The theme of this year's Golden Scissors Awards — "Hair GaGa" demands an analogy: Everyday black hair is to the styles displayed last night as a traditional red-carpet gown is to the eccentric pop star Lady Gaga's meat dress.
Technicolor, tall, bedazzled and ornate. Evoking images of butterflies, clowns and princesses. Paired with outfits straddling couture and costume, the styles were the best of what you'd expect from a hair show: over the top and totally unself-conscious. The Washington Convention Center, where the 19th annual awards were held last night, was an incubator — nurturing risk taking and providing shelter from the concerns that tend to weigh down black hair and beauty.
At the core of the five-hour marathon of musical performances, exhibitions, awards and commentary was a competition: Sixteen salons battled for the $1,000 "Hair GaGa" prize. But this contest felt like an afterthought — by 11:30 p.m., when Golden Scissors founder and emcee Glynn Jackson announced the winner, the crowd had thinned and models were roaming the empty back of the room in still-attached hairpieces and pajama pants, rubbing sleep from glittery eyes.
The real win of the evening — the victory that infused every performance — was for black hair itself. The intangible prize: a night when the crowd of 1,100 experienced it not as a chore but as an art, not a burdensome set of required practices but a brilliant — and fun — tradition.
As the models in feather eyelashes, ball gowns and bikinis sauntered down the runway, Jackson provided a running commentary of approval, shouting into the microphone over the loud techno beat, "Beautiful! Hot! Fierce! Beautiful! Hot! Gorgeous! Sexy! Beautiful! Yes!!"
Trophies were awarded for lifetime achievement, best barber, best black business, best Dominican salon and more. But the most celebrated hair celebrity was Jackson himself ("Mr. Glynn" to his devotees).
When his adoring staff presented him with a surprise award honoring his legacy, Jackson (yes, the same the man in a T-shirt bearing his own name in gold foil script) lowered his eyes and shed real tears, shaking his head almost as if considering turning down the honor. Then he spun to pose for the cameras with his trophy and massive bag of Carol's Daughter goodies.
The event was like a service over which he presided as pastor, interspersing motivational messages about the black hair movement, black business and, again and again, "the children!"
Those "children" were the stars of the show. Just when you thought Willow Smith was exceptionally poised and talented (and maybe a tad grown for her 9 years), a 2-year-old Mr. T stomps down the runway like a shrunken Tyson Beckford, striking a pose so photographers can catch the details of his Mohawk. He's followed by itty-bitty girls in tutus. They look like they should be toddling in pre-ballet, but they're strutting and shaking their rainbow-colored ponytails with lips pursed in facial expressions that would put them in contention for any Top Model challenge.
None of these children is in need of self-image therapy via the viral Sesame Street "I Love My Hair" video. Who has any use for a gyrating, perma-smiling, hopping, bopping puppet trying to convey that black hair is cool when there's a kids' natural-hair salon like B.R.A.T. Box Salon For Kids putting on a skittle-colored, Willie Wonka-themed exhibition? "The way I normally wear my hair is less extreme, but still pretty. Still really pretty," said 11-year-old Diamond Carter as she prepped for the performance.
Meanwhile, Soul Food star Darrin Henson hawked calendars and Darrin's Dance Grooves DVDs before taking to the stage to open the show. And Lola Monroe (perhaps better recognized for her dramatic waist-to-butt ratio than her hairstyles, but nonetheless fully in the spirit of the event) performed her single, "Overtime."
After five hours of fanfare, the night's grand winner was finally announced. Note to stylists: When it comes to wowing judges, there's not much you can do to compete with moving parts. The color scheme of the winning entry: lime green and silver. The size: Think mini Hula-Hoop. The embellishments: woven hair, waist-length, leafy vines and a rotating, motorized flower the size of a dinner plate. Stylist Christopher D. Fountain (known as "Pastor") of Connecticut took home $1,000 for the masterpiece.
You won't see anything quite like the winning entry on the street, but the tradition of treating black hair as art isn't entirely confined to the runway, either. It's in the conch shells and beads in your friend's locks and the electric blue strands woven into the micro braids of the girl behind the Starbucks counter. This form of expression doggedly manages to survive every cultural assault on black beauty — not to mention, it makes for a damn good time. And if the Golden Scissors crowd has anything to say about it, the fun side of black hair is here to stay.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is a regular contributor to The Root.