ON THE COVER North Coast Journal Weekly
Jan. 6, 2005


What's up with your hair? [photo of curley-haired man]

On the cover:
Arcata resident Willoughby Arevalo on his 21st birthday.
Photo by Bob Doran



CATE HOLM, A HAIR STYLIST AND OWNER OF KALOS Salon in Arcata, has seen hairdos come, go, and come back again in her 30 years of cutting hair. But she said that one thing hasn't changed: A new style can alter the way you feel about yourself.

[Cate Holm in salon with client]"A good haircut can give you a new attitude. You dye it blonde, cut it short, you start getting more attention, and somehow you wind up thinking that your butt looks cuter, too," she said.

[RIGHT: Cate Holm, owner of Kalos Salon in Arcata, applies color to Elizabeth Wing's hair.]

Holm talked about a client who went through this process after lopping off her locks and going blonde. The often-reserved woman began feeling more confident. She noticed that people treated her differently, even grocery baggers at the market started offering to carry her bundles to the car, Holm said.

Hair is an outward representation of personality and lifestyle, a visual clue of what a person is like. A young woman with a jet-black bob and short Betty Paige bangs might be seen as artistic, brazen or maybe brooding. A woman who wears flat, mousy, shoulder-length hair for years may be seen as matronly, shy, unsophisticated, even boring.

Other haircuts can be viewed as a form of cultural thievery. For instance, some say that white people who sport dreadlocks -- those dense, unbrushable, matted locks of hair popular in Humboldt County -- are taking a cultural and religious tradition from both Rastafarians and African Americans, and using it as a fashion statement. The same goes for mohawks, another hairdo du jour, whose roots come from the Mohawk Indians. The difference between the shaved sides and gel-spiked coif of today and the traditional design is that the Mohawk Indians plucked each strand of hair from the side of their heads, a painful and spiritually motivated process.

White people who sport these haircuts and other culturally defined styles, like cornrows or braids, often defend their choice as a sign of respect for oppressed cultures.

Noel Boquet-Ahmad, a stylist who recently opened SunInMyHair Designs in Eureka, sees cultural appropriation of hair as neither thievery nor respect, but rather an attempt by white people to associate with a strong cultural heritage that they lack.

"Many white Americans are disconnected from any tribal roots they might have had. So doing their hair a certain way, getting tattoos or piercings -- that might be a person's way of embracing a tribal past," Boquet said.

Sometimes Boquet sees clients who want to get in touch with a more recent past -- like the way they looked 20 years ago. A woman came to SunInMyHair recently and asked Boquet to cut her hair into a mullet -- a cut that is cropped short in the front and left long in back.

"She showed me her passport from 1979 and said `This is what I want.' Her bangs went from ear to ear; a complete mullet," she said. "It looked cool. 1979 was a time in her life that she felt really good about herself so she decided to revisit it."

The woman's mullet was a source of attention 25 years ago. Walking down the street in New York City at 19 years of age, she was once stopped outside the Vidal Sassoon Salon. The stylists there brought her inside to analyze her mullet cut.

The Journal staff decided to do something similar, but none of us claims to be a Vidal Sassoon stylist. Instead, we talked with people who have interesting hair and asked them to analyze their own `do.

[Willoughby Arevalo]

Willoughby Arevalo
21, Arcata
University student and drummer for Winston Smith

"I was born with a full head of black hair. Around puberty it got really curly and my classmates started making fun of me. In fourth grade I wanted to grow it long but my hairdresser didn't understand and gave me a mullet. I got made fun of; lots of nicknames, like "'fro-boy" and "bush." Around seventh-grade I started growing it out again because I realized it was a really cool look, like my friend's older brother who had a 'fro, they called him Sam the Hair Guy. Sam said, `Dude, grow it out!' So I thought, `Maybe I can get away with it.' In eighth grade I had an enormous afro the size of a basketball, I had to pick it out every day. By my sophomore year in high school it was long, I wore it in a ponytail. The problem was that it took an hour and a half to comb through and condition it in the shower. So at a point I had enough and decided to get it cut. Nobody else besides Cate [Holm] knows how to do my type of hair. The trick is to pick it out like an afro and then get the clippers to it. It's like topiary, like trimming a hedge. I really haven't had anyone else cut it since. With my hair I always felt like I didn't fit in, and when I first started getting into punk rock [music] I thought, how do I get into the scene? So, the afro was my punk hairdo, I couldn't pull off all that spiky business like my friends. I actually like to give haircuts -- crazy, experimental stuff. At the [Placebo's] 24-hour yard sale and the punk rock barbeque I cut people's hair for cheap prices. At Bummerfest, I charged 50 cents."

[Rebecca Breksa with blue hair and tattoo on forearm]

Rebecca Breksa
30, Eureka
Youth worker and CR nursing student

"I shaved my head about six and a half months ago, after [I broke up with my girlfriend]. I was ready for a change. I had an a-line shape cut before. I just needed to get rid of my hair and that bad energy. I've had my head shaved before, when I was a teenager. Then when I was pregnant with my daughter I thought, `I need to grow my hair out and look more like a mom now.' So, depending on where I am in my life my hair will resemble my lifestyle. Right now I'm in a transformative stage. I feel very free and alive; with my hair I can portray myself that way. I have short hair but I can still put on make-up and look femme, and then jeans and a T-shirt and look butch. Being identified as a dyke, or as queer, has been powerful. With longer hair, I was never identified [as queer] and that can be isolating when you want to build a community of friends. Now that I have short hair people perceive me differently. I do home repairs, so now when I go into Pierson's [Building Center] and ask questions, the workers there will be more specific with their answers. When I had long hair I could ask the same question and they'd be vague and tell me I should get a professional to help. So there's definitely a level of respect that I'm starting to receive. Then again, I can travel somewhere in the middle of the night, stop at a gas station and feel vulnerable if I'm in a place that's not queer friendly. People see me a lot differently than before. More women definitely check me out now. So I sympathize with queer women who feel left out because of their long hair. It's not like I cut my hair to put it on my sleeve, but it's definitely a membership for the queer community, an immediate in."

[Leslie Buchanan at news desk]

Leslie Buchanan
26, McKinleyville
Anchor, News Channel 3

"If you watch most news, the trend is that women have shorter hair. I think it looks more professional. You want it to stay in one place without it looking like it's been hair-sprayed a bunch. People who watch the news -- I'm sure they comment on it at home: `I like her hair, I don't like her hair.' I guess what I would like for it to say is that I'm a professional person -- I'm young, but I have a professional job. If I weren't on the news, I would much rather have my hair longer. For someone my age, I think longer hair makes you feel prettier, younger."

[Aristides profile]

Ageless, Arcata
Arcata Co-op cashier

"I've had lots of different haircuts. The most response I ever got was probably when I had horns 2-3 inches on either side of my hide. Mainly I get a positive reaction from people. At most of my jobs I've had a mohawk, even at Old Navy in the [Bayshore] Mall. It was actually encouraged there. They'd say, `we like that, try different colors, get some piercings, we want to see what you come up with.' When I get bored I feel like cutting my hair."

[Deborah Waxman]

Deborah Waxman
25, Bayside
HSU grad student and organic farmer

"I've had my dreads for five years. I had long, sort of thick, wavy hair and it was always a mess. It was just getting to be a hassle to brush it, and I just decided to start dreads and make them look nice. Part of it is, I think, a spiritual choice, too. I think about it as a tree of life history of the things that I've done with myself in the past five years. It's like every place I think that I go swimming there's a little bit of that still there -- it kind of sounds gross -- but I just feel like everywhere I've been, like if you go hiking in a great forest or go traveling, there's a piece of those memories I feel like are a part of [my hair]. I think I've had the best response [to it] from African Americans. I come from New Jersey, and a pretty urban area there. [Blacks] were the most welcoming and I think had the best comments about it and compliments, and I got the worst feedback from white yuppies -- not here, but definitely in the metropolitan New York City area. There are a lot of white people who were like, `That's disgusting.' White people are the most discriminating about it. But people are usually like, `Awesome.' [I don't know a lot about the Rasta roots of dreads.] It's just sort of something that naturally started, and people either have a nasty rat's nest or you make it look nice because you're a professional, responsible person and you want it to look presentable."

[Lauren Searle-LeBel

Lauren Searle-LeBel
19, Arcata
Creative writing student in upstate New York

"I've had the pink since September. I've been dying my hair on and off for about three years, four years. Pink is one of my favorite colors, and I also just love the reactions I get from people. People will stop me on the street, small children will be like, `Mommy, she has pink hair!' And I like the way it looks, and it's easy to keep up. I dye it every other week. Do it myself. I really like it. It fits me. A lot of people say that. I'm a small person but I'm loud. I'm pink. Pink is very me."

[Daniel Watson]

Daniel Watson
19, Arcata.
Housekeeper, Quality Inn

"I get some weird looks around here; weirder looks down south, though. I've been growing it out for four and a half years. My mom was pretty against it at first. But I definitely don't plan on cutting it anytime soon. I've become pretty attached to it. Finding work has been difficult [because of my hair]. Now I'm a housekeeper at the Quality Inn. I've got to keep it tied back in a ponytail and I use two [elastics] on it. Typically they don't hire males with hair longer than their ears, but they let me slide by."

Hank Sims & Emily Gurnon contributed to this story.

Kala's dreads

[Kala Kenyatte standing]Arcata resident Kala Kenyatte is an imposing black man, 55, who has worn his hair in dreadlocks since 1981. At this point his "locks" as he calls them, reach his waist. The Journal spoke with him about when he started wearing his hair in dreadlocks -- and why.

How did you wear you hair when you were younger?

"When I was in junior high back in Virginia we went through a style called `quo vadis.' It was almost shaved, cut around the edges nice, square in the back or with a `v,' that was back in the day [the mid-'60s]. Then in high school our football team, the Douglas Bulldogs, we all wore mohawks. I had regular haircuts when I went in the service, really short on the sides. That brings it up to the fro. I had a small fro, then towards the late part of the '70s I had a big-ass 'fro. That was in the disco days; I was living in L.A. I wore a 'fro until '81 when I started growing my locks."

Why dreadlocks?

"I started listening to reggae music and it turned me on to my culture -- my African culture and heritage and so forth. From back in the '30s and '40s, up until that time black people would process their hair, put a lot of grease and oil in it, chemicals, then use a straightening comb on it to make it look like the white man's hair. That was both male and female. When I found reggae music I knew I didn't have to do that.

"It's a natural process. All we did, and I've told many people this, all you do is you wash them, keep them clean and let them grow. You don't have to add anything to them, especially when your hair is really kinky. It dreads up quickly. White folks' hair, straight hair, takes awhile to dread up. You have to use beeswax or something. Back in the day when white guys first started wearing dreadlocks, they would wet their hair and put Tide in it, you know, Tide detergent, then clump it together."

What do dreads mean?

[Kala Kenyatte flipping his dreadlocks]"There's a certain spirituality to real dreadlock wearing people. The serious Rastas say they're an antennae to God, an antennae to Jah. I will never be a true Rasta, but I do try to represent.

"I'd say up until the day I started growing my dreadlocks, there was something missing. I've learned so much since then about my heritage and my culture. And when I see white kids out there who do not respect my culture, I get ticked off about it. I'll give you an example: I was at Reggae on the River, walking back to my camp. There was this white kid with what I call shitlocks. The boy was there celebrating my music, my culture, my heritage and he had the nerve to call me the `n' word, and he's wearing so-called dreadlocks -- nasty, dirty, not clean. They say cleanliness is next to godliness, but you walk by some of these people and they're funky, they smell -- and that is not the light of Jah. I see that as making fun of my culture. One thing about Rastas, their locks are always clean. And I have to say, there are some white kids who know what it's about, who respect them, who keep them clean."

Has your hairstyle ever created a problem for you?

"For me? Not at all. Quite the opposite. Because I keep my hair clean and well maintained, when I walk down the street I get a lot of compliments.

"You know Jamaicans have been wearing dreadlocks since the '30s and `40s, and they were persecuted: They were thrown in jail and had their hair cut, just for wearing locks. So they are people who paid dues and paved the way for me to wear dreads today. For them it was about getting away from colonialism and saying our hair is not supposed to look like yours. I can't say I feel that way, but when I'm out in public and my locks are flashing, I represent -- I keep my head up. Growing my locks has taught me to keep my head up and not look down in my life. I walk with pride now, pride in my culture."

Interview by Bob Doran

Big hair, big money

[Jessica McGuinty]GROWING UP WITH CURLY HAIR WAS NOT EASY FOR JESSICA MCGUINTY. [photo at right] Especially as she got into her high school years, when her locks became more unruly, more fluffy.

"It was horrible, I got made fun of, I looked like a poodle until I was 24," McGuinty recalled. "I didn't know how to work with my hair back then and my mom had straight hair so she couldn't help much."

The battle of the big hair continued for McGuinty, 28, of Eureka. So a few years back she logged on to the discussion group at naturallycurly.com, a Web site that offers tips for cutting and styling curly hair and has over 15,000 registered members. She tried using some of the suggested hair gels and creams, but nothing worked quite right for her hair.

[bottle of Jessicurl product]It was about two years ago when McGuinty whipped out the pots and pans and literally tried cooking up her own hair solution. The first few concoctions were unsuccessful, but finally she hit on something. A lightweight gel made with flaxseed oil, glycerine and aloe vera. She went back to the site and offered other frustrated curly girls the recipe.

"A lot of people wrote back and said, that's too much work for me, can't we just buy if from you," McGuinty said. "I didn't have any intentions of getting into the hair gel business at the time, but it just took off. I was already employed when I started doing this."

Now McGuinty employs three people at a manufacturing plant in Arcata, where she bottles a variety of hair products -- gels, shampoo and conditioners -- made especially for curly hair. The Jessicurl hair-care line is sold mainly at jessicurl.com -- the product has been sold in every state and other nations as well -- and at a number of local salons and stores.

"It's all about the Internet; this business wouldn't have worked otherwise," she said.

McGuinty also fields about 20 e-mails a week from people who want pointers on taming their manes.

[Denie Schach]Another local entrepreneur who hit the big time in the hair business is Denie Schach [photo at right] , inventor of the Hairdini Magic Styling Wand.

Ten years ago, Schach -- a former stylist who had earned a reputation as an "up-do specialist" -- invented the Hairdini to help people recreate her glamorous piles in the comfort of their own homes. The product was an instant sensation, earning slots on home-shopping networks and on late-night TV infomercials.

Though the heyday of the Hairdini may have passed, there is still a steady market -- which proves, Schach said, that what she called the "clean, classic look" of the up-do is one of the few constants of hair fashion.

"It's always thrived, because it's always in," Schach said. "It's not going to go out next year. I think that's one of the reasons why, 10 years later, people are still talking about the Hairdini and still ordering it -- because it's basic and classic."

Schach moved from Texas to Eureka three years ago, in order to be closer to family and to the natural beauty of the North Coast. Since then, she has refocused her business somewhat, away from direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns on QVC and the like, and toward wholesale and Internet business. She has also designed a whole series of hair-aids that can create any number of intricate dos -- from buns to braids to beehives.

Nowadays, she wholesales her products through Claire's Boutiques, an international chain, and through her Web site -- www.hairdini.com -- which does between $1,000 and $2,000 of business each month, she said.

"I love living here, but I was really afraid that I wouldn't be able to make it economically," she said. "It's still a hard place to make money."

In recent months, she has launched a new television ad campaign, including some spots on local television. The ads are based on a simple catch-phrase -- "Don't get caught by the hair police" -- and are designed to direct customers to her Web site.

Schach will be rolling out three new products in the upcoming year. One, she said, is still top-secret. But she could talk about the other two -- the "Hairdini II," an easier-to-use version of her signature product, and the "Mega-Clipdini," specially designed for people with "very, very big hair."

"I will challenge any hair," Schach said of the latter product.

Reported by Helen Sanderson & Hank Sims



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