Afrocks’ Afro Hair Stylists Guide To Personal Health, Safety And Self-Care
We have spoken before about the silent sacrifices many afro stylists make in order to provide an exceptional service to clients. We bend, turn, twist and place our bodies in awkward positions as well as the standing for long periods of time. We should also acknowledge the emotional toil of styling (also discussed before). The difference between a stylist and someone who ‘does hair’ is the attention to detail, which requires concentration, all the while ensuring the client is comfortable/entertained – and it is only emotionally taxing because we care so much about meeting the client’s expectations. As there is no professional certification for afro styling, see this as an afro stylists guide to personal health and safety. Even if you are not a stylist, please continue to read – these tips apply to all in some way or other.
Feet – starts the list as they are often the most neglected part of our bodies. When doing installs that take a few hours, our feet take a ridiculous amount of pressure. Try to keep both feet on the ground (the tendency may be to shift from one foot to the other but this will only add pressure to the hip). Pay attention to your footwear! Invest in insoles for extra comfort. I advise all mobile stylists to wear socks and/or bring slippers to their bookings – should you have to remove your shoes your feet are prepared. If your client has wooden flooring and you are standing for hours, I promise you your feet will thank you for the consideration. We are such soldiers that if we realise that something is wrong with our left foot, rather than seek help we would rather hop. DO NOT IGNORE! What can start off as a simple foot cramp can easily develop into a career changing condition. Chronic Tired Feet Syndrome is actually a thing!
“Think about how your knee movement is limited during styling, and as soon as you’re finished you are rushing to another booking or to catch the last train home. Your knees have gone from chillin’ for 8 hours to moving like Usain Bolt.”
Ankles – When we are tired we know our shoulders start to slouch but so do our knees (observe a stylist that has been plaiting for more than 3 hours). This pressure, however slight, will gradually cause your ankles to say “awww hell no”. The frustrating thing is that the pain usually hits suddenly. As there is no build up of pain, you are only aware that you have hurt yourself when it is too late. Acknowledge the work your limbs and joints are doing, make time to rest them. Do gentle rotations while you are styling, your client will never know. If you currently feel tightness once in a while or pain that comes and goes, invest in a support sock and avoid doing styles that take forever for a while.
Knees – When standing for long periods joints can easily become ‘stuck’ and you may experience some cracking and/or stiffness. Think about how your knee movement is limited during styling, and as soon as you’re finished you are rushing to another booking or to catch the last train home. Your knees have gone from chillin’ for 8 hours to moving like Usain Bolt.
Like your ankles, every once in a while get them moving – do baby squats (baby squats I said, I am not suggesting you start a Mr Motivator workout behind your Client’s back). I know when doing a long install, the temptation is to go as fast as you can but if you need to, do take a break. It is NOT unreasonable to tell your client you need 10 mins.
Back – Ohhh the dreaded back pain! You may feel ok now but not being mindful of your positioning and posture can, and will lead to muscle fatigue and back pain. If your client is on unsuitable seating, try to rectify this rather than making your body accommodate discomfort.
In our attempts to offer the best customer service we often don’t wish to ‘trouble’ the client but this is your business, your health is paramount. Direct them to a position that is best for you, if they are asleep and you keep having to bend…wake them up!
Really consider seating when styling children, this is usually where excessive bending is required. It may be an idea to travel with a cushion? And even if height is not an issue, think about what angle you placing your body in. I know I would put myself in some silly positions just to complete a patterned style and because you don’t wish to invade your client’s space the positioning can be all the more awkward. And…another thing! Product placement! Before you start styling, set up a workstation with tools, products etc. close to you, either in front or to the side of you. Continually having to turn around to replenish the blob of edge control on the back of your hand is a back’s nightmare. Stylists, please, pleassseeee be aware of your body placement and weight distribution.
Shoulders – Now, remembering your shoulders is easier said than done! As a mobile stylist you need to be aware of your shoulders before you even get to the client’s home. If you are travelling with kit and do not drive, invest in suitable luggage. Do not let stushness see you develop a chronic injury – use a rucksack so the pressure can be spread over both shoulders.
Remove/put down your kit every chance you get. Think about your outerwear! In our bids not to freeze, our heavy coats often weigh our shoulders. Also, when we are cold, our natural instinct is to hunch our shoulders. So, before you even start that large feed in cornrow/canerow, your shoulders are already tired.
When braiding, you may believe it’s just your hands doing all of the work and tend to forget that it is all connected. Your shoulders are moving every time you move your hands. When using additional hair, you have to move your shoulders back to keep the hair untangled.
Arms, Elbows & Hands – You know that saying: ’you never know what you got until it’s gone’? Well best believe that is the first thing that comes to mind when you start feeling pain in your elbows – I mean who thinks about their elbows?
Stylists, ensure you are using the best technique for YOU and not whichever youtuber is current flavour of the month. Sizing and the amount of hair you are working with all plays a part, so if you are doing a full head of long box braids be sure to rest your hands before and after styling. AND I don’t know about you but after years of prepping synthetic hair, my fingers are a mess. The course fibres have made me lose skin, get cut, discolouration and all sorts. Luckily, we now have some wonderful products that will assist (look out for part 4 of this series!) Remember to #switchitup – I know it’s uncomfortable and feels odd but if you are right handed try deliberately using your left hand and vice versa.
Neck/Head – As a mobile stylist, unless working from your home where you have the appropriate equipment, it is very rare that a client has appropriate seating. As a result the client is often lower than you would like, which forces you to look down, causing pressure on the neck. This automatically affects the back, and that is a lethal combo. If you cannot resolve the seating, remember to look up whenever you can and try some head rolls. Another issue is lighting, always make sure you can see adequately and not have to strain your eyes.
Outside of work – 13 suggestions on how to practice self-care
- Time to get serious –
everyone has their own idea of peace so connect with what yours is and make it your mission to engage in it. Use that same passion and ferocious intent that you display when someone in your circle requires a favour from you in pursuing a time and space for you to have on your own. I can hear the ‘I don’t have the time for all that’ but sis you better make time, like you made time to help your child with their school work, the time you found staying up late doing your cousin’s hair knowing you had work in the morning, or when you found time to cry with your bestie. when you think wellbeing, you may think of saunas and chants that go on for time. When you are being pulled in all directions you need to be reminded to check in with yourself.
Most offices have prayer rooms; go to the library, take annual leave and don’t tell your family (one of my faves). Literally take some time and physically learn to be still. We have this perception that stillness reflects procrastination, as though movement demonstrates intent – we always have to be doing something!
- Listen! –
Ok so I know you are used to hearing me say: ‘listen to your hair’
Now it is all about listening to your entire body. Our bodies gives us cues all the time, we have just become seasoned in blocking them out. The fear of being labelled a moaner, and inability to share our struggles are our biggest threats. Your hair starts falling out? Can’t sleep? Craving sugar? Constant headaches, heart palpitations, feeling tearful, no motivation, feeling confused …all cues. Oh and best believe that insistent desire you have to scream is also, if not the clearest, cue that you need to put yourself in time out.
- Rest-pect yourself –
Let me say at this point, that sitting still or laying in one position does not mean you are actually resting. Mental and physical health go hand in hand, one should not take precedence over the other. How many times have you sat down to watch tv or read a book and find yourself not being able to concentrate due to the constant itinerary playing in your mind, of things you need/should/would like to be doing. Wash the dishes, write that report, check emails, pay that bill, wash school uniform, look after mum and/or dad, sort out your social media, overdrafts, your confidence, the future, the past, how to stay cute when you feel like crap….thoughts such as these won’t go away simply because you sit still or simply close your eyes. This is what I’ve come to know as feign rest, it’s pretend, it’s like skim reading a book. Rest will only come if your mind is restful. How to make your mind restful? Scroll up
- Feeling a bit better? Remain seated –
Do you find you never give your body a chance to recover 100%? As soon as we feel just a little better and/or symptoms slightly relieved, we are ready to start doing ’something’. Here is an idea that just came to me, how about resting even when you are well – don’t allow pain to be the reminder you need to look after yourself. AND to all of you who are members of the, “I never ever, ever, ever take a day off work even when I’m sick” crew, let me let you into a little secret – your employer (as a system, not your individual colleagues) don’t care for you, you are replaceable! You are a Paye code, an employee ID reference number. If you are sick, stay in your yard!
- Stretch it out! –
Prevention is better than cure people! Before you even leave your bed in the morning simply rotate your ankles and your wrists. Simple things! Yet simple things that can help you save your joints. There are some great stretches you can do before bed and in the morning. Even when you are standing on the bus, the canteen, church…you can do discreet stretching anywhere. AND there’s no need to go killing yourself with a regime or add something else to your ‘to do list’ – as soon as it comes into your mind just stretch #NoPressure
- Delegate –
So the floor isn’t as shiny as you would do it and no one can fulfil a task like you, yes I get it but look at the bigger picture. Save your energy for the significant undertakings. The more pressure you put on yourself, the less you will get done. Exhaustive lists of things to do is the breeding ground for procrastination and loss of motivation.
- Guess what! It’s now ok to get help –
Yep, I have spoken with the counsel at the Elder Elder Black Women Association (don’t look that up, this is only bants) and they have said it is no longer a sign of weakness or diminished womanhood to ask for help! yay! We have an issue with our perception of weakness and what it looks like. Combine that with our ‘don’t talk your business’ syndrome as well as the dreaded ‘I’m not going to ask for help because I don’t want anyone having anything over me’ phobia, it is clear that our current thought patterns are damaging.
actively asking for support is a BIG deal for black women. We are hypocrites in our own fate as we open our arms to help all and sundry – yet struggle to seek support for our own selves. We are the best counsellors and yet the worst patients. Take your own advice, consider that people want to help you just as much as you want to help them. You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that your immediate space is often reflective of your mental state (that’s why my house is a mess! I just blame it on the 4 year old). If you need someone to help you, and it is within your means – hire a cleaner. Your friend wants to come and chill, make that friendship prove useful and get them to help you with [insert task].
- Put the phone down –
Better yet, turn it off – Believe it or not, the world will not end if you don’t go onto social media for a while. However, it is less about engaging with social media and more about making yourself and your senses unavailable for a few mins. Even if you are not looking at your phone, can you really rest hearing the insistent bzzzzz of your notifications? If you are feeling anxious or even slightly manic, the constant usage of your phone could be a trigger for further issues. The internet is a time seducer, have you ever started out looking at one thing and before you know it, you have lost an hour just looking at random or unrelated things. Turn the phone off! Even if it’s for the duration of your break. Laptops, tablets, phones, computers…give your brain and your wrists a rest.
- ‘Cork yu ears’ –
I love how parents say this to their children before saying the most totally inappropriate thing! Sometimes your hands didn’t even make it to your ears in time ha!
It is always good to listen and take advice but you are your own expert. You know yourself best, sometimes you have to cork your ears to other people’s opinions. How many times has someone’s reaction to what you’ve had to say cause you to doubt yourself?
The worst for me, is when you explain you are ill or in pain and someone (with the best of intentions) says, “oh well, at least you haven’t got….” or “sorry to hear that but think about the people that have…” although meant with love to inspire optimism, all it does is discredit our pain. I often say to people, if you banged your little toe (you all know that pain right) and then you met someone with both feet amputated…would that stop you from feeling the pain in your toe? People, in their desire to be helpful will fire solutions at you, eat this, drink that, sleep upside down, say 6,000 hail mary’s and it can become overwhelming. Remember, just as you may not eat everything on your plate, it’s not every piece of advice you must digest #Message
- Be Honest –
With yourself and with others. I spent the first 4 weeks denying what was happening to me and it wasn’t until I started sharing with others did I find some comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just me, I wasn’t being targeted.
I am pro chat your business. Sharing is how we know our experiences aren’t isolated. It will ease the feelings of loneliness in your situation, whatever it may be. Don’t be afraid to say you’re overwhelmed, don’t be ashamed to say your child/ren get on your nerves (top tip: if your child is stressing you, swearing at them under your breath behind their backs is extremely rewarding) Our recent stylist meet up was the first event I had attended with my new accessory (my nan’s walking stick). It was such a big deal for me and I left that meet up feeling supported, and it made the world of difference. Be honest with your clients! Providing good customer service does not include hurting yourself. Wake that client up, ask them to sit still, place their head the way YOU want it.
- Repeat after me..NO –
In line with being honest people, start getting comfortable with the word NO. We may have to run a workshop on this as so many of us struggle with it, especially if feelings of guilt rule you anyway. Trust me! It is so liberating! Reclaim your time, energy and resources back. Some are taught to take care of themselves and the surplus they distribute to others, we are taught to give our all surplus or not, even if it means sacrificing our own peace. You don’t want to go to your friends’ party…don’t go! Your feet are killing you…don’t take anymore bookings! Let’s practice…NO, NO, NO!
Feels good doesn’t it?
- Breathe –
A big huff, a sigh or a few deep breaths do not constitute for what I am suggesting. Don’t write this off as basic. Learning how to breathe makes such a difference. There are various techniques – here are the two I use:
– If you are feeling anxious and need to steady, focus on a square or imagine one.
Inhale as you trace the top of the square, exhale as you go down the side, inhale as you trace the bottom, exhale as you go up the other side and repeat. This will help to regulate your breathing.
– If you have a moment to yourself try this breathing exercise I learnt in Jamaica a few years ago. It’s more about being aware of your breathing than the actual breaths. As you inhale try and poke your tummy out, then as you exhale suck your tummy in. Ok so it looks a little silly in script but give it a try, when you get the hang of it you will find that as you focus on which way your breathing your mind clears even if it’s for 10 seconds.
- Sleep –
Your body can’t withstand the trauma it used to. Raving through the night and going into work the next day with little or no sleep is a thing of the past. Quality sleep is essential! I will even be dramatic enough to say it’s life saving. Have you ever spent a entire day wondering what’s wrong? Why are you so angry? Why are you so close to tears? Only to realise once you’ve fallen asleep on the bus that you are tired (remind me to give you all that joke another time).
We MUST stop taking refuge in sufferation as though we were made simply to endure. This label of SBW (Strong Black Woman) is not conducive to our cause it simply reinforces the lie – the same lie that suggests seeking support is a sign of weakness. Refrain from perceiving yourself as a strong black woman and start seeing yourself for what you actually are:
A fully fledged human being!
What is it to take 10 mins a day to check in truthfully with yourself. Keep in mind that longevity is the key and remember you can’t do what you do if you are no longer around to do it #FinalMessage
Do you need help with self-care? Discover these 16 businesses and initiatives that will help you on your wellbeing journey