For the winner, it was a good bad hair day


Here's something everyone knows in the black community: Black women do not come out in public with their hair looking a mess. Unh-unh, sister. They just don't do it.

And if they do, you know something has to be wrong. Someone has died, perhaps. Or a crazed burglar broke in and stole every brush, comb, curling iron, hair care product, wig, ball cap, bobby pin, butterfly clip and ponytail holder in the house.

So how did Dr. Miracle's - an African-American hair care company fairly new to the beauty market - persuade dozens of local women to come out on Saturday to Mondawmin Mall with uncombed, dried-out, broken-off, over-processed, matted, stringy, poofy manes of wild, uncontrollable hair all over their heads?

"To get a free relaxer," says Cortney Tarver, 20, of Liberty Heights. "And to see if I could win the contest."

Dr. Miracle's Bad Hair Day Model Contest - a raucous showcase of the worst cases of bedhead ever witnessed - promised one unkempt winner a free trip to New York for a makeover, a fashion photo session, $250 worth of products and the chance to compete against other cities' bad-hair-day winners for a spot as the next Dr. Miracle's print advertising model.

And those who showed up at the mall's center court Saturday, frightening hair and all, received the Dr. Miracle's Thermalceutical Intensive No-Lye Relaxer System, at no charge.

Free stuff and future fame, too? The combination was enticing enough to bring out Mignon Hall, 26, of East Baltimore, whose braided hair extensions - half in and half out - brought Medusa to mind.

The package seduced White Marsh's Michelle Spencer to unloose her thick cloud of gnarly locks, and East Baltimore's Ashlee Hill to strut boldly through a crowd of gawkers with spiky, violet-tinged strands waving in the air.

It even brought out the contest's first-ever male competitor - Jay Mitchell, 30, the manager of Shooters Sports in the mall - whose appointment with a cornrower was days overdue.

It was the worst of times, and then, even worse than that.

Graying roots, heretofore seen by no one other than trusted hairstylists, were, on this day, on full display. Puny, gel-hardened ponytails, strangled by elastic bands, were tossed as if a shampoo commercial were being filmed. Onlookers were careful not to become blinded by brassy, bad-blond dye jobs, six months grown out.

It was horrifying, but all in good fun.

The event wasn't simply all about the spectacle, company officials say.

"We have enough beauty pageants. We have enough waif-like models out there who we will never look like," says Kathleen Johnson, a hair educator for Dr. Miracle's and wife of the company's vice president and co-owner, Ollie Johnson. "Today you can just be you and let it all hang out. And you will be rewarded for having a bad hair day."

Founded by Brian K. Marks, Dr. Miracle's launched in the spring of 2004, focusing on the health and care of ethnic hair and scalps.

To elevate awareness of its products, the New York-based company bucked tradition by rejecting models with flowing hair and instead showing images of black women - hair amok - distressed by the state of their hair.

Dr. Miracle's has taken its contest to Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Washington and Baltimore. In January, the contest will be in Atlanta , according to its Web site,

Johnson says the tactic has worked, making the company an instant grapevine success among African-American women who recognized themselves in the ads.

"We wanted the truth to be revealed today," Johnson says. "These women, they came out of the closet. They could admit, `I'm suffering. My hair is damaged. It's a mess.' We want to solve that situation. We want to get women to start taking care of their hair."

Like Cortney Tarver, for example, Saturday's contest winner, whose dried-out, damaged, mouse-brown hair was further defiled by dangling tracks of badly glued, bold red hair weave - weave she had put in herself weeks ago and then slept in night after night without a care.

"I didn't do nothing to it," the student at Towson's Medix School said sheepishly, knowing black women everywhere would be shocked and shamed.

Hallelujah for the makeover Tarver will be receiving in New York soon, her fellow contestants sighed, relieved.

"Girl, you got to look good," advised semifinalist Gloria Harris of Northwest Baltimore - a black tam covering her mussed orange-ish hair, now that a winner had been declared. "You got to represent Baltimore now."

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