The Strictly star tried to get her hair cut and was barred from the establishment. Why? Because she is a woman.
For Karen Clifton, her hair is an integral part of her self.
The professional dancer and Strictly Come Dancing star said as much in December 2018 when she debuted her cropped hair cut with its shorn sides, a fashion-forward style that the 36-year-old stressed was a change that she made for herself.
“Never be afraid to make changes because of what people will think of you or because they won’t like it,” Clifton said in an Instagram caption at the time. “Being happy with who you want to be is what matters. Chopping a bit of my hair to feel refreshed and to continue fine tuning the person I am. Just happy. Just me.”
For Clifton, this new hair style is an embodiment of her power, identity and her continual growth as a person. Which is why she broken down in tears when she was told by a barber that she would not be accepted as a customer there. All because she is a woman.
Clifton detailed as much in a tearful and emotional Instagram story, in which she explained that she had journeyed to the barber in question – Jacks of London in Wimbledon, where she had previously been a customer twice before – for a fade.
“It’s my new look,” Clifton explained. “They said I wasn’t allowed to be cause I was a woman. And I was like, ‘Why? I have been here before?’ and they were like ‘No women. We can’t. The owner doesn’t allow women to get their hair cut here.’”
For Clifton, this was a shocking and insidious moment of sexism, something that immediately made her feel “really crap”.
“This has never really happened to me before,” she added, sobbing. “The fact that I was a woman and I couldn’t go and get my hair cut because this is all-male, what are we – in the Stone Ages? It really affected me and I just feel really crap.”
Clifton added that on the two previous occasions when she visited the establishment she was served by women, but this time there were only male staff present. “I’m not getting anything fancy done, and even if I was, the fact that I was turned away because no women allowed, even though there are two barbers that were free and only one customer in,” Clifton said. “When I’ve gone there before to get my hair cut, I’ve gotten it done by two women. But this time, there were no women.”
She continued: “This is so ridiculous. I have never felt this before and I have never experienced this before and it feels awful and it shouldn’t be this way.”
A spokesperson from the barber business has responded to Clifton’s post and apologised for her experience.
“I appreciate that Karen has alerted us to the anomaly within our policy that suggested we do not cater for women, and we have begun an immediate review to correct this,” they said. “I, and the store team apologise, that the member of staff in question was not aware of this. I understand now that we must make it more explicit to our team that anyone who wants a barber cut is welcome in our store regardless of gender.”
Other barbers, like Kieron Webb (@thelondonbarber), offered their services to Clifton instead. “Karen, if you would like me to cut your hair, please get in touch,” Webb, who is barber to Zayn Malik, said on Instagram. “[Refusing to cut women’s hair] is not something that I agree with, but it does happen.”
But Clifton’s experience exposed the dark and insidious nature of sexism and the myriad of ways, big and small, whereby those who identify as women can be discriminated against. It’s important that the barber shop in question has apologised and addressed their own policy forbidding women from becoming paying customers. But what about the other spaces that ban women on the basis of their gender? How many viral Instagram posts will it take before these are also overruled and their policies overhauled?
Because this is 2019 and the internet exists, Clifton experienced some pretty upsetting trolling after sharing her post. Clifton was called “attention seeking” and “pathetic” for making her comments at a time when there are more important things going on in the world.
They’re right, in a way. There are plenty of other truly awful things happening in the world right now.
But it is equally important to recognise that women can’t just switch off from our experiences of sexism because, as Clifton pointed out, they are baked into our very existence in this world. Sexism is right there in our salaries, in the price we pay for tampons, in the size of our phones – configured for male hands and not female – in the movies that we do and don’t get to see, in the long swatches of time we spend queuing for public bathrooms and, yes, even in our haircuts.