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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Female barber navigates sexism in male-dominated space

Ana “Lesly” Bete is one of two female barbers at her Gainesville shop

Ana Lesly Bete pictured at Fame of Fadez on Thursday, April 11, 2024.
Ana Lesly Bete pictured at Fame of Fadez on Thursday, April 11, 2024.

In a Gainesville barbershop, colorful capes adorn each chair. Clippers buzz in the background of group conversations under a bright LED ceiling. 

Ana Lesly Bete, a 28-year-old master barber at Fame of Fadez, struts in platform pink converse and matching pink socks. Her jewelry layers over her black-and-gray tattoos. The frizzy strands of her long, blonde hair stand out against her all-black outfit.  

Fame of Fadez Barbershop, a Gainesville company with two locations, has 18 male barbers and two female barbers — Bete being one of them.

On a weekday afternoon at the Archer Road location, employees ragged on each other over a game of pool while they waited for walk-ins. Customers talked to each other in chairs across the floor. The air smelled like barbicide and baby powder.

Barbershops have a long history of specializing in men’s cuts, laying groundwork for trending styles throughout decades. While male barbers traditionally perform cuts of the same gender, there has been a slow rise in recent years in female barbers across the country. 

In 2022, only 23% of all barbers in the United States were women.

Originally from Bohol, a province in the Philippines, Bete was on the dean's list at her local high school and started college at 15 years old. Cutting hair wasn’t her dream, she said. Rather, she studied to be an English teacher. 

Bete’s barber career didn’t start until she moved to Hawaii just a year later. At 16 years old, she was working at two different fast-food locations in Hawaii when a customer offered her a receptionist job at a salon, she said. 

“It inspired me to want to be that [independent] when I was older,” she said. “I fell right into a space that inspired me to do hair.”

The start of her barber career centered around the community at the salon in Hawaii, she said. Co-workers and their families frequently got together and held cookouts behind the building. Bete remembers being 16 surrounded by a community of people in their mid-30s, she said. 

From there, Bete attended the Hawaiian Institute of Hair Design as a barber and moved to Atlanta when she was 22 years old. 

She remembers experiencing sexism in the barber industry, she said. When Bete first started in Atlanta, the manager remarked to her that he would never let a woman cut his hair because women change his mind, she said. 

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Bete quit working there that same day. She went on to open her own barber shop in Atlanta at 23 years old, but left four years later because she felt she was working nonstop, she said. 

“I would take vacations, but it was never really a vacation,” she said. “I felt that I just needed to get out of that zone.” 

After visiting a few major cities in Florida, Bete decided to move to Gainesville because it’s not as fast-paced as Atlanta, she said. 

Bete has worked at Fame of Fadez since October 2023. Her growth and confidence as a barber was directly affected by her experiences as a woman, she said. 

“They see a girl that’s looking small and fragile,” she said. “I used to have all this self-doubt. I took it so personal it helped elevate my skills.” 

Bete still experiences sexist situations despite continued support from her coworkers. In a recent interaction, a woman refused to have Bete cut her son's hair because the woman didn’t want her son to look cute, Bete said. 

Bete loves doing trendy styles such as fades, she said. More recently, she’s been experimenting with neon colors, including a man who wanted bright pink hair. 

Above the struggles, Bete said her favorite part of being a barber is empowering the people who sit in her chair. 

“When I change somebody’s perspective about themselves … I’m happy to be the first step of that situation,” she said. “In an hour, you see their confidence change, it’s so crazy. This is what I live for.”

Bete’s coworker, 33-year-old barber Ashlee Stockton, has been cutting hair for 13 years. The Chiefland, Florida, native took to YouTube tutorials to learn her trade and practiced on her brothers and uncles. 

Stockton is the second female barber at Fame of Fadez. After just one year at the shop, she is no stranger to sexist customers. The main factor is the stigma of having to present masculinely to fit into the male-dominated space, she said. 

Stockton does present masculinely, she said, with an all black outfit studded with chunky chains and short curls falling in front of her slick-back fade. While her presentation may make men less hesitant about sitting in her chair, being proud of her identity is her foundation for success, she said.

“There are a lot of men that aren’t comfortable with letting a woman cut their hair or their beard,” she said. “Or they’re being afraid a woman won’t know how to do it the same way a man would.” 

Stockton held the shears between her fingers and moved her leg to the beat of Romeo Santos in the background. Being a barber is what she loves to do, especially fades or high-in-tights, she said. 

“For the ones that do give me the chance, I live for the opportunity to show them otherwise,” she said. “There’s always fun in that, too.”

Stockton said social media has been a key component in helping her prove others wrong about her skills, she said. When people won’t give her the opportunity, she shows them her Instagram posts of people who did, she said. 

“It shows them like, dang, she really can cut as good as my barber,” Stockton said. 

Santos Santana, a 31-year-old barber, owns both Fame of Fadez locations. Originally from Miami, Santana has been cutting hair for about 16 years, he said. 

Santana opened his original location along Southwest Archer Road in 2021, and then another location off Main Street downtown in 2022. Santana shared his history as he was cutting hair, taking phone calls and checking in on his team, all at once and with a smile.  

Santana never considered gender while hiring his teams, he said. 

“I don’t really look at gender,” he said. “I just look at character. I look at their presentation, their customer service and their skills.” 

Santana said both locations have maintained visibility through important community connections. Many new customers are recommended by word-of-mouth or friends and family of co-workers, he said. 

“The people around me are the ones who run the shop,” he said. “I just pay the bills.”

Santana hoped that more women would join the industry or visit his locations, he said. 

“I would love for more women to come to our shop,” he said. “Women here would kill the game.” 

Lesly Bete knows the influence she has on younger girls, especially those who might end up walking into the shop with their brothers or fathers. She said her co-worker’s daughter had noticed her as she was cutting hair. The co-worker later told Bete his daughter wanted to be a barber because she saw Bete doing so.

Bete said the first step in any industry is to get into spaces where that creativity exists. It makes Bete feel safer expressing herself knowing other women are supporting her, she said.

“Stand in your power as a female barber,” she said. “Don’t be scared. Hair grows back.” 

Contact Sara-James Ranta at sranta@alligator.org. Follow her on X @sarajamesranta.



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Sara-James Ranta

Sara-James Ranta is a third-year journalism major, minoring in sociology of social justice and policy. Previously, she served as a general assignment reporter for The Alligator's university desk.


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