The hair angel – Jersey City hair artist and activist, Angel Ruiz

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We all have our favorite angels. They come in all sorts of forms and shapes, created by our imagination or intrinsic parts of reality. They show themselves to us as guardian angels, heroes (fictional or real), loved ones, family members, or friends. ??My friend, visual artist Kelly B. Darr, and I have an angel of our own—a hair angel.  Indeed, Angel Ruiz is a hair artist who’s never been afraid of pushing his art of doing hair towards unconventional limits. Over the years, his work, which he tenderly calls “his life,” has become a vehicle through which he has not only become a unique artist, but also a passionate equal rights activist.??

“I’m a gay, catholic, hair artist and I’m proud of it,” Angel answers when asked to define himself. He adds that he doesn’t really go to church, but has his own God.  And so starts a conversation that weaves together the rich fabric of an Angel among us, touching on topics such as gay identity and LGBT rights, related bullying, HIV/AIDS, religion, immigration and politics, and, above all, his passion for creating memorable, unique hair art and his goals for the future. ??Angel Ruiz started doing hair at the age of nine. A couple of years later, he also started working with hair color. He ended up going to a beauty school where he amazed his teachers and from where he graduated first in his class.  And so, doing hair became his life passion. “When I do hair I feel safe, I’m in my own space,” Angel confesses. “I’m able to do what I love [while also] making the client happy.” ??When asked about his favorite “do,” Angel confesses that he doesn’t have one. Rather, he likes to create the perfect hairdo (or haircut or color for that matter) of the day for each one of his clients.  That’s because he believes that individuals feel different from one day to another; therefore, he uses the hairstyle to best express himself and also his client for that day.??

Angel Ruiz Hair stylistClients always come first. Angel is a freelance hair artist. That is, he goes to his clients’ homes to do their hair and, with his angel touch, he turns the hair session into a therapeutic session for the body and soul. He loves this aspect of his work, that it allows his clients to express themselves freely. The hair artist knows how vital that is from personal experience—the same way he realized, at an early age, that doing hair was his life’s passion, he also realized his own true identity.?
Angel discovered his life’s passion—doing hair—at an early age. About the same time he also realized that he was gay. A couple of years later, a 13-year-old Angel came out to his family. While his father and grandparents embraced him, his mother cried because, to her, it meant that he could not have a church wedding. Nowadays, at 38, Angel smiles at the memory. He recalls a recent conversation with his mother; he recalls that she apologized for her initial reaction to his coming out and for hurting his feelings.

Unfortunately some individuals are not concerned about hurting others’ feelings, quite the contrary. Some individuals bully those they perceive as “different.” In that sense, who can forget the most recent wave of suicides? Yet, in a way, it seems that bullying has always been around, in one form or another; that, unfortunately, the topic is some kind of timeless problem that we keep fighting. “When people have issues with themselves, they take out their issues on others,” Angel shares his thoughts on the subject.  Always the optimist, he continues to say that bullies, with their behavior, do not hurt his feelings, only their own… after all, he’s no stranger to being bullied himself.

“When I was a little boy, I was called [names] in school,” the hair artist recalls. He adds, with tenderness in his voice, that his younger brother, Peter, used to fight the bullies in order to defend him. Angel would tell his brother to let it go because it wasn’t worth it, to which Peter would reply “but it’s worth it to me.” 

“I never thought to kill myself,” Angel adds, his thoughts back to the most recent victims of bullying. He believes that bullies are angry people who take their anger on their victims. His message to potential victims: “People [who are doing the bullying] are angry and ignorant. Don’t have anger for them. [Instead,] believe in yourself.”

The hair artist believes that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And he’s lived to tell the story. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Angel became terribly sick.

Celiac disease damages the small intestine wall, disabling nutrient absorption. Untreated, it can lead to malnutrition. People suffering from celiac disease cannot eat gluten, which is found in wheat.??One or two years ago, when his digestive system became, seemingly, unable to handle any food anymore, Angel Ruiz thought he got a stomach virus from a local diner. But symptoms persisted and his health started to deteriorate. In a fairly short time, he seemed to have become allergic to almost any food products–his body seemed to reject everything he was trying to eat. As a result, Angel started to lose weight drastically, so much so that, when he finally went to a doctor, he was advised to take his HIV medications. The advice made him cry because he didn’t (and doesn’t) have HIV. The problem was that he didn’t know what he had. His doctors didn’t know either. He ended up going to a gay medical clinic in New York City, a place where he didn’t feel judged, but accepted.  ??It took several doctors and more than one year to diagnose the hair artist with celiac disease. The illness has changed Angel’s life forever. It has turned him into a vegan—something he doesn’t mind, especially when, nowadays, he knows what food products he’s allowed to eat. But his health problems have taken a huge toll on the hair artist, stripping away his safety net, layer by layer, threatening to leave nothing untouched. “I used to have a place, clients,” he comments. “I lost it [all] because of my health.”??Through it all, though, Angel has never lost neither his optimism, nor his passion for doing hair. He knows, now, how to keep his disease under control and he’s eager to share the lesson he’s learned the hard way. “It can happen to anybody,” he comments, talking about his disease.??Angel Ruiz also returned to work, which he loves because, he explains, his work is for everybody. His clients come from all paths of life–all races, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and sexual orientations. He enjoys the opportunity to do their hair and, thus, make them feel better overall. There’s nothing more awarding, for Angel. “[It’s priceless] to watch the clients look at themselves in the mirror, see the expression on their faces and thank you,” the hair artist explains. He’s also thankful for the lessons he’s learned from them over the 25 years since he’s been doing hair. He calls these experiences lessons in life that have made him a better man.

A FEW ANGEL HAIR TIPS:

1. Don’t shampoo the hair, especially during the summer, when too much shampooing can dry the hair. Use water and conditioner instead. Angel recommends organic conditioner in order to avoid allergies.

2. For oily hair avoid using any hair product that contains alcohol. Use Aloe Vera leaves instead. Available at the local supermarket, the Aloe Vera leaves, placed at the hair root during the night, help absorb the oil and make the hair thicker and stronger.

3. For dry hair, use coconut or almond oil.

A FEW HAIR ANGEL QUOTES:

1. Angel on AIDS: “I don’t understand why people take the risk of bare-backing.”

2. Angel on Bullies and Bullied: “People are angry. You don’t have to have anger for them. […] You have to believe in yourself, no matter what age you are.”

3. Angel on Gay Marriages: “[Gay marriage] needs to be federal, [otherwise] it’s not 100 percent right.” “[…] The majority can live in harmony with gay marriages [being legal], only a minority [of people] has a problem.”

4. Angel on Gay Marriages and Politics: “[President Obama] could have approved gay marriages, but people around him keep him from doing that. […] Obama can do something really good for two main minorities [in the United States]–the immigrant and the [LGBT] minorities.”

5. Angel on Doing Hair: “I never say no to anybody. I love to freelance [as a hair artist] and that I can do it here, in this country. I live for my work, not the other way around.”

6. Angel on Lessons Learned from His Disease: “You are what you eat.”

7. Angel on Lessons Learned from Life: “You need to be honest to yourself and to others.”

We all have our favorite angels. They come in all sorts of forms and shapes, created by our imagination or intrinsic parts of reality. They show themselves to us as guardian angels, heroes (fictional or real), loved ones, family members, or friends. ??My friend, visual artist Kelly B. Darr, and I have an angel of our own—a hair angel.  Indeed, Angel Ruiz is a hair artist who’s never been afraid of pushing his art of doing hair towards unconventional limits. Over the years, his work, which he tenderly calls “his life,” has become a vehicle through which he has not only become a unique artist, but also a passionate equal rights activist.??