Oh, You Didn’t Know About the 'Texture Tax'?

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It costs a lot to be a woman. It’s well known that we pay more for clothes, grooming and even health care—all while making less on average than our male counterparts. That disparity is called the “Pink Tax.” Less acknowledged is that it can cost even more to be a black woman, particularly when it comes to basic grooming rituals like getting our (often kinky, curly, coily) hair done, as Tweeter @k_lisarae recently found out while trying out a new salon and being charged $10 extra for the “textured” hair fee.

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Because @k_lisarae called out the fact that she patronized an Aveda concept salon, the beauty brand’s mentions were temporarily in shambles. But in truth, the pricing was most likely at the salon’s discretion, and while it’s definitely not okay, it’s also not new or uncommon. Salons across the world have long imposed an added fee I fondly call a “texture tax” on their curly or naturally-textured patrons, a demographic highly comprised of black and brown women.

@k_lisarae’s experience echoes that of British woman Anna Giscombe, who complained after being up-charged at a Toni & Guy salon in the UK for her teenage daughter’s “afro”-textured hair.

“I pointed out that a white woman was started slightly before my daughter and finished slightly after, but she wasn’t charged extra,” Giscombe told the Guardian in 2007. “They said it was because my daughter’s hair was ‘thicker’. They didn’t say ‘thicker’ than what or how this was measured.”

In response, Toni & Guy spokeswoman Karen Harper then told the Guardian:

Toni & Guy have a very clear price structure that reflects the ‘level’ of stylist and the length of the service, i.e. time that stylist is with the client. If a stylist is presented with a client with exceptionally long/thick hair (regardless of race) and the service given runs over the normal appointment time, a nominal charge will be added to the bill. This is standard industry practice and even exists in afro-specialist salons.

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As Harper indicated, Toni & Guy are far from alone in the practice, and several of @k_lisarae’s commenters pointed out that many salons also charge more to style long hair, due to the extra styling time and product used. But as both the above statement and the Guardian’s own research indicated, part of the issue is that the ability to style naturally textured hair is considered a “special skill,” rather than a prerequisite to being licensed.

As beauty blog NaturallyCurly pointed out in 2017, the extra fees associated with styling textured and/or curly hair tend to have less to do with the quantity of product used than the skills that are typically lacking in salons.

Most cosmetology schools still do not provide textured hair training as part of the base curriculum. They teach students how to relax it and how to blow it out, but not how to work [with] it. Aspiring textured hair specialists make an additional investment for this training, licensing, and certification, and therefore, it is understandable that these costs factor into the cost for their services. Some stylists may also increase their service fees after a new certification is added to their resume.

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“Yes, we have plenty of amazing products for curls, coils and waves. Yes, we’re seeing celebrities and models wearing gorgeous natural styles,” wrote NaturallyCurly co-founder Michelle Breyer in frustration the year before.

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“[M]ost stylists still don’t know how to work with texture. In fact, cosmetology schools still don’t teach their students about how to work with texture, she added. “Stylists can leave school without knowing how to work with the hair that more than 60 percent of the population is born with.”

So no, the texture tax is nothing new, but it speaks volumes about the continued marginalization of textured hair, an issue that should be as readily addressed as hair discrimination in our workplaces and schools—especially as relaxer sales continue to fall in an otherwise booming black haircare market. But in order for it to change, we’ll have to continue to insist that the care of our hair be considered a necessary skill.

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Because as the Cut asked in 2014:

What do you say when an acclaimed business tells you that the hair that you were born with is too difficult? That the curly and coil-y legacy, gifted to you by your parents, is a burden to the professionals trained to treat it? That you ought to be financially penalized for this?...

Because hair—the styling of it, the protecting of it, and the maintenance of it—is so mind-bogglingly important, we sometimes mute the timid voice inside that says pricing based on one’s race is inherently wrong; that implores you to look for another salon that won’t charge an extra fee for black hair.

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.