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Lesley Bryant is known locally as The Lady Clipper, owner of the eponymous barber shop in Washington, DC. Here, Bryant takes an inclusive approach to cutting hair, prioritizing the comfort and individual self-expression of her clients in a space she describes as “open-minded.” To those she serves, Bryant is much more than a barber, and her shop is much more than a place to get a haircut. 

Bryant is a trusted confidante to many who sit in her chair. For this reason, The Lady Clipper serves as the perfect stage — and Bryant the perfect host — for the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC (PPMW) Shop Chats program. 

Erica Easter-Young leads a Shop Chat session at The Lady Clipper

Shop Chats in session

PPMW’s Shop Chats program brings together beauty professionals of all kinds — from nail techs and makeup artists to hairstylists and estheticians — to learn more about sexual health and wellbeing. This gives them the confidence and knowledge to be prepared for conversations with clients about life, love, and relationships that often come up in the salon.

The Shop Chats program began in 2019 as an initiative of the national Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), explains PPMW Associate Director of Education Aleia Mays. The first iteration of Shop Chats, then called Shop Talk, took place at a beauty salon in Detroit, Michigan. The idea was to hold small gatherings at Black-owned beauty salons and barber shops, during which clients could discuss the issues affecting their communities. The Detroit program was well-received, and PPFA encouraged affiliates across the country to envision their own versions of it. 

PPMW received initial Shop Chats funding from PPFA and the Washington AIDS Partnership to host sessions centered on HIV education and prevention. These early iterations of Shop Chats were aimed at educating clients directly. After receiving a 3-year, $450,000 grant from ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action Risk to Reasons initiative in 2022, the program shifted towards teaching beauty professionals how to educate clients themselves and focused on a broader range of topics related to sexual and reproductive health. This gave rise to Shop Chats for Beauty Professionals, an ongoing series of Shop Chat sessions focused more broadly on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Beauty professionals are invited to The Lady Clipper for a full day of learning, networking, and discussion on how to have informed sexual health conversations with clients. 

Why beauty professionals? “We know beauty businesses are places where Black women go consistently, and they build very strong relationships with these professionals,” says Mays. “So we want to make sure that they have the resources they need in order to support their clients when they come in and share very intimate details about their relationships and health."

Aleia Mays (right) speaks during a Shop Chat session

Breaking down stigma, building confidence

The Shop Chats curriculum, taught by sexual health educator Erica Easter-Young, centers on ViiV Healthcare’s Risk to Reasons initiative. This initiative, designed to inspire awareness and action around HIV prevention and care for Black women, reframes common narratives surrounding “risk” of contracting HIV to instead focus on the individual’s reasons for pursuing HIV prevention and care.

In bringing this initiative to Shop Chats sessions, Easter-Young begins by helping participants deconstruct their sense of the term “risk.”

“Let’s look at this word, ‘risk.’ Let’s examine how what we learned growing up affects the use of the word ‘risk.’ What does risk mean to you? How do you feel about it?,” Easter-Young begins.

On this point, Easter-Young provides participants with historical and social context that can help them deconstruct their own internal stigmas and biases surrounding sexuality. “Most of the time, women, femmes, non-conforming folks, we are living in a world that is built upon white supremacy and patriarchy…and so a lot of the work I do as a sex educator is helping folks break down these walls and things that they were taught,” she explains. 

After exploring “risk,” a term Easter-Young describes as “inherently judgy,” she then asks participants to consider each client’s unique “reason” the purpose that guides and informs their behaviors. In this way, beauty professionals are taught to speak on topics like safe sex and HIV prevention in the manner most effective for each individual client.

During a session, participants share goals for their salons on a Shop Chat poster

Connecting with clients

This ability to meet clients where they are when it comes to sexual health education is for Bryant an ethical obligation owed to the community who patronizes her business. “If I have knowledge that could save somebody’s life, why wouldn’t I share that information?” 

But, the relationship between practitioner and client is a two-way street, and as Easter-Young explains, it’s important for beauty professionals to share information in a way that accounts not just for the client’s personality, but their own as well. “A lot of the work is really around ‘how do I share this in a way that is authentic and true to who I am, while at the same time getting the information and the message out there?’” 

Many of the questions Easter-Young receives from participants are technical, such as the difference between PEP and PrEP (which can help prevent the transmission of HIV). But other questions are more nuanced, as participants seek guidance on the right approach to a sensitive conversation. 

Easter-Young notes that beauty professionals often want to know, “How do I have these conversations without my clients feeling like I’m all in their business?” She reminds them that while the health information they are sharing might feel new, they are often already engaging in conversations with their clients about relationships and sexual health without necessarily realizing it. 

“You’re already a sex educator,” she tells beauty professionals, “This is just putting structure around what you’re doing…so that you can be a little more thoughtful about how you approach it.”

Shop Chat participants, presenters, and PPMW staff pose after a September 18, 2023 session at The Lady Clipper

Building comfort and community

Now, after joining several trainings, Bryant feels much more prepared when topics related to sexual health come up in conversations with clients. “For me, I can say I have more comfortability, you know, discussing it and figuring out ways to approach it when I get that opportunity,” Bryant says.

This is the program’s core goal, Mays explains. “We want beauty professionals to be comfortable enough to talk about PrEP, to talk about HIV, to talk about safer sex. And in bundling all that together, also thinking about self-care, pleasure, and how all of that relates to safer sex. We want them to be leaders in those conversations.” 

An additional benefit of the program has been facilitating networking among local beauty professionals who care about sexual health, Mays explains: “Not just connecting them with us, but connecting them with each other, so we can all effectively support the community together.” 

It is this commitment to community impact that drives program participants. Easter-Young notes that many beauty professionals care deeply about being someone their clients can trust and confide in. Bryant agrees, sharing, “If [beauty professionals] want to establish a position in the community, if they want to connect with the world, it’s important to get the knowledge so they can pass it on.” 

“It’s just really great to see that these providers want to be there,” says Easter-Young. “Most stylists, beauty professionals, they have, like, one day off. And they give us that one day, because they’re so interested and want to do it.”

Expanding reach

In light of the Shop Chat Program’s success, PPMW is looking to expand its reach to Prince George’s County and Montgomery County in Maryland, as well as northern Virginia. And as Shop Chats continues to grow, The Lady Clipper stands firm as an example of what beauty professionals can be for the community members who trust them. 

“We not only want to make you look good, we want to make sure that you’re safe,” says Bryant. "We have a duty to protect the people who invest in us. It’s as simple as that."

To register for upcoming Shop Chats sessions, click here. 

Tags: STD Awareness, peer_educators, community_partners, sexual_health_education, Sexual Health, Sex_Education


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