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Popular feng shui moves from the home to salon

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Updated: 10/17/2005 12:56 pm

By Anabelle de Gale
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT)

MIAMI - Bad hair day? Try feng shui.

The Eastern philosophy of positive energy flow is no longer just for furniture or homes. Beauty gurus are now applying the sacred Chinese tradition to split ends.

The feng shui fashion trend has recently made its way from swanky Los Angeles salons to upscale South Florida spas. The basic tenet: The wrong hairstyle can throw off your "chi." Translation - personal energy.

It doesn't stop there. Makeup missionaries are also styling la feng shui. Yes, cosmetics with karma.

"It's like wearing that red power suit. Your makeup and even the shape of your eyebrows can give you inner strength," said makeup artist Christine Heltsley, who works for Miami Beach's DV8 (The Salon). "It just makes sense."

The industrial-styled shop on West Avenue recently began incorporating feng shui - positioning objects to ensure that positive energy flows - into its services, including hair, nails and makeup.

"It is much like having a psychic reading. Your hair says a lot about you," said DV8 customer Deon Triplett of Miami Beach. "It gives you a new perspective on fashion: spirituality."

And just how might a feng shui practitioner/beauty stylist decide on a do?

Just give your birthday.

Imagine that. Frizz be gone - it could be as simple as knowing your zodiac sign. Well, that and a few other personal tidbits relating to your yin and yang.

At Sullo Salon & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, long before the shears come near those long locks, a client will spend 30 minutes answering personal questions - like where do you live? - and listening to words of wisdom about their soon-to-be feng shui'd follicles.

"The most important thing when it comes to cutting hair is your elements," said owner Phyllis Sullo.

From the client's answers during the consultation, a metal person, for example, is outrageous, energetic and in need of a "dramatic and hard-lined look," Sullo said.

"It attracts prosperity and positivity - if you believe in it," she said. "Your luck will change, and it can make you in balance with the universe."

You, too, can achieve harmony with your hair - for $70. A Sullo haircut is $50 and the feng shui consultation is another $20.

Not convinced?

"Hey, I laughed too at first," said a twice feng shui-tressed Mary Mathis, a DV8 client whose element is earth and style is a square bob. "I thought it was silly, but then it seemed to make sense. Whether you buy into it or not, it gives you the ability to talk through your cut with your stylist. It worked for me. I'm feeling really confident and stylish."

Among the first folks to meld the two worlds together were Boston-based Evana Maggiore and her L.A. partner, Louise Elerding. The two women, both image consultants who practiced feng shui at home, created Intentional Cosmetics in 1998.

The makeup kits are color-coded to meet your feng shui needs: pastels for creativity, darks for career and greens for health, among others.

And, Maggiore said, all it takes is a stroke of the blush brush.

"It's making its way into the mainstream because people are getting results," she said. "It's very valid and has been adopted by the feng shui community because the basic principals are the same. It's really the law of attraction: sending out like energy to get back like energy. The mind is a very powerful thing."

Apparently, so is a rosy kisser.

"If you put on pink lipstick and think, 'I am going to go get me a man with this,' chances are you probably will," she said

© 2002, The Miami Herald.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Hire some help to change the way you look, dress
By Holly Hanson
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT)

DEAR DR. FASHION? I've heard of image consultants and personal shoppers. Can you explain their services? How do we find one in this area? What are their fees? -M.W., Auburn Hills, Mich.

THE DOCTOR SAYS: Many stores employ personal shoppers who work with customers by appointment. You call the store, describe what clothes you're looking for and the personal shopper pulls together appropriate garments for you to try at your appointment. The service is usually free.

Image consultants offer a wider range of services. They might show you how to achieve a more professional look through clothing, hairstyle and makeup. They might go through your closet, advising you on what to keep, toss and buy. They might accompany you while you shop or do the shopping for you, scouring a variety of stores for garments that suit you.

Such services could cost $50-$75 per hour or more. You pay for the consultant's time as well as for the merchandise you buy.

Image consultants sometimes list their businesses in the Yellow Pages, but more often seem to find new clients through referrals. Ask around at your hair salon, book club, gym or favorite store.

DEAR DR. FASHION: Any packing suggestions for a trip to Boston this month? I have two nice dinners and casual days. -No name, e-mail

THE DOCTOR SAYS: Fall weather can be changeable, so it's important to pack layers for a trip like this. For casual days, what about khakis or black pants with a bit of stretch, well-made cotton T-shirts or blouses and a cardigan or lightweight jacket?

For the nice dinners, one dark dress or suit should do it. If you'll be dining with the same group twice, pack something that will change the look - a jacket or shawl you can wear over the dress, a second top for the suit.

One pair of walking shoes and one pair of dressy shoes should fill your footwear needs. Pack a tote for day and a small handbag for dinner. Bring a raincoat.

These basic pieces will work for just about any big-city trip. Simply adjust for the weather and length of the journey.

© 2002, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Ah, what bliss - to be bathed, wrapped and massaged in chocolate
By Crystal Dempsey
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT)

HERSHEY, Pa. - For nearly a day, I smelled like a candy bar.

A visit to the Spa at the Hotel Hershey for chocolate body treatments caused the cocoa aroma.

I chose the Chocolate Escape package, which included a Whipped Cocoa Bath, a Cocoa Butter Scrub, the Chocolate Fondue Wrap and a Cocoa Massage. (Cost: $280; a 20 percent tip is automatically added.)

My pal, Ruth Wingfield, who lives near the spa, opted for the Ocean Therapy treatments. "You don't want to do the chocolate stuff?" I asked. "I live here - I smell chocolate all the time," she said.

The three-story, $17 million spa, which opened in early 2001, is far from intimidating. The staff is friendly and helpful. The interior is bathed in a soft, soothing yellow - a favorite color of candy king Milton Hershey's wife, Catharine.

By the way, the treatments are not edible. I did not taste them since I know there's a huge difference between brownie batter and mud infused with essence of cocoa.

After we stashed our clothes in lockers and donned terry robes and slippers, an attendant led us to the Quiet Room on the second floor.

You can chat, the attendant said, but - and not quite in these words - we were encouraged to use "inside voices." She also told us to drink plenty of water, which is provided. This replenishes moisture lost during treatments. Water also flushes toxins released during the treatments.

The Quiet Room is decorated with dark wood, lush carpet and large comfy leather chairs and matching ottomans. A small fire flickered in the pecan wood fireplace.

A side buffet overflowed with a never-ending supply of chocolate baked goods, fruit, tea and hot cocoa. Bowls of Kisses were within an arm's length of any place you sat.

A few minutes after I put my feet up and downed two Kisses, an attendant called my name: "Crystal, it's time for your whipped cocoa bath."

Imagine a tub filled with watery hot chocolate - the kind you buy at Friday night football games.

The Whipped Cocoa Bath, which lasts 25 minutes, uses cocoa powder, milk powder and the spa's secret bath powder mixture.

I soaked. Or tried to. I never got in the just-right position on the neck rest.

Instead of feeling like a marshmallow slowly melting in the steamy mix, I was more like biscotti - mushy under the water and hard on the above-water parts.

Also, the neck massage jets were spitting instead of pulsing.

The spa and I weren't off to a sweet start.

After an apple and a few more Kisses on the Quiet Room's veranda, it was time for the Cocoa Butter Scrub.

First came a body brushing to get rid of dead skin. "You should dry-brush once a week," the attendant said.

Then came the scrub - a gloopy combination of cocoa butter, meadow flowers and oats.

The 20-minute treatment delivered everything it promised - my skin was soft and smooth as an overcooked butter bean.

Plus, I got to keep the body brush.

Since I had already been brushed and scrubbed, the attendant went straight to "fondue-ing" me.

She and the table were both covered in plastic. Using a brush, she coated me with what looked like brownie batter but was really mud and essence of cocoa.

Me: "How many people taste this stuff?"

Fondue-er: "More than you think. For some reason, they miss the part where we say 'it's mud.'"

As soon as I was slathered up, she pulled the plastic over me. Then came a space blanket. Then a wool blanket. The color? Milk chocolate.

"Put a white ribbon in my mouth, and call me a Hershey's Kiss," I said to the attendant as she dimmed the lights and left. I think she'd heard that one before.

I'm not sure what happened next. In my mud-wool cocoon, I dozed. A faint "How ya doin'" woke me. "Time to unwrap," she said.

A Vichy shower - which involves water coming at you from several shower heads at once - got 99 percent of the mud off.

I had officially entered a spa stupor. When in this state, you don't actually walk - you shuffle. Back to the Quiet Room. To a chair near the fire. More Kisses. Two cups of hot cocoa. Melting. Achieving marshmallow status.

I love massages. But at some spas, I've found them to be more like overpriced rubdowns than true therapeutic treatment.

I wasn't disappointed at the Spa at the Hotel Hershey.

The Cocoa Massage derives its name from the chocolate-scented oil that's used.

I forgot about my massage snobbery and just went with the flow. Any stress that was left evaporated in that 50 minutes. I was more relaxed on that table than I had been in months. (Actually, just writing about it makes me mellow.)

Ruth and I found each other somehow - she probably followed the scent of chocolate in the locker room. She was as blissed out as I was.

However, since we had skipped lunch and it was almost 6 p.m., we were both in need of nonchocolate food. The Kiss-and-hot-cocoa-injected buzz was wearing thin.

On the way home, we stopped at a store. "If I stand near someone," I said, "do you think he'll suddenly head toward the candy?"

Ruth gave me a "remember-where-you-are" look. After all, Hershey is "the Town Chocolate Built" - and, according to the latest tourism campaign, "the Sweetest Place on Earth."

 

AT-HOME COCOA BATH

If you can't make it to the Spa at the Hotel Hershey, try this recipe adapted from Laura DuPriest's book, "Natural Beauty: Pamper Yourself with Salon Secrets at Home" ($10.95, Prima):

1/8 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 cup powdered milk

¼ cup Epsom salts

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Optional: 2 to 3 drops lavender essential oil.


Mix in a bowl and then add as the water is running. A whirlpool tub works for maximum froth and foam.

Light candles, dim the lights. Have a few candy kisses and a glass of water nearby.

 

© 2002, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Technicians who do permanent makeup say opportunities growing
By Patricia V. Rivera
The Dallas Morning News
(KRT)

DALLAS - Cosmeticians are crossing over to the paramedical arena as the desire for beauty increases demand for the technicians who apply makeup that never smears, smudges or fades.

It used to be that only physicians and nurses practiced permanent makeup procedures, which involves implanting pigments into the skin. But in recent decades, cosmeticians and tattoo artists have learned to work the same type of magic.

"It's a really hot area right now with lots of opportunities," said Sandi Hammons, founder of the Arlington, Va.-based American Institute of Intradermal Cosmetics.

Her group recently held its annual conference in Dallas, attracting more than 300 technicians from across the country.

Intradermal cosmetic procedures are considered invasive and fall into the category of tattooing. The technology has been around for years but wasn't promoted as a cosmetic option until the 1980s.

Texas does not require specific training for tattooing or permanent make-up applications, though salons must adhere to certain hygienic requirements.

Hammons, also owner of Premier Pigments salon in Arlington said that plastic surgeons and dermatologists often refer patients to permanent makeup cosmeticians.

Many patients, in fact, seek out permanent makeup for medical reasons. Some with eye or hand conditions cannot apply their own makeup. Others want permanent makeup to disguise blotches or restore a natural look after reconstructive breast surgery.

"We've seen a 40 percent increase in sales over the last five years and believe that aging baby boomers will continue to spur market growth in the next decade," she said.

Permanent makeup is detail work that requires training, experience, a steady hand and an understanding of color theory.

It's hard to determine how many technicians work in the profession since there is no national certification process. Several professional organizations represent the industry including the National Cosmetic Tattooing Association, the Permanent Cosmetic Medical Educational and Development Society and the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals.

Schools and trainers for permanent cosmetics procedures abound.

"You really need to be careful in choosing a teacher because one of the biggest problems in our industry right now is standards," said Sally Hayes, a veteran in the field. She lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., but flies into Dallas each month to do procedures.

"It's really important to determine if the person who is going to train you is a weekend warrior or someone who's made a career out of this business," she said.

The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, formed in 1990 as a networking organization, now has around 1,300 members.

It formed to raise understanding about standards because at that point there were many correspondence schools for the trade, said a Society coordinator.

The group now has a certification process for its trainers. They must have a minimum of five years experience in the application of permanent cosmetic procedures and have completed a minimum of 300 procedures in each area being taught, among a long list of requirements.

Dixie Medford, owner of Classic Beauty Concepts in Plano, Texas, is among the trainers in the Dallas area recommended by the Society.

She's worked on intradermal cosmetics since 1992. Her 40-hour classes cover topics such as safety, client profiles and face morphology; and offer students the opportunity to do at least 12 procedures.

Medford said students don't necessarily have to have experience as cosmeticians.

"But you can't do permanent cosmetics if you have no idea of what color looks like on the face," she said.

Successful technicians can make upwards of $40,000 if they dedicate themselves solely to this work. Medford recommends that newcomers consider simply adding it to the services they already offer. The starting cost for the most inexpensive procedure, applying eyeliner, starts at $300, though most salons charge $500.

"You can easily make $500 a week doing this on a part-time basis, without having to do a lot of advertising," she said.

 

© 2002, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

These 'dos were don'ts: Old salon photos show that for some, every day could be a bad hair day
By Mark Rahner
The Seattle Times
(KRT)

How will the sexy, confident man-of-the-world be wearing his hair this season?

Perhaps longish, heavily sprayed and feathered into something like a Darth Vader helmet. Or a thick, aerodynamic swirl reminiscent of a Play-Doh Fun Factory creation.

Well, maybe not this season, but about 30 seasons ago, the approximate time of the images in "Bad Hair" (Bloomsbury, $9.95). It is possibly the funniest book of its kind. The little hardcover edition by James Innes-Smith and Henrietta Webb is filled with photos of hairdressing models whose absurd styles have aged about as well as the mullet. (You remember: short on top and the sides, long in back - the butt of a humor trend that peaked a couple of years ago.) But unlike the mullet, most of the 'dos in "Bad Hair" are, as horror author H.P. Lovecraft might have described them, unnameable.

The hypnotic book jacket features a model who resembles a young David Caruso, sporting a come-hither look from underneath a preposterous corona of flaming red hair, accentuated by a thick orange turtleneck. Heyyyy foxy mama, come warm yourself over Mr. Fire.

The British couple, both first-time authors, compiled the images from outdated style posters they found still adorning the walls of barbershops and salons around the United Kingdom.

"They're these very old-fashioned kind of barbershops that have been in families for three or four generations. These are actually proudly displayed in the windows of the actual salons, advertising that particular style of cut," said Innes-Smith. "I think a lot of the people who own these places just had forgotten they were there. They'd been going in there every day for 30 years and just hadn't thought about changing the window displays."

An actor by trade, Innes-Smith is breaking into writing gradually. There's no text with the "Bad Hair" pictures.

"We'd thought long and hard about that, and I did write some stuff," he says. "But actually at the end, it seemed that the photos spoke for themselves, really."

They virtually howl for themselves. And though there are some ludicrous women in the book, it's mostly men, and the men look far more egregious. If hair parallels clothing, men seem to have far less slack than women to deviate from what's simple. The photos in "Bad Hair" clearly show an inverse proportion of hair length to dignity.

"I think what's funny about the sort of long-haired guys in this book is that it's very kind of consciously, carefully positioned. I think the fashion these days is for everything to be loose. Everything is kind of rough and ready and not too spruced," Innes-Smith says.

"I guess it's like a frame in many ways, isn't it? And if you change the frame of someone's face, like if you change the frame of a picture, it alters the whole package."

And these are truly baroque frames, often accentuated by what could kindly be called some righteous porno mustaches.

Asked to cite current examples of bad hair, he mentions English soccer star and Spice-husband David Beckham. "He has a Mohican one week and he dyes it green the following week, and you just never know what you're going to get."

On the other side of the pond: William Shatner. "Much as I love that guy, he has a real problem. He just will not accept the fact that his hair has gone."

Rugs and comb-overs may arguably be in their own class, but it's no matter for splitting ... ah, that is, we consulted some professionals on the subject of bad hair. In the United States, you can still find the same sorts of pictures in books and magazines that lie in salon waiting areas - with a '70s relic occasionally to be found among the newer ones.

"People always steal them. God only knows why. Most of the people in them are hideous," says Amy Mahoney at Rudy's Barber Shop in Fremont, Wash.

Mahoney says, "There has been sort of a trend lately back to the horrible haircut - the ironic rocker, the mullet, the faux hawk" (a less-severe mohawk).

"They know it looks bad, but they think they're cool enough to bring it back."

At the Greenwood Academy of Hair in Seattle, Sue May Smith finds the '80s and not the '70s the funniest era of tonsorial awkwardness. "I think we were looking for lots of new avenues that we haven't explored before, so we were trying some really funky stuff."

But the fact is, not many styles are ageless. Smith considers the bob and the French twist to be a couple of the very few.

So we're laughing now, but will some of us find ourselves in a bad hair compilation of 2032? The cover of that volume might feature a guy with blond-tipped spiky hair and a soul patch on the cover.

"Probably," Smith says. "Because styles change. It may be trendy now or in style now, but in five years it will be out of style."

Says Innes-Smith: "I think we can only really look at it objectively years after the event. Because presumably these guys in the early '70s thought, 'Well, this is the latest fashion, and don't I look cool?' They would probably walk out in the street and people would go, 'Wow, look at that hipster over there, with his medallions and his bell-bottoms - whooah! Look at him.' "

Meanwhile, Innes-Smith is working on a novel and considering the options for a "Bad Hair" follow-up. As for that remarkable fellow on the dust jacket bidding you to pour yourself an Annie Green Springs and slip between his book covers: "I'm waiting for him to come find me with a gun and shoot me for destroying his life."

 

© 2002, The Seattle Times.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Of man and manicures: Spas let guys soak up a little relaxation
By David Tarrant
The Dallas Morning News
(KRT)

First comes the call home.

"Hi, honey. I'm going to be running a little late tonight. I'm, uh ..."

"You scored Mavs tickets?"

"No ..."

"Poker?"

"I'd love to. But I've got to, uh ..."

"Boys night out?"

"Well ... sort of. I've got to get my nails done. And a pedicure, facial, massage, that sort of thing.

(Long silence.)

"It's for work! My editor's assigned me to do a story on men's night at the spa."

So that's why I'm sitting in my car in the parking lot of a joint named Daired's Salon and Spa Pangea. Like a nervous teenager on a first date, I drive back and forth past the place a few times after exiting the interstate.

Finally, under the cover of darkness, I pull into the parking lot.

God rest his soul, what would my dad think? Did he and his World War II buddies, the "Greatest Generation," storm the beaches of France on D-Day just so their sons and grandsons could get pedicures?

I can still make a run for it. But the moment I open those glass doors, bub, it'll be a whole new me: never again one of the guys who's never had a manicure - let alone a pedicure.

But I am my father's son. When duty calls - I go. And now it is my turn to storm the beachhead, as it were.

It is time to launch Operation Cuticle.

HOW COZY

It's probably the closest I'll ever come to feeling like Hugh Hefner.

I slip into a pair of roomy, cloth shorts and pull on a soft, royal blue bathrobe provided by the spa. Emerging from the dressing room, I'm met by several beautiful, smiling women, who are waiting for me! My escorts walk me to a waiting area. I'm offered a drink (beer, iced tea, sparkling water). Then, I sink into a cloud of cushions on the sofa to wait for my first appointment: a facial.

Two guys are already idling in the waiting area, a morning television show host and a radio news reporter. Check us out: Hard-bitten members of the Fourth Estate getting together after work, not at a smoky bar over cold brewskies, but a spa, sipping Perrier in our bathrobes.

"Mr. Tarrant?" A young woman with blond hair floats over to me. "Are you ready for your facial?"

I flinch. If this were a bar, the jokes and barbs would be flying fast and furious. But around me everybody's smiling kindly.

"I'll see you guys later," I say, trying to sound casual. "It's time for my facial."

I'm shown to a room about the size of a large tool shed, with subdued lighting and a rose-scented candle.

It's quiet except for the soft music, which consists of one long note, followed by another long note. The extra-slow tune is supposed to be relaxing, I guess. But it makes me tense wondering when the note is going to change.

My facial lady points to a cot and tells me to lie down face-up.

"This is my first time," I say. "Be gentle."

It's meant as a joke. But apparently she thinks I'm really nervous. (Ha! Imagine that!)

"It might seem a little strange if you're not used to it," she says. "Once you start doing it, you'll think on it for a while and then you're like 'Hey, I really did enjoy that!'"

She begins massaging my face and neck ("manipulation" is the current term).

Then she asks me my skin type.

"Irish," I answer. "Second generation."

She sails on.

"I exfoliate the dead skin off," she says, stretching out the last syllable so it sounds like ahhhhf.

Exfoliate? It sounds an awful lot like defoliate - a word I associate with napalm and the Vietnam War.

"Sloughing off the dead skin cells," she says. "It helps the products penetrate better into the skin, like your mask and your moisturizer (pronounced moisterizerrrrr.)"

She might as well be speaking Czech.

During the next 30 minutes, my face gets a workout like I've never had before. Here are a few random observations, reflections and fleeting impressions:

The skin cleanser smells great, something like pine and rum cake, and I'm sure my skin cells are cranking up Pink's "Get the Party Started." Poor saps. They'll be exfoliated before they know what hit 'em.

The steamer sounds like the "Dirt Devil" I keep in the minivan.

Exfoliation is done with a creamy substance mixed with "grit" - like rubbing suntan lotion on your hot, sandy skin at the beach.

Slices of cucumber over your eyes (actually it's really a cold cotton pad) feel really neat in a weird sort of way.

The steamer looks like a goose-necked desk lamp. "It opens up the pores and then I go in with an extractor and get the blackheads out," the facial lady explains.

Blackheads? Now I've got the skin of a teenager - complete with blackheads. That steam vac and exfoliation have those dadgum blackheads popping out of my pores, like hibernating bears staggering from their caves.

The extractor sounds worse than it is. It feels like a pinch on the cheek from grandma.

After the session, my face feels relaxed and kind of stretchy. I start moving my face muscles like Jim Carrey and steal a glance at a mirror. "Smokin'!"

I walk into another room to wait for my next appointment - a back massage. Another guy in a blue bathrobe, his head shaved, is sitting there.

We nod to each other, like it's no big deal. Just hanging around at the ol' spa. But what do you say in that situation?

Dude, you get the facial yet?

There is a table full of nibble food and drinks and I get a cup of coffee. The other guy is swigging a beer and introduces himself: He's a DJ for a local rock station and new in town.

Before long, he's telling me about his back massage.

"When I first came in the spa, I asked them if they had somebody who could really put it on a guy. You know what I mean? To get deep."

They sent him Raelye.

"She proceeded to work me over, and I mean it was AWESOME! I asked her, 'Do you feel any stress back there?' And she said, 'I'll be honest. You're giving me a workout.'"

GET BACK

My back muscles are already tingling with anticipation when Raelye shows up a few minutes later.

The short walk to the massage room tells her everything she needs to know about my back.

"Watching the way you walk, you wear your shoulders up by your ears," she says. "So I know you have problems there. A lot of people who are stressed out bring their shoulders up here."

I picture myself as Sneezy, one of the Seven Dwarves.

I climb on the massage table, which has a padded headrest with a face hole so my face doesn't get squashed.

Raelye rubs her hands together with a lubricant. "Primarily for men we use oils (instead of skin lotions) just because boys tend to be a little more hairy than girls."

She starts with strong, deep strokes at my neck and works slowly down to the base of my spine and then back to the top again. It looks like hard work. Beads of sweat form on her forehead.

"I get a pretty good workout," she says.

"You must have a lot of upper-body strength," I say.

"It's just knowing how to position your body. There are girls up here who are half my size and probably twice as tough as I am."

The massage is over all too soon. Feeling loose, I roll my shoulders, hoping the massage has exorcised "No-neck Sneezy."

TOUGH AS NAILS

Now I feel like Madge in the old Palmolive commercial.

My fingers are soaking in a bowl of sudsy water. The DJ is sitting nearby on a throne-like chair. Perched at his feet, a woman is giving him a pedicure. There's nothing she can do about the big tattoo plastered over his leg.

Carmen is trying to put me at ease, with a singsong, customer-friendly tone of voice. "First I'm going to shape your nails," she says, showing me the nail file. "It looks like you bite your finger nails."

Now I'm Jerry Seinfeld, wrongly accused and aggrieved.

"I'm not a biter!" The DJ shoots me a skeptical glance and winks at Carmen.

"You're not the only man who does it," she says. Stress makes people do a lot of strange things.

"Like get a manicure," I say, peevishly.

Carmen remains cool and composed. Now, now Jerry ....

"Most men shy away from the manicure kind of thing because they think it's too girly," she says. "A lot of them come in with their wives and girlfriends. They come in kicking and screaming but they actually end up liking it. They never want to tell their friends. But they really do enjoy it."

"How bad are my fingernails?" (I'm still in Seinfeld mode.)

"They're really not that bad. Most men usually have pretty nice hands."

Carmen got into the nail business two years ago, after spending 10 years as a dance instructor for kids. Like a neighborhood bartender, she gets to know her clients pretty well.

"It surprises me how much people will open up in just a few minutes."

We chat away about career choices and dreams and, of course, fingernails. I learn that the pale, half-moon shape on my finger is a lunula and store that scrap of trivia away for a future Scrabble game.

We get along great. By the time she applies cuticle conditioner and softener and starts shoving back my cuticles with a cuticle pusher, I'm cheering her on. "Push 'em back, push 'em back, waaaay back," I say.

With buffing cream and a little cloth shammy, she brings my nails to a brilliant shine. Then Carmen leads me a few steps to the pedicure station.

But I'm not going into the details. Some things are private. Just remember one thing if you decide to get a pedicure: someone's going to be messing with your feet.

I forgot about one problem I have with my feet - I am ticklish. I'm sure it's also stress-related. But it does pose an obstacle if you're getting a pedicure.

Carmen is patient and I try to distract myself. I mentally list the lineup of the Texas Rangers. I do multiplication tables in my head. I get through it.

The last thing I remember is her starting to rub each individual toe with her fingers.

Seven times seven equals 49. Seven times eight equals 56.

Seven toes nine ...Ooops.

So, how was it?

As I head out the door, the folks at the spa are all smiles - and questions. Did I like it? Wasn't it fun? Will I come back?

To be honest, it was a great experience. Everybody was super nice. They all tolerated my lame jokes and many questions. I'd get a backrub every week if I could afford it.

Later, I'm telling a recruiter for the Marines about my story on spas and men.

"My Dad and all his war buddies are probably spinning in their graves," I say.

To my amazement the recruiter begs to differ.

"You think those guys fought their way to Germany and didn't go to the bathhouses? You bet they got manicures and pedicures and backrubs."

So that's how we won the war!

 

© 2003, The Dallas Morning News.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Thinking straight: The curl-unfurling perm establishes a niche-and some no-no's-after the initial frenzy
By Wendy Navratil
Chicago Tribune
(KRT)

CHICAGO - A six-hour, $600 hair appointment isn't easy to reconcile with a Midwestern mind-set.

So when news circulated last year about a Japanese miracle cure for unwanted curls (yes, there are Asians with curly hair), most of the breathless reports came from the coasts.

"In New York, (pricing) got stratospheric," said Mary Atherton, editor in chief of Modern Salon magazine, based in Lincolnshire, Ill. "I heard $1,200 and $1,500."

Largely for that reason, Atherton suspected thermal reconditioning, a.k.a. Japanese straightening or thermal retexturizing, might be just a fad.

But as thermal hair-straightening reaches the year anniversary of its major rollout to the American masses, there's no sign that the pursuit of pin-straight, frizz-free hair has fizzled. Vogue reported that this month's cover model, Sandra Bullock, underwent eight hours of the straightening to save time on the set of "Two Weeks Notice."

And stylists between the coasts are being trained in the process or adding specialists. This fall, for instance, Red 7 Salon near Chicago's Merchandise Mart added Jamie Weaver, who performed thermal straightenings for two years in Los Angeles.

The process combines chemicals called thioglycolates and a flat iron heated to 355 degrees to banish curl for up to six months. If performed properly, it leaves most manes softer and sleeker than before, with only a quick blow-dry at home to replace the tedium of previous straightening efforts.

"We probably get 200 e-mails a week asking where to get thermal reconditioning," said Carolyn Brundage, director of marketing for Chicagobeauty.com, which provides salon recommendations based on customer feedback and its own Spa Girl reviews. "It's our most popular request by far."

Laura Robinson, 33, who works in pharmaceutical sales, went back for seconds about a week ago at Elizabeth Adam Salon in Chicago's Water Tower Place. Before her initial $600 straightening in May, she relied on "stupid spider clips" to contain her below-shoulder coils, she said.

"This has paid off financially, emotionally and spiritually," Robinson said. "That sounds so corny. But I almost cried when I had it done."

And here's the good news: As availability increases, prices are falling slightly, to about $400 to $800 on average in Chicago, Atherton said. The bad news: That's still expensive. And the proliferation of stylists performing the straightenings is raising some concerns about quality control.

"We had a girl who came in, someone did it for her at their home," said Philip Palmeri, colorist/chemical specialist and co-owner of Trio salon, which has performed about 150 thermal straightenings since the salon became one of the first to offer the service last April. "Imagine the crown of her head, with 60 percent of the hair broken off. She said 'What should I do?' "

It's more what shouldn't be done - as in heavily color-treated or highlighted hair.

These thermal straightening solutions are distinct from stronger sodium hydroxide formulas and aren't effective for most African-Americans and others with particularly coarse hair.

Still, chemicals are at work. And too many chemical processes on top of one another equals "depilatory," Palmeri said.

"We've been saying no a lot," he said. "About two in five would be a good candidate for it."

That's where the consultation, which may include a strand test, comes in. Brundage and others said any stylist who books a straightening appointment for a new client without a consultation should be feared.

That argues for shopping around. The client should interview stylists and compare training and experience, not just cost.

"If they have a strong chemical background, you're better off," said Graciela Santiler Nowik, who has been a hairdresser for 22 years and owns Hair Base in Chicago, which has done about 25. "I'd ask, 'How long have you done it and how many have you done?' I would ask if they're working with one person or two."

She and Atherton agreed that at least two technicians are ideal at some points-one can hold the hair while the other irons it, for instance.

Then there's the budget. Are a haircut and take-home products included in the cost estimate? And how much do follow-up straightenings cost?

Most say that retouches, which may be needed within a few months, are no less intensive-or expensive-than the initial process, although some touch up only the regrowth. (Elizabeth Adam Salon did Robinson's follow-up for about $150.)

Price is based on time, Atherton said.

But time ultimately is what you save-perhaps even money, said Serena Peterson, 36, dean of students at Pulaski Academy in Chicago and mother of 4-year-old twins. She spent $600 for a straightening from stylist Ingrid Trevino at Troupe salon in October.

"My husband wasn't thrilled," Peterson said. "But I was going twice a month for blow-dries, and those are $45, plus a nice tip, plus parking, plus the time and-this is going to sound really dramatic-but mental health. I don't stress about my hair anymore."

Now, even her husband-who "spends $15 for his haircut," she said-is sold.

 

CASE STUDY

Anna Lovis, 32

Salon: Red 7, Chicago

Challenges: She had a few highlights in her hair, requiring heavy conditioning so that the straightener didn't overprocess; and short hair, requiring extra dexterity with the flat iron.

Cost estimate: $750, not including haircut

Time for completion: About 6 hours

 

CASE STUDY

Linda Khawshaba, 24

Salon: Hair Base

Challenges: Dense curl and high volume

Cost estimate: $900 (which would include haircut), because about double the typical amount of straightening chemical was necessary

Time for completion: About 3½ hours

 

© 2003, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Non-surgical techniques are putting off face-lifts
By Caitlin Cleary
The Seattle Times
(KRT)

"Nothing says fun like a face full o' poison!" chirps Karen Walker, the sloshy socialite of TV's "Will & Grace," as she trots out with Will for a quick Botox session.

In that recent episode of the NBC sitcom, Will and Karen take part in an increasingly popular medical and social ritual: They get botulism toxin injected into their faces to temporarily smooth out their wrinkles.

That our closest prime-time TV friends are getting Botoxed could be a signal that such non-surgical cosmetic techniques - Botox, collagen, fat transfer, lasers and chemical peels - have reached a point of cultural saturation, if not total acceptance. (However, it should be noted that none of the patients quoted for this article wanted their last names published.)

As crestfallen baby boomers wake up to find new creases, spots, bumps and bags on their once-youthful faces, it's hard to resist the temptation of the quick, relatively low-cost non-surgical fix. Having your face sanded down, your lips plumped with collagen or your laugh lines filled with fat from your butt might seem like crazy ways to spend your time and money, but when the nation's aesthetic revolution is under way, who wants to be left behind?

Scott, a Seattle salon owner and hairstylist, will turn 40 next June, but people tell him he looks like he's in his early 30s, which he takes as a "great big compliment." But Scott still gets Botox injections every three months to smooth the squint lines between his eyes and collagen injections to fill in the lines around his mouth and nose.

"People say, 'What are you doing that for?'" Scott said. "But I like the results. I look fresh and new, rested. I work at a mirror all day long; I have for 17 years. When you see yourself all the time, and then you start seeing your clients doing all these procedures, and the results look amazing …"

Scott keeps a journal, filled with the names of clients' doctors and what they had done, just for his own future reference. He is planning for the day he'll get a face-lift.

"As a hairdresser, you see all the scars," he said. "Hopefully I have 10 or 15 years left."

Dr. Brandith Irwin, a medical and cosmetic dermatologist with a clinic in Seattle and a new book, "Your Best Face: Looking Your Best Without Plastic Surgery," (Hay House, $14.95), said more people are using Botox, lasers and collagen to defer plastic surgery. Beverly Hills may be the land of silicone breasts, pneumatic lips, and well, Joan Rivers, where there's no shame in multiple face-lifts. But in Seattle, most people keep their vanities close to the vest.

"In Seattle, the trend is toward a more natural look," Irwin said. "Not what I call the 'Oscar-night look.' People in Seattle want some expression in their faces."

Irwin said that while there are no exact figures, she believes that Botox and collagen use in Seattle is probably about the same compared with most other U.S. cities, but Seattleites are more reluctant to embrace plastic surgery than New Yorkers or Los Angelenos.

Irwin's clinic also offers procedures such as laser photorejuvenation, a series of treatments that beam lasers into the skin to even skin tone, hide broken blood vessels and promote collagen-building; microdermabrasion, a sort of fine sandblasting where crystals are vacuumed against the skin, taking the top layer off and cleaning pores; and collagen injections, in which a natural protein from cow skin is used to fill in wrinkles and scars.

But all of these are temporary, Irwin said, because we all live under the sun, and the sun is what does the damage.

The people who get these non-surgical cosmetic procedures aren't always the people you'd expect. True, the Botox demographic is largely women reaching the 40- and 50-year mark, but more and more men are also tinkering with their looks.

Irwin treats CEOs in their 50s and 60s who, feeling the competitive heat from younger executives, want to look more vital. Other patients of both sexes include attorneys, salesmen, real-estate agents and teachers, who may be chronic "frowners" hoping to look more approachable to clients and students.

"I think if you work with the public it's important to look your best," said Scott. "People don't want to come into my salon and see me looking tired or drawn." A year ago, Scott and his partner were among the first in their circle of friends to get Botox. Now almost all of them have it done.

The economy is struggling, but tough times have not made much of a dent in the cosmetic dermatology industry. In fact, they may even be helping; people who might have considered a face-lift now opt to save money with these procedures. (Though regular maintenance.)

Irwin started the Madison Skin and Laser Center three years ago; she said business us up 20 percent to 30 percent in the last year.

Botox was approved for wrinkle-fighting in April; its high profile and relative ease created a lot of interest, and of course, the fabled Botox party.

According to Allergan, the company that makes Botox, sales in 2001 reached $310 million, an increase of almost 30 percent from the year before.

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery listed Botox cosmetic injections as the fastest-growing cosmetic treatment performed by surgeons in the United States. But all FDA approval means is that the company can finally market it to those with wrinkles, and income, to spare. Before the media blitz, it survived quite well on word of mouth.

Dr. Frederic Stern has been giving Botox for eight years at the Stern Center for Aesthetic Surgery in Bellevue, Wash. He also performs a spectrum of cosmetic procedures, from laser eyelid enhancement to collagen, liposuction and microdermabrasion.

Jean, 48, a non-practicing attorney and mother of two, has had laser eyelid surgery, laser resurfacing, collagen injections and five treatments of Botox.

"I hate needles," she said, as Stern injected Botox into the muscle above her eyebrow. "It's not so bad. Collagen - that, I can say, does hurt. Oh, boy, that's when you want your mommy."

One room over, Lori, 46, was also waiting to get Botox, but mostly to help prevent her debilitating migraines. Stern said Lori discovered the correlation between her Botox treatments and her headache relief before a national study confirmed it.

"I'd be throwing up, on the couch, I could barely walk," said Lori. Now she comes in every six months to keep the headaches at bay with Botox. She also has gotten five photorejuvenation and five microdermabrasion treatments. She said no one has ever noticed a lack of expressive ability that can sometimes occur with Botox.

"Anyway, I don't want to frown, I want to smile!" she said, asking Stern. "How soon do you think I should do laser eyelid surgery?"

Over the past two to three years, Stern has also seen a big increase in the number of people coming in for "microcannular" liposuction. Liposuction used to be a horror show of risk and slow recovery.

Now doctors use a suction wand only 1-2 millimeters in diameter, done under local anesthesia, while the patient is awake watching DVDs on a virtual reality headset. Such liposuction can reduce jowls and "turkey neck," and postponing face-lifts for years.

"We've eliminated the risk of anesthesia," he said. "I'm seeing a lot more people who want the procedure now that they know the lower risks. We've got them in their clothes walking out the door 15 minutes after."

One has only to look as far as Michael Jackson to see how plastic surgery can go horribly awry. Now patients can go back to work soon after having a non-surgical procedure like Botox or collagen, without downtime and without extreme changes.

"Everybody's talking about it," said Stern. "Most people tell everyone in their office they did it, then try and get their friends to do it too."

 

© 2003, The Seattle Times.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

'Dental spas' pamper those who know drill too well
By Rex W. Huppke
Chicago Tribune
(KRT)

CHICAGO - Those who can't imagine a soothing dental experience never have awaited a root canal with their hands dipped in warm, moisturizing paraffin wax. They haven't enjoyed a pre-drill foot massage amid the scent of lavender candles and fresh cranberry-orange bread.

In short, they haven't encountered "spa dentistry," where neck rubs, virtual-reality glasses, juice bars, even the lulling sound of wind chimes are used to distract patients from plaque scrapers and novocaine shots.

This pampering approach is aimed at erasing dentistry's "painful past," said Timothy Dotson, owner of the Perfect Teeth Dental Spa in Chicago.

"It's not about gimmicks," he said as a patient drew a breath of strawberry-scented nitrous oxide. "It's treating people the way they want to be treated. It helps a lot of people overcome fear."

Although few dentists currently offer full-scale spa services -- no one tracks exactly how many -- the Chicago-based American Dental Association expects the numbers to grow rapidly. Picking up on the trend, the Chicago Dental Society will become the first major dental organization to offer a class on the new techniques at its annual midwinter conference at the end of the month.

Amenities such as hot towels and white-wine spritzers are appearing with increasing frequency as dentists try to meet changing consumer demands.

With patients already seeking aesthetic improvements -- everything from whitening teeth to using enamel to shape a perfect smile -- spa dentistry practitioners say it was a logical next step to add the extra perks.

"People don't just want to be disease-free, they want to look better," said David Fulton Jr., a dentist and director of the Chicago Dental Society. "This has opened up many avenues for dentists."

And surprisingly, many of the dentists say they are not charging for the extras. The cost of most spa services, they say, is more than covered by an increase in patient referrals and repeat business.

While dental offices from Los Angeles to Madison Avenue and throughout the Chicago area are adopting spa techniques, some question whether this touchy-feely approach is good dentistry or just a passing fad.

"I just can't see mingling the two businesses together," said Peter Robinson, dean of the University of Connecticut's Dental School. "I would like to think we're in the oral health care business. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned."

Dotson admits he's anything but old-fashioned. His waiting room is equipped with an Xbox video game console to keep children entertained and an electric foot massager to calm adults.

A bread machine fills the office with bakery-fresh scents, and clusters of candles burn near each dental chair. Patients sit within arm's reach of aromatherapy eye pads and a variety of lotions: melon with a twist of kiwi, jasmine infused with mimosa. A patient can grab a hot slice of bread on the way out.

Talia Medina, who started coming to Dotson's office about a month ago, said she now feels more at ease about having dental problems fixed.

"Nobody likes coming to the dentist, but this makes it so much easier," Medina said, a heated massage pad kneading her back as she waited for a crown. "I watch TV, it smells nice, it just makes it really easy. A lot better than a regular dentist."

Paul Landman, a dentist at the Manus Northwestern Oral Health Center in Chicago, said his practice has evolved into a spa dentistry operation. He started out with CD players and free coffee but now offers hand and foot massages, fragrant heated towels and other "warm fuzzies."

"Some patients are like, 'Leave me alone, I don't want any of this stuff,'" Landman said. "Some say, 'Pamper me, pamper me, pamper me.' I have one patient who calls up and says she wants a fried-egg sandwich, tea and a lot of newspapers to distract her. So we give her what she wants."

Landman said that unless a patient requests an unreasonable amenity, there is no charge for the additional services, including the fried-egg sandwich.

In Houston, Max Greenfield has created ImageMax Dental Day Spa, an ornate facility decked out with fountains and modern art that promotes a trip to the dentist as "a getaway."

Patients can change into a robe, sample eight different aromas of oxygen and meditate in a relaxation room decorated like a Japanese garden.

The actual dental area features lambskin leather chairs, hot aromatherapy towels and a procedure known as a "bubble jet gum massage" that uses air and water to clean teeth.

"It's like a touch-free carwash," explained Greenfield, who left dental school three years ago with visions of a salon-style dental practice.

ImageMax clients can package a tooth cleaning with a hot-stone massage or a detoxifying Adriatic algae and clay wrap.

And on the way out, everyone gets a milk chocolate business card -- with the recommendation they brush after eating it.

Although spa dentistry may sound like oral care for the rich and famous, practitioners say they don't charge more than the average dentist. A basic cleaning at dental spas in Chicago and other cities costs about $80, and that generally includes all the amenities except major massage treatments.

The ADA says spa dentistry meshes well with an industrywide push to defeat the anxiety that keeps many from seeing a dentist. "We're working more and more on the person connected to those teeth," said Kimberly Harms, a dentist and ADA spokeswoman. "The more comfortable the person is, the better they'll care for their teeth and the more they'll get their dental problems taken care of."

According to a 2001 ADA survey, more than 20 percent of Americans had gone more than a year without a dental checkup.

Even before spa dentistry entered the scene, Harms said, most practices had already made changes to improve the patient's experience, offering headphones with soothing music, coffee in the waiting room or a television to take minds off discomfort.

Fulton, of the Chicago Dental Society, supports such efforts to relax patients but cautions that a fine line exists between perks and a careful practice.

"Certainly what we're doing in the mouth, in such a small, tiny area, we need a certain type of environment to work in," he said. "The patient can't move. You've got to be careful not to move them around or tickle their toes or anything."

Robinson said the University of Connecticut's Dental School wouldn't offer Spa 101 classes any time soon, though students are taught the benefits of putting patients in a friendly, relaxed environment.

He believes spa-style services should be kept separate from a dental operation.

"I'm in the health care business," Robinson said, "not the makeover business."

 

© 2002, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Pamper yourself at mountain spa getaway
By Annette Thompson
© 2002, Southern Living Inc.
(KRT)

What puts the glow in Westglow Spa? Some say it's the sight of the sunsets burnishing Grandfather Mountain gold. But guests agree it also comes from the faces of visitors who've had the pampering treatments.

The columned hilltop Manor House and Life Enhancement Center sit just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Built in 1916, the house now serves as a destination spa. Begin your pampering in one of the six large guestrooms - each outfitted in period antiques and spacious baths with adult-size claw-foot tubs and samples of spa products. Or you may reserve one of the two rustic cabins or a room at the new cedar lodge.

Have a cup of tea before you set out exploring the facilities. Then take some time to enjoy the view of the tree-cloaked mountains from a porch rocking chair. If you prefer, browse the library shelves, and curl up on a comfortable sofa by a crackling fireplace.

At mealtimes you can share a private table with a friend or join other guests for fellowship. Guided daily hikes are part of all package stays.

The food is remarkable. Owner Glynda Valentine believes that healthy eating doesn't have to be sparse or plain. Dinners delight with such treats as wild mushroom strudel with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, trout with almonds and grapes in a lemon-tarragon sauce, or marinated shrimp and grits in a spicy smoked-tomato gravy. If you want to learn how to make recipes such as these, join one of Glynda's cooking classes as one of your spa treatment options. Mornings begin just as scrumptiously with filling egg-white omelets, hot breads, and fresh fruit.

After meals like this, you'll want to get your body moving. The Life Enhancement Center, a new state-of-the-art spa and exercise facility, rests across an expanse of lawn from the Manor House, past the tennis and croquet courts. It includes workout rooms with strength-training and endurance equipment, an indoor swimming pool, a hair-and-nail salon, and treatment rooms. Make plenty of time for luxuriating in these private rooms while enjoying services such as body scrubs, aromatherapy, massage therapy, foot reflexology, facials, manicures, and cranial sacral work.

Classes keep your heart rate up with a variety of aerobic workouts, from spinning to water aerobic sessions. A fitness trainer is on hand to assess your personal strengths and weaknesses, and then to prescribe a course of action that you can implement at home.

After spending a couple of days working hard and indulging yourself, you, too, will have that inner glow-from the soothing treatments as well as from the beautiful sunsets high atop the Blue Ridge Mountains.

© 2002, Southern Living Inc.

Cosmetics Q&A
By Paula Begoun
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
(KRT)

Dear Paula,

I am third-year nursing student, and I just read your information on hair removal. This huge profit industry really takes advantage of women and people who have genetic predispositions toward excess or dark hair growth. I spent a lot of money on laser hair removal and had absolutely NO results. I had previously tried the tweezer-type RFE (radio-frequency emission) treatments and it had little effect after over a year of treatment. The woman doing the treatments told me that it was far more advanced than electrolysis (needle type), so I had avoided that type of treatment, thinking it was inferior.

When I signed up to study nursing, I was under the impression that I would have access to the best and latest information. Not so. I was able to obtain a better-informed opinion by accessing your Web site than by speaking to any so-called experts in the medical or health care fields here. The more serious cases of excess hair growth can be so devastating to some people that it has led some patients to suicidal ideation. No one deserves to be boondoggled, especially about something that carries with it the emotional depth associated with appearance and self-esteem. Keep up the great work!

- Tammy, via email

Dear Tammy,

Thank you so much for you kind, supportive comments. Your letter is a sad tale of how the industry can make claims that mislead the consumer. First, the type of laser treatment that reduces hair growth is approved in Canada and the United States and is permitted to make the claim that it can "permanently reduce hair growth," but it CANNOT make a claim for permanent hair removal. This phraseology has led to a great deal of confusion and dashed hopes. Regardless, the kind of hair removal treatment you received is not a laser device and is not approved for any kind of permanent or even semi-permanent hair removal. On Nov. 4, 1988, and again on Nov. 20, 1991, the Federal Trade Commission issued letters and complaints against businesses promoting these kinds of devices as being unable to stop or reduce hair growth but that hasn't stopped many salons and companies from continuing to market these devices. Even the FDA reclassified the RFE, tweezer-type hair removal systems from Class III to Class I devices, meaning it is not a medical device and cannot make medical claims, of which permanent hair removal is the major one (Source: Federal Register, October 26, 1998, volume 63, number 206).

Despite your frustration, I encourage you to revisit the possibility of undergoing laser hair removal. While it doesn't offer permanent hair removal, it does have impressive results with just three treatments a year. And I mean really impressive results. You won't be hairless forever, but you can be that way for a period of time and repeat visits increases results.

© 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

For black women, choosing a hairdo can create a tangle of emotions
By Mary C. Curtis
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT)

It was fourth grade.

We were a most talented group, chosen to present my all-black school's annual musical. After auditions, I felt pretty confident about my chances for the lead role. The character had to sing six songs, and everyone agreed my voice was the best in Sister Wilhelmina's class.

But my friend, a girl with the voice of a foghorn, got the part. The teacher said she looked more like a princess. It was the light brown skin and - most of all - her waist-length, wavy black hair. My crinkled braids didn't have a chance.

When it comes to black women and hair, it starts early.

The hurt.

The drama.

The trauma.

Recently, "Twists, Dreds, Perms & Fro's: A Short Film Showcase About Hair" at Spirit Square in Charlotte, N.C., explored the good, the bad and the nappy. The six women featured with this story had much more to say after the films were over and everyone went home.

For black women, hair is more than fashion; it's a way of life.

It's an afternoon in the beauty parlor.

It's the first time hot comb meets kinks, creating a burning smell and grease pops that felt like torture but meant beauty.

It's putting off a swim or canceling a workout at the gym because your just-done hair might "go back."

It's being tender-headed and insecure.

It's growing up in a culture that still judges blondes as the All-American standard of beauty and hair that blows in the wind as the ultimate prize.

It's only natural (no pun intended) that a people brought to this country primarily to serve would have its culture and beauty demeaned. In this country, whiteness is currency, the key to having a better life. And if you can't be white, having flowing, European hair is a step closer to the jackpot.

No wonder we all got the message: Black hair bad; white hair good.

When I was a little girl, how I wore my hair didn't matter to me or anyone else. Indestructible braids were foolproof for any activity. But when you hit 9 or 10, you (or your parents) wanted an especially "nice" look for special occasions.

The preteen rite of passage included a trip to the hairdresser, a place with its own vocabulary. You really didn't think about it; it was automatic.

"Grades" of hair were ranked, with tight kinks on the bottom. Hair that didn't need too many swipes of the hot comb or frequent "touch-ups" with harsh chemicals was good.

Hair, once it was done, changed your life. You couldn't sweat too much or run around in the rain. It was a no-fun end of innocence. Welcome to the world of self-doubt.

Looking back, it seems ridiculous. Any clean head of hair is good hair, of course.

Black - and that included a big Afro hairdo - was beautiful for a while. In the '60s and '70s, African Americans reclaimed their history like never before. Even then, though, the sentiment was hardly universal.

My father, God bless him, gave my sister some money for the hairdresser when he first saw her 'fro, convinced that lack of money was the only reason she would let her hair look that way.

Natural was considered radical by the mainstream, and not just because of the activist Angela Davis. It was a revolutionary act for African Americans in the United States of America to take pride in their own look.

New York broadcaster Melba Tolliver was told by her news director "you no longer look feminine" when she went with a natural do. Bad publicity and public pressure finally forced her on-air return.

My sister's close-cropped curls made her a queen beside women of any color.

By not relaxing her hair, she was relaxed and free and more beautiful than she'd ever been. I followed her lead in college and never looked back.

I don't care how others judge me. I've become comfortable with myself.

Black women have choices: long and short, dreadlocks and braids, red, brown and blond.

We're no longer judged by a European standard of beauty, right?

Why, then, do some women hide under shoulder-length wigs during job interviews because in corporate cultures, they want to play it safe? Why am I still waiting for a music video that stars a woman with an Afro as the desirable love interest? Why do so many whites ask to touch my hair and say, "it's so soft," surprised it's not Brillo?

I know I preferred Serena Williams' braided look because I don't believe blondes have more fun.

Even though it shouldn't matter, the vocabulary of "good" and "bad" hair is far from faded.

Choice is fine, as long as it's really a choice.

I suppose I took the first step toward my choice at that fourth-grade Catholic school play.

Though I didn't get to be the princess, I was "The Little Blue Angel," who appeared at the top of the Christmas tree at the climax.

I sang my one song and brought down the house - kinky hair and all.

 

WHAT BLACK WOMEN SAY THEIR HAIR SAYS ABOUT THEM

-LINDA NOEL KAWABATA, 51, yoga therapist and freelance writer. Born in New York, lived in Japan, now resides in Charlotte, N.C.

"My episodes at Japanese hairdressers were largely dependent on what black person was prominent on Japanese television. I went from looking like Kunta Kinte to Carl Lewis to Lauryn Hill."

Style: Traditional dreadlocks.

"I routinely mix about eight herbs and make a conditioning rinse for my locks. Then I melt luscious shea. Finally I get the finest floral essence and oils from Hawaii and scent my locks with pure jasmine or white lotus."

Quote: "My hair says that I am my own ambassador in the world. It suggests that I am elegant, feminine, sophisticated, groomed in every sense, smart, confident and healthy."

-ERICA Y. WELLS, '53, intake specialist at Department of Social Services, Charlotte.

Style: Natural Afro.

Quote: '"I find the younger generation appreciates natural hairdos as opposed to members of the older generation, who seem to be embarrassed. My hairstyle expresses pride in my heritage and the fact that I am able to be me without trying to emulate anyone else. I am happy to be nappy."

-NATASHA MORRIS, 31, filmmaker in Charlotte.

Style: Curly ringlets ("low-maintenance, a style that suits me").

Quote: "My hairstyle has allowed me to express confidence, self-assurance, and peace of mind about being an individual defined by my own standards, not society's or someone else's. I'm devoting more energy and time in building and nurturing the interior, the spirit. Beauty radiates from within."

-MELISSA DAVIS, 31, clothing designer in Charlotte, originally from Boston.

Style: Curly 'fro.

"My friends wonder what my hair will look like next."

Quote: "(My hair) says I'm free-spirited, proud and happy with my heritage. I believe each strand and string of curls is a reflection of my mother, father, grandparents, great-grandparents and my ancestors who lived and died as slaves. It was those people who made me who and what I am. And my natural state tells them and the world that I am proud to be an American with an African heritage."

-JATRINE BENTSI-ENCHILL, 39, president of InSite, corporate coaching and training firm, lives in Matthews.

Style: Varied. Straight, wavy, curly, ponytail, pony-tail, French roll, Sisterlocks, thus the caps ("It's like having a head full of spirals").

Quote: "My hair says that I have decided that my hair is no longer a controlling issue in my life. That I'm free to engage in whatever activities I choose. It says I understand that my hair isn't straight, and there is no shame in having a head full of beautiful kinky, spirally, springy hair."

-KUSAWN CARR, '33, associate director, Wake Forest University, Charlotte MBA Programs. Lives in Charlotte; came from New York City.

Style: 'Permed and smoothed back, adding a ponytail extension.

Quote: '"Like so many black women, I find myself struggling with my hair. Should I cut it? Perm it? Wear it natural? Weave it? Wig it? Do I really want to spend all day in the salon? My hair is a part of me - not the other way around. So back it goes, into a chignon, braid, a roll or my favorite ponytail. Either way, it's another burden, well, off my shoulders."

© 2003, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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