Straight hair, a narrow nose, thin lips, and a fair complexion. The mannequin that sat in front of Corinthian Carouthers II as a cosmetology school student was far from the depiction of what she saw when she looked in the mirror every day. And it definitely did not have the hair texture that 95 percent of her clients would have.
There were no kinks, coils, or curls.
"They all had straight hair. No one was questioning why the mannequin's hair was always straight, and we worked on those mannequins," Carouthers II said. "Everything we learned, we learned on those mannequins with straight hair."
It was 2001, and from her experience, most Black women used relaxers to straighten their hair.
"Back then, we were still programmed to get chemicals," Carouthers II said. "People were coming in to get relaxers. For the most part, we were doing relaxers, cuts, and curls. That was the thing. Because [natural hair] wasn't such a big movement at the time, a lot of us didn't question why we were not working with textured hair or why people didn't wear their natural hair in its natural state."
Around 2003, she noticed more Black women wearing their natural hair. Then in 2009, the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair hit theaters, and Carouthers II said even more Black women joined the natural hair movement.
"I think that right there raised a lot of questions," Carouthers II said of Good Hair. "I had people look at leaving the chemicals alone."
A natural hair care journey
Carouthers II said her natural hair journey began a few years before Good Hair was released when she had to get a haircut due to chemical damage from dying.
"I colored my hair, and it immediately started coming out," she said. "It started breaking off."
She headed to a barbershop and cut it off.
"It was a look that was pretty cool, and I didn't realize that was the big chop. People started coming to me, asking if I could style their hair. I started to see a big void in beauty schools. So, I just started studying. I started practicing with my hair and my clients' hair."
In 2019, she developed a natural haircare curriculum through her program Natural Hair Education. She also created Adah, a mannequin with textured hair that more mimics the texture of Black women's natural crowns. Carouthers II co-owns Creative Hair School of Cosmetology with her mother and brother, where she introduced the curriculum.
"My mother has been in the industry for maybe almost 30 years," she said. "Her birthing the beauty school helped me birth the natural haircare program." Her mother founded the Flint-area school in 1999.
"We were the only school in our region and maybe two in Michigan that started teaching natural hair education, she said. "With Adah, students can have a more real experience of what it's like to work with Black hair. I wanted the experience to be as real as possible."
She's also published an e-book and currently has a podcast to share information on Black haircare.
"A lot of the students that are graduating, whether they are black or white, are not getting the education on diversity. When you work in a salon, you should be able to service anybody, any type of hair texture," she said. "The fact that you have a lot of white students who don't know anything about textured hair, they feel some type of way about that."
Carouthers II said cosmetology schools typically use two books, Milady Standard Cosmetology and Pivot Point, to educate budding hairstylists, but the books lack diverse content.
"There's only one chapter in the Milady textbook that covers braiding, and the books do not cover textured hair [or] natural hair education." Milady does publish a separate book focused on hair braiding but it is not a required study material for cosmetology certification.
Through Natural Hair Education, Carouthers II teaches people how to properly detangle kinky textured hair, do two-strand twists, coils, flat twists, and up-do styles. Since the program's launch, Carouthers II said she has worked with an estimated 300 students combined in her online and in-person classes.
"Our ancestors have fought so much for us," she said. "I feel we now really have a chance to walk in our truth. Whether it is how we wear our hair, our clothes, or how we show up for the workforce."