Growing up as the daughter of a cosmetologist was exciting and educational. Anita “Sug” (McKinney) Keaton learned her trade in high school at Gibbs Senior High in St. Petersburg, Florida. She received rave reviews about her skills and quality of work which earned her an award of honors in cosmetology for “Outstanding Work and The Best Notebook” at the age of 17.
“Sug” as she was called, was well known during her time, later went on to obtain her cosmetology license and worked in the profession until her early death in 1988. Throughout her career, she was mentored by and worked alongside many great stylists like Dr. Robinson (Deceased), Mr. Gary Flowers (Deceased) The Styling Boutique, Dr. Frogue’s (Dr. Frogue’s Hair Styling) and Mrs. Ira King (The Beauty Gallery). She also attended numerous hair shows and seminars to stay abreast of new products, processes and styles, ultimately delivering them to her clients.
It was very exciting watching her as she maneuvered throughout the salon tending to her clients. I was always amazed to see her orchestrate shampoos and conditionings, drying times and the styling of her clients. The most interesting moments for me were observing her handling the curling irons and the “clicking noise” that they made! Upon completion, one had a clear sightline through each of the curls. Sug could also roller set her own hair and had individual parts that were so precise; one would think that someone else had done the roller set for her.
There were many other exciting moments that I experienced as a child during my mother’s career. One had to do with her playing the role of “Kitchen Beautician” which is a term given to women who performed hair services in the comfort of their own homes. For clients that couldn’t afford the salon price, my mother would offer a discounted rate making her services available to all.
I did not realize the legacy of her talents until almost two decades later. I learned from my Uncle Will, a former beautician himself, that she was one of a few Afro-American women to work for the “Soul Scissors Beauty Salon” in downtown St. Petersburg at Webb’s City. Webb’s City was known as “The World’s Most Unusual Drug Store” which housed the popular Soul Scissors Salon Franchise that was headed by Mr. Art Dyson, a trailblazing cosmetologist who taught on black hair care in the 70’s.
Sug’s famous line was “You shampoo hair and wash clothes!” This was a saying that she repeated constantly to her clients and anyone that she overheard saying they were going to “wash their hair.” She was a true educator in that she took time to consult with her clients teaching them about their individual hair texture, proper treatments and the best products or product lines to use in caring for their hair.
My mother faithfully used her index cards, recording important client data such as their personal information about their hair texture, treatments performed during appointments and any other pertinent information she considered to be noteworthy of documentation, as she took great pride in the healthiness of her client’s hair. Sug was very organized and this system of correlating services rendered to her clients provided her with a basis for delivering timely chemical treatments such as color, relaxers, permanent waves (Jheri Curls), haircuts & trims, and yes, the “Press & Curl” for which she was well known for.
This type of systematic recordkeeping protected her and her clients, as there were times when she used the documentation to politely dispute the reasoning behind not performing a requested service on a client’s head. She believed in appropriately applying all applications, especially chemical treatments as not to over-process or damage the hair.
Sug’s attention to detail in caring for her client’s hair enabled her to counsel them on the best products that would aid in healthy hair growth, proper use of non-professional products and other home care remedies. This type of rapport resulted in her clients coming into the salon with confidence and walking out with pride, making my mother very happy because you could see the grand smile on her face and theirs.
My Hair Care:
My mother’s hair care techniques were impressionable as she had a tradition of doing my hair along with my sisters, every Sunday or every other Sunday depending on the style we had during the week. The years of watching her and listening to her directions of properly caring for the hair provided me with the basic foundation of how and why I take care of my hair the way I do. Her methods of treatment led me to search for the best stylists to care for my hair when it was chemically treated. I did not hesitate to change stylists when my hair care regimen wasn’t consistent with my spirit and foundational principles.
I made the transition from chemically treated hair to now proudly wearing my natural hair over 13 years ago. I initially made the decision because I got tired of the chemical processing, unhealthy fumes and my scalp being irritated by the harsh and dangerous chemicals. Because we’d been conditioned to think that we couldn’t do much with our kinky hair or that it wasn’t beautiful in its natural state, other people’s reaction presented a challenge to me.
The projected mentality of not looking presentable or decent by the head affected me personally and professionally because I was in the military when my transition process began. But, I took this opportunity to challenge my own self identity and idea of what beauty was. I knew that I couldn’t wear my hair the way I desired. So I pushed the envelope “within regulations of course,” because I wanted to try an array of styles and also maintain a “well kept appearance by military standards.”
I tried out many different braiding styles and techniques to assist with the transformation. I also maintained a regular schedule for keeping my hair braided, proper shampoo and conditionings, as well as keeping my hair trimmed. I didn’t make the mistake of not properly caring for my hair simply because it was in braids.
Now, whenever I decide to wear them, I choose my favorite style which is the “Kinky Twist.” I love this style of braiding because it allows me to wear the look of Locks without the permanency of the Locks. I also like it because this braiding style very closely resembles the natural texture of black hair, as “I’m Very Proud of Black Hair and I Celebrate Mine!”
My normal everyday style may consist of the regular Afro, Two-Strand Twists (Twist-Out) and other assorted styles, or a headwrap using various colors, patterns and fabrics textures. I mainly wear headwraps during the winter months to protect my hair from the cold elements though I occasionally wear them for adornment, special events and spiritual reasons allowing my spirit to direct the creation of each wrap.
In the essence of honoring my mother by properly taking care of my hair, I attend Natural Hair Care Shows and Expos. I also regularly shampoo & condition it; using one product line (at a time) to maximize its effectiveness, as well as keep my hair trimmed, frequenting the salon as needed or desired. When preparing for bed, I plait or twist my hair and moisten the ends.
This is done to secure the hair and help prevent breakage and frizzing of the ends. I also tie my hair down with a 100% Silk or Satin Scarf to keep from rubbing out my edges and to keep my hair moisturized, as cotton fabrics dries out and damages the hair. Caring for my natural hair takes time and patience, and the reward of having “Healthy Hair IS Priceless, But the Boldness and Confidence to Wear Your Natural Hair is FREEDOM!”
Yataye “Yah-Tay” Keaton