In the African-American community, women don't just get their hair cut. They get their 'dos done. Their wigs twisted.
From the time they were out of pigtails or Afro puffs, most black women have treated their hair like their own personal science experiment. They've tousled with it, tugged on it, corn-rowed, cut, relaxed, locked, greased, wrapped, hot-combed, flat-ironed, finger-waved, weaved, twisted, gelled, spiked and rolled it.
All that hair gymnastics makes for exciting, edgy, talk-of-the-town hair. But it also can be extremely damaging.
That's why when SoftSheen-Carson, maker of black hair care products, comes to the African American Heritage Festival this weekend, they want to talk candidly about black hair-itage - that complex relationship women of color have with their hair, the fabulous styles that come from that relationship and the best way to keep black hair healthy.
But they also want to see Baltimore's black hair - the city's best versions of fried, dyed and laid to the side.
So, on Saturday, they're inviting women from the area to compete in a "My Style, My Way" hair contest. They want to see all the spiked 'dos, the Kool-Aid colors, the freshest cuts, the baddest styles.
"We want some hair divas, some hair fashionistas. Some girls who have some flair about themselves and have some individuality that they want to show," says Johnny Wright, a member of the team of SoftSheen stylists who will judge the contest.
The SoftSheen team has traveled to Atlanta and Detroit, and after Baltimore, will go to festivals in Indianapolis and Philadelphia for a glimpse of those cities' styles. The winners of all the summer's hair contests will compete for the grand prize: a "Diva Day" of pampering, treatments and a photo shoot.
Jacqueline Tarrant, the SoftSheen-Carson Style Squad leader, grew up in West Baltimore. So she says she knows that Baltimore's hair divas will top the charts for edginess, stylishness and trend-setting.
"I think that people in [the Baltimore/Washington] area are bigger risk-takers. They're not as satisfied to be basic. They like the flair," says Tarrant, who now lives and works in Chicago. "A lot of strong trends come out of that particular marketplace, and we are excited to see what comes out of that marketplace."
The SoftSheen mobile salon will be equipped with five veteran stylists and salon owners from around the country who have done the hair of such celebrities as Vanessa Williams, Iman, Anita Baker and actress Lisa Raye. Over the course of the weekend, the team will do hair demonstrations and give out information and products.
"This tour is Softsheen-Carson's way of really getting some face time with our consumers," Tarrant says. "It's an opportunity for us to share the information about our brand, to bring our professional style squad in that will be able to advise people and give them information, and help them understand how our brands might be able to help them achieve a healthy head of hair along with gorgeous style."
The most important part of a great hairstyle is healthy hair, the stylists said. But too many women sacrifice their hair health for fabulous-but-damaging chemical treatments and outrageous styles.
Even the growing number of black women who are skipping chemicals in favor of their natural hair don't always know how to keep their hair healthy, the stylists said.
"I think more people are liking and embracing their natural hair," Wright says. "More of my clients are willing to grow their relaxers out, say, over the past two years. Women are getting more used to their natural hair, and are able to wear it curly or straight, or just natural, with the tight curls. Either way, the main ingredient we need is moisture. And unrelaxed hair can be very dry as well."
For women with relaxed or unrelaxed hair, SoftSheen's stylists will have stations at the mobile salon such as Nourish and Style, Color and Style and Relax and Style to offer visitors product support, advice, style tips and consultations.
The goal? To create more healthy-hair divas than ever before in Baltimore.
"Hair speaks to a woman's whole sense of style. And in the African-American community, these things are very culturally rooted," Tarrant says. "We have very colorful personalities and that hair is a reflection of that."
My Style, My Way
Show off your hair-itage! The SoftSheen-Carson My Style, My Way tour, featuring a mobile salon with five veteran hairstylists, will be on hand at the African American Heritage Festival tomorrow through Sunday.
When: tomorrow, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Camden Yards, Lot A, corner of Lee and Russell streets.
Special event: On Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., Baltimore women can enter a unique hair contest with a grand prize of a "Diva Day" of pampering and a fabulous fashion shoot. Enter the contest from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.; only the first 20 who show up get in.