My Afro Hair in Sydney: A Cautionary Tale

When I picked up and moved to Sydney, Australia last fall, I had very few concerns. I’d only heard great things about this place. I’d met a handful of co-workers and knew I liked them and that we worked well together.  Plus, I love to travel and experience other cultures so this opportunity to live and work here for two years felt like a gift.

 When I say I had very few concerns, I really mean I had only one: who was going to do my hair? I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to my hair. I wear my hair natural because I don’t like fussy hair that requires a lot of attention. I normally visit a hair salon 2- 3 times/year for color, a trim, and sometimes a keratin treatment to help with the frizzies in the humidity.  Yet I was still concerned about my hair because, though I don’t want much done to it, I want it done well. 

There are not a lot of black women in Sydney.   (See chart).

Aus demographics 

So it would follow, of course, that there are not a lot of hair stylists who know how to do my hair; there’s just not enough women wearing naturally kinky hair for a hair stylist to be able to gain much experience.  But I’m a researcher by trade, and so I set out to do research.  

·         I “interviewed” 8-10 hair stylists by phone or going into their shops. There were a few who admitted to never having done hair like mine and being unsure as to whether they could do it well.  I appreciated them.   There were a few others who gave some version of “of course I can do it; hair is hair”.  I stayed away from them. I didn’t want someone who was cocky enough to assume they’d be good at something they’d never done.  I wanted someone who was willing to admit what s/he didn’t know.

·         There’s a section of Sydney called Newtown, which has a funky, hip vibe.  I was happy to discover a few salons with African stylists.  I thought “yes!”.  But the few I spoke to wanted to do something way fancier than what I needed.  They were doing weaves and relaxers and extensions and braids and beautifully intricate styles that were the opposite of what I wanted.  So I said “maybe not.”  I had this fear of going in for a trim and being talked into something else that I didn’t really want but allowed myself to be sold on.

·         Of course, a recommendation based on experience is the best way to go.  Whenever I see a black woman with kinky hair (which is not that often), I stop her and ask “who does your hair”? This often is the beginning of a much longer conversation.  The majority said “I do it myself” as we lamented together our lack of options in this otherwise wonderful city.  Most had more “don’t go here” responses than recommendations.  I did find a woman who strongly recommended her hair stylist who she has used for years.  He is American and very familiar with hair with my texture.  Unfortunately, he had chosen to spend several months back at home in the US and wasn’t going to be back for awhile. 

·         So I settled on a hair salon that has quite a nice reputation and is 5 minutes from where I live.  We chatted for 15-20 minutes about what I want and what they do. They have a stylist from London who has worked on hair like mine and could give me a trim.  They also do keratin treatments.  I liked that the stylist admitted she had no experience on kinky hair but would learn what she could through her relationship with Goldwell, a manufacturer of keratin treatment products.  She and I spoke 2-3 times before my appointment, with her updating me on what she had learned.  I felt confident that this should be a good (enough) hair experience. 

It did not go well.  Turns out the stylist kinda knew what she was doing, but not really.  She used much too much heat, stripping the color and texture from my hair, leaving it a lot like straw. I was horrified…of course.  So were the owner, manager, and other stylists at the salon.  I must say they couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating in the way they handled it.  They offered me unlimited visits at no cost for whatever I needed to make it better.  I took them up on their offer for a few visits, but it was clear that nothing was really helping.  They even brought in a rep from Goldwell who confirmed that there was no way to reverse what the stylist had done.

 So…I went in looking something like this…  1

… and came out looking like this. 

I looked like this for a few days while trying to figure out what to do: 

 Now I look like this: IMG_5702

I don’t hate the new cut, but I’m not happy about it.  My hair will grow back. Slowly.  My hair grows very slowly. And my search for someone in Sydney to do my hair continues.

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17 Responses to My Afro Hair in Sydney: A Cautionary Tale

  1. Alisa Cooper says:

    Hi Eleanore,

    I feel your pain. I’ve been living here over 6 years now and still have found a natural hairstylist. Did you manage to get onto the American guy?

    I really miss going to the hair salon every now and then.

  2. Jackie says:

    I didn’t know something like that could happen. I’m white, with long, straight hair, and I’ve always had an interest in black women’s hair. I know that there are a lot of things that black women do to care for their hair, but I didn’t know a conditioning treatment could go so horribly wrong. I admire you for bouncing back and being able to talk about it. I would venture to guess that most women experience multiple hair traumas throughout their lives, but discussing these traumas in terms other than comic carries the risk of being perceived as vain or shallow. I appreciate how you presented this incident as a practical problem. best wishes to you and your hair.

  3. Kelly says:

    I’m so sorry you had this experience – I can only imagine how horrified you must have been! But I must say, the short do looks great on you.

    It’s not in the same league, but your story reminded me of travelling in Italy and lusting after so many beautiful shoes – only to be laughed out of the shop when I told them my shoe size (US 10.5, or European 42). Ah the joys (and sorrows) of travel!

  4. Kris says:

    I feel your pain. Living with Afro hair in Sydney is not easy. Your new cut looks great by the way. I can recommend Elizabeth at Headhunters, bondi she is fantastic with all hair types especially Afro/curly hair. Good luck! Kris

  5. Maureen says:

    Wow. That first “after” picture was rough (the expression on your face said a LOT). Fortunately, the short style works very well for you. You look great! Better luck with stylists going forward…

  6. cb says:

    wish you luck on finding a stylist in Australia

  7. Faith says:

    You are so beautiful that neither haircut nor other mishap could harm what nature made. You look great. To boot, it’s all about how you carry yourself. Your confidence shines through.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Ugh! I can only imagine the trauma… but the upside is that you look beautiful with your new ‘do and fortunately hair grows back 😀

  9. Pam Hochstedler says:

    I think that you look younger in the shorter hair picture. I love it!

  10. Deborah says:

    You look radiant, the short cut becomes you! Sorry that you don’t love it but glad that you don’t hate it.

  11. Rosemarie says:

    Oh my goodness. It is nice they were sorry and supportive afterwards at least. I’m happy you could repair the damage. You still rock the new hairstyle!

  12. Shirl Harrison says:

    Dear Eleanore,
    I have been following you for a while (since my girlfriend, Faith shared your site with me. I spent 12 wonderful years in Manhattan before I retired and I can relate to your hair dilemma. My curly natural has been abused too. Most salon staff want to straighten my hair and I have at times screamed, “NO! I love my curls!” which immediately gets me the “ogre” look, a shrug of the shoulders and minimal attention. So I’ve learned “to cut and style” my hair myself. Good Luck in finding a good salon!
    All my best and keep writing as I have enjoyed and laughed out loud at some of your posts. Thank you so much, Shirl

  13. Sylvia Ortiz says:

    I have to have Dominique, my adopted daughter (remember her?), read your article. Her hair is natural now and she mostly takes care of it herself. She has blue/green natural hair and a shaved back. It actually looks better than it sounds. Good luck growing your hair. I’ll never forget you.

    Sylvia

  14. Angie says:

    Omg, I’ve always admired your beautiful natural hair. I can’t imagine how sick you must’ve felt! Fortunately the short cut looks good and your hair will grow out again.

    • sv mills says:

      OMG ! I’m laughing and crying hot tears ! Lived in Minnesota and have been through the proces of finding a hairdresser. Once had a challenge but found one in Paris.

      I feel for ya but the “new do” looks great !

  15. yolanda says:

    S-O sorry E. that you had such a bad experience!! I know that this doesn’t make things too much better, but your new style really suits you!!

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