Last week a single tweet about a woman being charged more money because of her hair texture opened a floodgate of stories about discriminatory salon practices. It’s time for salons to rethink how they issue fees.
Khalisa Rae has been going to Aveda salons for 15 years. All through college, for her master’s graduation, even for her wedding, she’s never had a problem or a bad experience. “They’ve always done an impeccable job,” she says of the hair chain. That was until last week, when she was charged an unexpected fee at checkout.
As Rae tells Glamour, when she was done with her appointment at a local Aveda concept salon in North Carolina, she says she was told by the woman at the front desk she had to pay $10 more than her usual price. The reason? Stylists have to use “extra product” for clients with “textured” hair. This was a different location than the one Rae typically frequents, but she’d never been charged a fee before. Not only that, she says she wasn’t made aware of the added charge until after her hair was done and styled. “I felt cornered because I found all of this information out when I was walking out the door and getting ready to leave,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t really have a choice.” She ended up paying the fee—though she wasn’t happy about it—and called the salon immediately after to address her concerns.
Unsatisfied with the response she received from the individual salon’s customer service, she decided to take her grievances to Twitter, writing: “So I just got charged $10 extra at Aveda salon for the ‘textured’ hair fee. The woman at the counter said, ‘It’s because we have to use extra product. It’s not meant to be discriminatory.’ Is it just me or is that not okay?” Within days Rae received thousands of likes and hundreds of responses, in which she noticed a clear discrepancy.
If it isn’t clear from this small sampling of tweets, Rae says the majority of women of color who responded had stories similar to hers, while many white women shared they’ve never been charged more for their curly hair. “I’ve had this problem at several salons. I call them white salons. They always quote me at $200 for the thickness and texture of my hair or refuse to do my hair,” wrote one user. “Super not okay. I have very long, very thick hair. They have to use extra product for me all the time. I don’t recall an extra charge,” shared another.
“They showed me there’s really no equality existing now in the beauty industry,” says Rae. More than that, the flood of responses that came in highlighted what women with “textured” or natural, coil-y hair face across the country in hair salons—not just extra fees, but also inept stylists and feelings of exclusion. It was clear the issue wasn’t unique to her, but it did primarily affect black women.
Even women who have access to top-tier stylists and salons say they’ve had similar experiences. Dana Oliver, beauty director at Yahoo Lifestyle, says she’s constantly searching for a salon that she can call the One. “There aren’t many stylists who are trained in caring for my thick, kinky coils, or even skilled at arming me with the knowledge and tools to maintain my unique strands at home or in-between salon visits,” she tells Glamour. “This has resulted in a never-ending and extremely costly journey. I don’t trust just anyone with my curly hair.”
Oliver says that, even when she goes to black-owned salons, she sometimes receives “side-eyes” and “hard glances.” “Because my curls are tighter and require a bit more patience, I’ve been unfairly charged more for a simple wash and blow-dry styling,” she says. “It’s gone as far as salon owners calculating in their head right in front of me the ‘extra charges’ for having to style my curly hair.” It’s a situation that makes her feel disrespected and undervalued. “Wearing my natural hair makes me proud, and no one should make me feel less than or question that.”
Khalea Underwood, beauty editor at The Zoe Report, feels the same. Her grandmother was a hairstylist, so she views time in the chair as her safe space, but as someone with “coil-y and fragile” hair, she frequently feels anything but. “Most stylists don’t know how to do my hair, and I feel like I’m a part of some weird science experiment or class demonstration in those instances,” she says. “I’ve had experiences where I’ve been told flat out that I’d be charged extra because my hair is ‘thick’—coded language for natural and unmanageable in their eyes. But more often than not, it’s the body language and inquisitive stares that makes me feel out of place.”
While many salons will charge additional fees for longer lengths, density is a somewhat murkier classification. Someone with fine hair could have what constitutes “a lot” of hair, but as Underwood’s concern raises, they might not be charged a fee like someone with kinky coils would because of the unfair perception that black hair is “unruly.” “We should be able to go to any salon and get quality treatment at fair price points without feeling ostracized for our textures,” says Underwood. “I shouldn’t be penalized for my natural hair texture. It’s not like I can help it.”
As is usually the case with viral tweets like Rae’s, Aveda reps reached out almost immediately to have a conversation and try to reconcile the situation. And Rae says she’s been happy with her interactions with the company so far. “They’ve gone above and beyond to make sure my local situation was handled, rectified, and refunded,” she says. Aveda also provided Glamour with the following statement: “At Aveda we are committed to inclusively delivering the very best in service, embracing all hair types. We in no way condone or tolerate discriminatory behavior or profiling policies of any kind. We are deeply apologetic for this situation as it is not in line with our values. We value consumer feedback and are working with our independently owned salons to prevent this from happening again.”
Still, Rae’s aware the company’s responses, as good as they’ve been, are just that for the time being: responses. “I’m waiting to make sure they follow through with their promises—that it’s not just lip service,” she says.
In the meantime, she hopes a couple of things come out of her situation. First, a greater examination of the policies at all salons—Aveda or otherwise—regardless of who they cater to. “My hope is that salons pay more attention to ensuring customers feel seen, heard, known, and included in the conversation, and that they also feel respected,” she says.
Second, she hopes it’ll shed light on the fact that women who are born with naturally curly hair are not an inconvenience. “I want this to change the language around folks of color’s hair, period,” she says. Lastly, she’s hopeful it’ll push salons that style all hair types to engage in diversity training and educate stylists on cultural awareness and sensitivities. “If they’re trying to serve natural clients, then they really need to do the due diligence and train their front desk girls, their stylists, their managers, to really serve the client that they say they’re serving in the most excellent way,” says Rae. “Regardless of their nationality, anyone who steps in the salon should be treated fairly by all staff.”
At the very least, awareness and education around natural curls does seem to be getting better, some report. Keryce Chelsi Henry, freelance content director, says she’s been up-charged at salons before, but thanks to the natural-hair movement, her experience has drastically improved. “Back then, having curly or kinky hair was widely seen as something to be fixed, so to speak,” says Henry. “I had fewer negative experiences during the years my hair was relaxed and have none now that stylists know more about textured hair.”
Not only that, women with natural hair know more, including how to style their hair on their own. Which has allowed a lot of women of color to ditch the salon altogether and the uncomfortable experiences that sometimes come along with them. Jessica Cruel, deputy beauty director at Refinery29, says she started avoiding the salon around 11 years ago after she went natural. “I’ve had too many bad experiences to count: heat damage, jacked-up haircuts, and horrible balayage attempts,” she says. “Now I do my hair at home—even trims.”
As for what’s next for Rae, well, at the moment, she’s left feeling like she doesn’t “really know where to go now.” Despite her own temporary feelings of discouragement, if she has one more thing to add to her list of hopes, it’s that no more black women go through what she went through. This isn’t the first time women have dealt with a “natural hair tax” (there have been many, many, many instances before Rae’s), but she wants it to be the last. “We should feel empowered to speak up and say something,” she says. “I hope this conversation empowers others to say, ‘No, can I ask for a manager? Can I see my stylist? I do not feel comfortable paying an additional amount because of my texture.’”
Taylor Bryant is a beauty writer in London.
Follow her on Instagram@taylahgram.