Celebrity Hairstylist Dr. Kari Williams Talks Black Hair Identity
by Nina Westbrook
I get a lot of questions about my hair and which products I use. As a mental health professional, I’ve always felt that this topic goes deeper than just a quick product roundup and have wanted to share my thoughts on Black hair identity as well as Black hair care. Most importantly, I want to stress that the most important thing about your hair is that it should be healthy. In general, there’s a psychology behind hair and what people perceive to be ‘good hair.’ I personally believe that hair is hair and all hair is good hair, but I also realize there tends to be a negative undertone when it comes to Black hair - people consider it unruly, coarse and not naturally beautiful which I find absurd. Whether you wear your hair straight, curly, braided, buzzed, or in a protective style, the texture of your hair has nothing to do with how beautiful it is, and we cannot allow other people’s standards of beauty to dictate how we feel about ourselves.
We’re long overdue for some self-love as far as our hair is concerned and that starts with accepting our hair no matter how kinky, curly, or straight it may be. Over the last few years, I’ve really enjoyed seeing more women embracing their natural hair, curls and all because this is about feeling confident in who we are and loving ourselves fully for every little thing from our heads to our toes. For me personally, I’ve always sought out hair care specialists who prioritize the health and care of my hair which is how I found Dr. Kari Williams! Dr. Kari creates the most beautiful braids and Goddess Locs for me and she always emphasizes natural hair care solutions that celebrate my true beauty. She has been styling celebrities at her salon Mahogany Hair Revolution in Beverly Hills for 18 years and has a PhD in Trichology (the science of hair loss and disorders of the scalp). We sat down to discuss everything from Black hair identity to which products she can’t live without!
Nina Westbrook — The health and beauty of hair has been a focus throughout history. Why do you feel there is such a profound connection between Black hair and the Black identity?
Dr. Kari — Hair is a visual marker of identity, designed to establish individuality and uniqueness. Black hair is the most unique hair on the planet and one of the most distinguishing features of a black person in addition to the color of our skin. Our hair holds spiritual, cultural and communal significance. Historically, hair styles were used as a form of non-verbal communication to identify social, economic or marital status.
Our hair is intricately woven into who we are, and as a result there is historical and current evidence of prejudice and discrimination against Black people at school and in their workplaces if they choose to wear their hair in traditional natural styles.
NW — You opened your doors in 2007 saying that it was a time when it wasn’t popular for Black women and men to wear their hair natural. Why is that and have you seen this perception shift since that time?
Dr. K — The American standard of beauty has always been based on Eurocentric ideals. To avoid discrimination, black women and men would choose hairstyles that were considered more "acceptable." Natural hairstyles were reserved for spring break and summer vacation. I think the shift began around 2009, when more black women began to create communities through blogs and YouTube openly talking about and sharing their natural hair journey. As this community grew, so did the number of natural hair products that were owned and created by black women. Black celebrities, athletes and public figures began to wear natural styles creating more positive images that redefined the standard of black beauty. Unfortunately, this did not stop incidents of discrimination, so in 2020 The C.R.O.W.N. Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) was signed into law in California to protect against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles.
NW — You have a PhD in trichology – can you tell us more about that and how it helps you better care for your clients?
Dr. K — Trichology is the scientific study of hair and scalp disorders. This knowledge helps me take a more holistic approach to the care of my client's hair. I consider all aspects of my client's health before making recommendations for hair loss and scalp discomfort. Understanding the science of hair guides me in the hairstyle options I discuss with my clients, the styling techniques I use, the hair care regimens I create and the product recommendations I provide to help them reach their hair goals.
NW — With all of the knowledge you have, we would love to know which products are topping your list of recommendations! Can you share your top 5?