigger intersectional issue lies in the level of trust in professionals vs. long-time digital personalities. When you’ve built somewhat of a relationship and followed the journey of a beloved online resource, can you comfortably trust your hair in the hands of someone new - even if they’re a professional?

Stylists at Toronto’s Curl Bar Beauty Salon (sponsors of the Celebration event) mentioned the reliance many clients have in bloggers and YouTubers. “Sometimes clients follow bloggers and vloggers who either have a different texture from theirs, or who give faulty product advice due to their lack of the scientific knowledge of natural hair,” said Karlene Valentine, a head stylist at Curl Bar. “We try to remind clients that many bloggers and vloggers offer great info but ultimately do what works for them - it won’t work for everyone. Sometimes there’s resistance when we attempt to give them professional advice based on what we’re seeing and feeling in their hair.”

In the view of many, both brick-and-mortar salon professionals and bloggers/vloggers are invaluable resources for women at any stage of the natural hair journey. “When I went natural, it felt like no one else had my back except other naturals online,” one event attendee stated. “I feel like I have the best of both worlds now that I’ve found a stylist I can trust as well.” Having the “best of both worlds” is not only preferred, but necessary.

Bloggers and vloggers have developed unique skills in the online sphere. Using new media structures to create communities of shared experiences and knowledge acquisition, social media has helped women to connect in defiance of geographical borders. This is a powerful feat, as many women who choose to go natural report that they receive little support from their real-life circles. The online world has also helped to build confidence and independence in one’s hair care abilities. Personally, I went from relying on my mother to braid my hair, to relying on a stylist to chemically treat and style my hair. After being inspired by the capabilities of the women I followed online, I was able to rely on myself when I began wearing my hair naturally.

However, the importance of a trained professional’s knowledge base cannot and should not be minimized. Do I trust myself to do an even trim all the time? Nope. Without Googling or using trial and error, can I definitively explain what a jojoba oil treatment vs. olive oil treatment will do for one’s hair? Probably not. Do I feel comfortable giving someone advice on hair loss that sounds like severe alopecia? Hell no! There are certain skills and knowledge that I lack simply for the fact that I, unlike my trained stylists, did not study the management and chemistry of hair. Another point in support of the salon? Sometimes a sista just wants someone else to deal with the proper wash/detangle/style process. That’s when a trained pro is a real godsend.

Is there room for both the online and professional natural hair entities to merge at this intersection and support each other? Absolutely. As a blogger who focuses on natural hair, I access the knowledge of my favourite stylists to verify information or to provide actual guest spots on my blog and at my blog-affiliated events. Salons also benefit by working with digital media mavens who have built up a dedicated following and can direct potential clients to their doors.

The online natural world has created room for discussion, support, information sharing, and self-sufficiency. The professional natural world has created room for a concrete knowledge-based foundation, personal customer service-based care, and in many cases, and opportunity to support local Black-owned businesses. Can one exist without the other? Sure, but we can all benefit from both. As far as the intersection between the online and professional communities go, knowing who’s got the right of way is important - but finding opportunities to merge is key.

Bridget "Bee" Quammie is a Toronto-based healthcare professional, writer, social media consultant, and founder of Recognized by Black Enterprise and the 2014 Black Canadians Awards for her digital work, Bee aims to live '83 To Infinity's motto: "It's never too late to learn something new, do something new, or be someone new." Follow her on Twitter at @BeeSince83.

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