Every so often you come across an Instagram page that's so visually captivating that you can't take your eyes off of it. Mona Baltazar, also known as MonaCut, of Davide Hair Studio in NYC has that effect on people. A curl magician, if you will, the way this woman cuts and shapes curls is mesmerizing.
Baltazar has created a cult following of curl enthusiasts because of her commitment to celebrating texture in all of its glory. With a sole focus on cutting, styling, and creating shapes and silhouettes for curly-haired women, Baltazar is the type of hairstylist we need more of. It's clear that her love of hair goes beyond the surface. She fosters a connection with her clients, which fuels her desire to share their stories and educate others on the beauty of textured hair.
In a society where women are marginalized at work for "unkempt" natural hairstyles and young women are getting suspended from school for wearing their natural curls, Baltazar paints a refreshing picture of curls that the world needs to see.
BYRDIE: What brought you into the world of hairstyling?
MONA BALTAZAR: I was the first person in my family to become a hairdresser. I come from the Philippines, and my mom was single. I didn't have real guidance on what to do professionally after high school. On career day in high school when I was a senior, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I saw something say "cosmetology" and was drawn to it. I went to our local community college in San Jose, California, and applied. As soon as I got into the program, hair felt so natural for me. I went to school for it for two years and haven't stopped doing hair since. I'm lucky and grateful that hair found me.
BYRDIE: You have over 10 years of experience in professional hairstyling, and you've been focusing primarily on curly hair the past two and a half years. What sparked your shift to texture?
MB: To be honest, it really is the clientele. I was working at a salon and I permed my hair, which made it curly, and no one would touch my hair. There were 20 people in the salon, and nobody would touch my head because I had crazy curls in my head. I was introduced to @Curly.Edgy who is a huge hair blogger. I cut her hair, and she liked it and posted it. Then more and more of her friends started to sit in my chair, and they all had the same story. I thought: That's fucked up. Why would people not want to cut their hair because of their texture?
My clientele made me want to help them because every single one of them couldn't find a hairstylist because no one wants to do curly hair. It's traumatizing for a lot of them, which is the reason they cut their curls or blow them out. Culturally, I have a lot of clients who are Dominican, and in their culture, it's ingrained that curly hair is not "good hair." Instead, they're taught to smooth and straighten their curls. Even if they're fully transitioned, I always ask how their family is responding to their hair, or they tell me stories about people asking them if it's really their real hair.
There's a cyclical cultural notion that having curly hair is not "pretty hair." Times are changing and we're all evolving now. We're all able to embrace and love ourselves, and see ourselves in a different way. I wouldn't go back to blow-drying or straightening hair. I'm happy I've found this niche and specific texture I can cater to. It's important to me that my clients love their natural hair.
BYRDIE: It's unfortunate that so many curly-haired girls share the same unsettling stories about hairstylists not knowing how to handle their texture. Why do you think that miseducation continues to be problematic in the industry?
MB: Curls are not an easy texture to handle. Hairstylists have to be patient. Historically, curly textures have always been shunned because of people's lack of understanding. However, now I'm seeing changes with companies that are creating products for curly hair. It all boils down to understanding the client you're catering to. Sometimes when I'm talking to people about curly hair, they automatically assume all my clients are black people, which is not true. People come from all corners of the world with curly hair. So many hair companies cater to straight, smooth, and silky hair. When they do try to cater to textured hair, I always find issues with their products. I'm constantly learning from my clients who are from so many different cultures, which makes it easier for me to grasp and understand their hair. Curly hair is not one thing—it's so broad. Hairstylists have to be more open-minded about who is going to sit in their chairs and be more willing to learn.
BYRDIE: People mistakenly group curly hair into one big category. What are your thoughts on different curl types?
MB: It's vital to understand your specific curl pattern. You might have tighter, zigzag coils and not super-defined curls. Yet so many women come to me and compare their hair to a blogger, calling her hair "hair goals." That's not "hair goals"—they need to love their own hair. That comes from their own subconscious, and they don't understand their own curl texture yet. I've had to tell women I don't have the magic wand to change your curl pattern. It's almost like 80% of the women I style don't know their own hair texture yet because they've only been natural for a year, and that's not a long time to fully understand your hair.
BYRDIE: What message do you want to spread with your styling?
MB: My goal is to create this movement where curls in the industry are no longer treated separately than all other hair textures. I want my clients to feel like they're a part of this huge beauty industry and not an outcast. It's more than just cutting hair—it's about the person and their story. I have straight hair and couldn't imagine putting that much time into my hair every day. I can't compare myself to them. When I started understanding and learning so much more about the curly community, I wanted to send a message to the world. I don't want women to be afraid of their own hair—they owe it to themselves to understand what's coming out of their roots. Hair is very personal.
BYRDIE: Can you walk us through your hair cutting and shaping process?
MB: I do wet and dry cutting. When I do wet cutting, it's for clients with finer, wavier hair that needs structure. I go in wet when I want to build and add a good foundation to the hair. For dry cutting, it's a coilier curl pattern. Curly hair is almost like a puzzle—I'm trying to make sure all of their textures blend and marry together. So that's how I engineer my cutting style to create structure. I prefer my clients to come in with their hair detangled. Then we wash the hair, sit them under the dryer until their curls are 80% of the way dry, and then diffuse their hair, which is when I do most of my styling. After I style, I go back and cut it again to refine and make sure there are no lost curls. It's definitely a science and art form.
BYRDIE: What are your must-have curly products you rely on?
MB: I have a lot, but my all-time favorites are Sebastian Potion 9 ($19) and Oribe Curl Gloss ($42) for styling. R+CO One Prep Spray ($18) is awesome for evening out the curl porosity. It adds texture, and sometimes I use it to reactivate curls when the hair got too dry. Olaplex Hair Perfector ($28) is great for curly hair color treatments. Bounce Curl Light Creme Gel Curling Gel ($29) is so, so moisturizing. For much tighter, curlier, and kinkier clients, I love Up North Naturals products—they smell really good and hydrate the hair without making it feel too greasy. Davines Momo Hair Potion ($14) is the bomb for all curl types. I use a little drop of it and it magically hydrates the hair.
BYRDIE: What do you think it takes for stylists to better serve women with textured hair?
MB: There needs to be a bunch of hairstylists available to cater to all textures. Young girls have all decided to finally free their hair. It's so satisfying and nice to see all these women rocking and understanding their natural curls. We didn't see that much curly hair out on the streets five years ago. Women need to let their big curls loose, put less product in their hair, and show the world their amazing texture that everyone would love to have.
I've always been a natural hairstylist—I've never enjoyed altering people's hair textures. There are curly girls everywhere. I want all stylists to be educated and feel comfortable with curls. When I see comments on my page saying "No one can do my hair in my city," it makes me sad. I want to be able to help curly girls who don't have access to me. To do that, I need to help and educate hairdressers in their communities. I want to be able to share my knowledge because it's necessary. My focus is to foster more education on curly hair so I can help others.