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Why Do Hairstylists Insist On Straightening My Curly Hair?

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Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I hate leaving the salon with hair that looks radically different than it's ever going to look on a daily basis. Yet pretty much every time I go in with my wavy-to-curly strands for a regular ol' haircut, I end up getting what I've coined the "automatic blow-out": the super-straight style created by a blow-dryer, a ton of heat, and many strokes of a flat iron. You know—healthy hair's greatest enemies.

I'm tired of leaving the salon with non-natural pin-straight hair, having the receptionist tell me how great it looks when I go to pay, and then having my hair poof up full of frizz as soon as the humidity seeps in.

I can't be the only one dealing with this: Curly Girl: The Handbook has reported that 65 percent of women have naturally curly or at least wavy hair, and recent research from L'Oréal indicates that there are about eight hair types among women globally, and seven of those eight types are wavy or curlier.

No, I don't want to leave the salon with wet hair, but let's get to the bottom of this assumption that everyone wants straight hair. Are we simply stuck in the '90s/early 2000s cultural mindset, where the gravity-defying heights of old-school '80s perms were ridiculed, and the sleek, straight look was deemed "the thing"? Is it some kind of miscommunication between the client and the stylist? Or could it be that the stylists are just going rogue and deciding what they think would look best? Is it that I haven't (and many people haven't) found the right stylist for their hair texture? We chatted with top stylists to find out.

"For clients with curly/wavy hair, I try to understand if they embrace their texture or not, how they wear their hair, what products they use, and what kind of style they are looking for, along with educating them on the texture of their hair and how to best take care of their hair to ensure the best outcome," says Hos Hounkpatin, a stylist at Frédéric Fekkai 5th Avenue Salon. Fekkai Salons train their stylists to customize every cut, blow-out, and style to the specific hair type of the customer—which is the way it should be across the board. "No blow-out is one-size-fits-all," Hounkpatin preaches (one more time for the people in the back!).

If you're going to a salon that's slightly less accommodating to a variety of natural textures, make a point to specify very clearly what you want your hair to look like, and bring a pic of a celeb's latest cut for inspo while you're at it—and insist on the styling you want. Case in point: During my last salon visit, I brought in a photo of the super-cute, wavy chop Vanessa Hudgens debuted at the MTV Movie Awards and came out looking more like Vanessa Hudgen's 57-year-old aunt with a pin-straight, thick-ended bob, because the stylist insisted on giving me "a nice sleek look" even when I asked to be styled wavy. Obviously five minutes later when I stepped out into the humidity, my hair grew to a triangle shape. (Related: Why It's Important to Protect Your Hair from Air Pollution)

It's time we get even more specific by telling the stylist what our natural 'do is and how we typically tame it, like Hounkpatin says. And it's about time that all hairstylists respect the embracing of curls (even if it may take them a few extra minutes to figure out what to do with them).

In general, though, more stylists do seem to be all for leaving hair in its natural state, which is great from a hair health point of view. I mean, how could literally ironing out each piece of your hair possibly be nourishing or moisturizing it in any way, shape, or form? L.A.-based Schwarzkopf celebrity stylist Larry Sims works primarily with clients who have curly, wavy, or coarse hair, and natural hair is what he prefers to style. "I never assume that my clients automatically want straight hair. I personally prefer working with natural styles—styling natural hair is sometimes easier, but always healthier for the hair," Sims says.

Still, "many stylists at salons gear toward the straight look because flat-ironing is the simplest way to straighten hair," says Samantha Sheppard, senior stylist at Glam&Go, a blow-out bar within gyms like Equinox and hotels across New York City, with new locations in the Hamptons, Santa Monica, and Miami. "Most full-service salons focus on other services like color and cut." Clients at Glam&Go receive a quick consultation depending on whether they choose a 30-minute blow-out and style, or a 15-minute Express Style for dry hair, and can walk out of there with buns, braids, fancy prom hair, a beachy wave, or pin-straight locks—if that's what they prefer. So if small blow-out bars seem to have no problem working with all styles and textures and producing a going-out-ready look (I can attest that I was happier with my Glam&Go 30-minute wave than I have been after any haircut in years), why isn't this idea catching on with the larger salons?

The fashion and beauty industries, in the last few years especially, have more than jumped on the curly bandwagon. Celebs like Halle Berry, Tori Kelly, and Zendaya have encouraged women to go full-bodied and really show their personality with a natural style. "I think people are realizing that there's such beauty in the perfectly imperfect style. In the fashion world, in a lot of campaigns and shoots, people are bringing more movement to the hair," says Hounkpatin. And hair-care brands themselves are taking bolder steps, too. About two years ago, Dove participated in the growing trend by putting out an ad campaign encouraging girls as young as kindergarten-age to "love their curls" and even launched a series of textured-hair emojis. Sims agrees that we've come far as a society in terms of praising the natural properties of hair.

"It's about the power to choose your own type of beauty," says Hounkpatin. "And as a stylist, it's a really exciting time in hair because I get to create styles that celebrate all types of texture."

If you're joining the natural hair movement and making the leap to boycott the straight, boring blow-out, follow our stylists' rules:

  • First and foremost, find a stylist who will accept your hair the way it is. If you're searching for someone new, try StyleSeat to book an appointment at any salon anywhere in the country at a moment's notice, and browse reviews from other clients (it's basically a Yelp for hair salons). Or, for women of color across the entire spectrum of hair textures, check out Swivel, a new app that helps you find the salon and stylist best suited to your preferred style.
  • When working with your curly hair on a daily basis, keep those ringlets moisturized. All three stylists agree that hydrating hair, even with something as simple as a leave-in conditioner when you air-dry, is the most important rule to maintaining curly hair health. (Related: How to Air-Dry Your Hair So You Actually Like the Way It Looks)
  • The cardinal rule: "Avoid heat as much as possible—it can wreak havoc on your hair and create even more frizz," Sims says. That means even on the most humid of summer days, try to skip out on the straightener.
  • Pay more attention to your nightly routine, Sheppard says. Try a silk pillowcase like this one from Slip—Sims says this is the best to prevent breakage and retain your natural texture.

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