A Columbia salon for pampered princesses and frightened boys

USC School of JournalismApril 4, 2013 

— The first haircut the owner of Hair Doodles received from her inexperienced uncle when she was 3 made her look like a little boy.

“I remember my bangs being in the middle of my forehead,” said Kelly Rister, who has worked at the salon for 17 years.

In that time she has gone from a kid with a bad haircut to cutting and styling children’s hair.

The 30-year-old salon is tucked away in a corner of a shopping center on Forest Drive. The storefront has a multicolored sign on its exterior hinting at fun. Inside, the walls are painted bright green with big blue polka dots; along one of the walls is a shelf with rows of bows.

A playroom replaces the typical waiting room. Instead of month-old gossip magazines, a flat-screen TV, bucket of toys and a bookshelf with authors such as Dr. Seuss entertain customers, some of whom can’t reach the cash register, let alone pay for their own haircut.

Children can munch on animal-shaped cookies while their hair loses either an entire ponytail or just an inch for a regular trim.

But for some younger customers, toys and treats do not distract from the trauma of a haircut.

Rister does not know why children can be terrified of getting their hair cut. She said boys typically are more afraid because girls like being pampered while boys don’t like being held down. Some people think the scared children relate getting their hair cut to visiting the doctor, but doctors have told Rister that the children are worse at Hair Doodles than they are in the doctors’ offices.

One Hair Doodles customer, Scotty Radeker, exercises his lungs by screaming and crying every time he visits Hair Doodles. Even though Scotty has been to Hair Doodles every two months in the two and a half years he’s needed haircuts, he still gets very upset when the shears snip away his locks.

In a recent visit, Scotty’s mom, Adriane Radeker, held him down to minimize his jerking and crying while Yolanda Henry, a Hair Doodles stylist for almost 10 years, patiently cut his hair.

“If they wiggle and scream, we’re prepared for that,” Rister said.

When Henry finished Scotty’s haircut, he realized the terror was over, relaxed and headed to the playroom. He transformed into a golden child, not even wanting a sucker as a reward because he does not like sweets.

Most children grow out of being afraid, Henry said, and one day they come in and sit in the chair and behave.

Rister remembers one customer with special needs who would throw a fit every time he got a haircut but kept telling her that he would be good when he turned 7. He came in after his 7th birthday and sat in the chair and behaved like he said he would.

Some of the girls and boys Rister watched grow up have now become adults, who bring their own children to Hair Doodles.

“This is where I spent almost every one of my birthdays,” said Maggie Allen, who brought her daughter Bella for her friend Emma Harrell’s birthday.

Emma wanted a haircut like her mom’s, which happens to be one of the more popular cuts requested — a bob.

Some girls ask for the hairstyle by saying they want their hair like Kit Kitteridge, an American Girl doll, Rister said.

Henry chopped off a six-inch ponytail from Emma’s mane. Then Emma took her time choosing a hairstyle from a book of pictures showing various braids and twists. The hairstyles range from a heart braid to a spider web design where colorful bands link together small portions of the hair forming what resembles a net.

Emma settled on a small braid on the top part of her head that fell by her right ear. Her special day of spoils continued with a kid’s version of a manicure. She selected green for her nail polish because it’s her favorite color.

After Bella’s nails were painted too, the girls modeled their new hairstyles and manicures radiating like royalty.

Rister’s creativity extends from cutting and curling to cooking and crocheting.

She owns a catering company, Southern Belle Chef Services, and when she’s not doing hair for kid’s parties she prepares all kinds of food for grown-up events like weddings, showers, Christmas parties, funerals, even a divorce party.

But her day job keeps her going.

The kids are always happy, and she doesn’t have the stress of a regular office job, she said. She thought about being a nurse at one point, but that job would be more stressful too, she said.

So she learned how to cut hair by attending beauty school to earn money through college. She then went to Midlands Technical College and the University of South Carolina for a culinary arts degree.

She earns extra income through the catering company, but Hair Doodles has done well, despite a bad economy. Hair Doodles has kept its prices the same for about three years, Rister said.

Even though she has cut, braided, shampooed and styled thousands of children’s hair Rister has been ready for her own children for a while.

Now pregnant with her first child, she is ecstatic thinking about when she will style her own kid’s hair, especially if it is a girl.

Her kid will never have to worry about bad bangs.

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