Get rid of those split ends and maybe some climate guilt, too.
Now more than ever, we know it’s good to talk. Conversation is important for our mental health, it helps us to build connections with others, and it helps us to share, understand, and solve problems too.
But while friends, family members, therapists, and colleagues are vital sounding boards, a new Australian initiative called A Brush With Climate also demonstrates that we shouldn’t undervalue the powerful relationship that hairdressers have with their clients either — especially when it comes to big, anxiety-inducing topics like the climate crisis.
Yep, here’s why hair stylists may play a vital role in growing people’s understanding of the climate crisis and climate action — all while giving a gorgeous cut and blow dry at the same time, of course.
Can hairdressers start to educate people on climate action?
If you’ve been in a hair salon recently, you’ll know that they’re pretty noisy places. There are usually hair dryers on full blast, music on in the background, and, nearly always, there are clients chatting away with their stylists.
While many of these conversations center around that classic hairdresser question “Where are you going on your vacation?” Things can also get pretty deep. According to one U.K. study, 26 percent of people talk to their hair stylist about stress their facing at work, while 21 percent will open up about their medical issues. And 30 percent will confide in their hairdresser about family issues.
A Brush With Climate wants to take advantage of this close relationship, by teaching more hairdressers how to bring up the climate crisis with their customers in a sensitive way. After all, this is an issue that affects everyone, and there are things that individuals can do to reduce their impact on the planet (ranging from changing to an eco bank to cutting down on fast fashion to eating more plant-based foods).
Professor Lesley Hughes, a climate scientist, recently ran workshops for hairdressers in order to help them carry these important climate-centered conversations with their customers. The simple hook, she says, is the weather, and from there, hairdressers can lean into more pressing topics.
“You can show the science until you’re blue in the face but what can be more effective are people who you trust talking about it,” Hughes told the Guardian. “It’s important to show it’s not a subject to be afraid of.”
Paloma Rose Garcia, the owner of a hair salon and leader of A Brush With Climate, says that hairdressers have already had success with bringing up the climate crisis during appointments.
She told the Guardian of one incident when a stylist had chatted with a regular about solar power and the importance of ethical banking, and the customer ended up acting on that conversation by making changes in their own life.
“She was really proud,” Garcia recalled. “It might just be a 20-minute conversation but it can be really powerful.”
Why is talking about the climate crisis helpful?
It’s important not to put too much responsibility on individuals when it comes to climate action. It is, of course, governments and giant corporations that need to lead major change.
But that said, the power that people can have in their own lives should not be underestimated. (Switching to a plant-based diet, for example, is one of the biggest ways a person can reduce their own impact on the planet, according to University of Oxford research.)
But people often don’t make changes unless they really believe it is vital that they are made, and this is where the power of conversation comes in. One study published in 2019, for example, found that “discussing global warming leads to greater acceptance of climate science.”
And, researchers found, starting with small talk (like, say, about the weather) is an important route to talking about bigger topics. “Greater belief encourages greater discussion of the issue, which starts the cycle again,” notes the Climate Reality Project. “More discussion. Greater belief. Greater concern.”
The climate crisis isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In 2022, many countries faced some of the worst heatwaves on record, and floods and wildfires wreaked havoc in places like Pakistan and California. Talking about these events not only helps us to see what role we have to play in climate action, but it also helps us to cope mentally.
And again, hairdressers have a recognized role to play here too, because people trust them enough to open up. In fact, in 2020, community initiatives for mental health — including training for barbers — received £10 million in funding.
“Often you can be in [the hair salon] for a long time, but it is a place where there is touch,” Dr. Hannah McCann, a lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Melbourne, told the Guardian. “There’s an intimacy that’s different — and people go back, so the relationships build over time.”
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