Saturday, January 23, 2010


I seldom choose to style my daughters' hair in tiny box braids. They are time consuming to put in and remove. I usually save this style for special occasions. It's a big favorite for stretchability. We can achieve about an 85% stretch with tiny braids, even though I put them in without first stretching the hair with heat. Tiny braids also mimic loose hair and can be worn in variations everyday. My girls love putting their hair in a pony tail, removing it and putting it back up again a million times a day. Tiny braids permit my daughters to enjoy the freedom of independent styling without filling their loose hair with knots.

I'll never forget Mocha Girl Two's (age 7) first experience with tiny braids.

I can't remember where we were going when I decided Mocha Girl Two was finally ready for tiny braids. She sat perfectly, for hours as I put them in. We all thought the finished style was spectacular. Mocha Girl Two was ecstatic. She danced around and swiveled her head from side to side until I thought her neck would snap. Her hair slapped her cheeks and pounded her back. She loved it! What's the big deal?

Nappy hair gets it shape from the structure of its strands. When we examine the length of a single shed strand we may observe its capacity to coil up tightly like a slinky, or bend in all directions sharply in broken "z" shapes. We have to stretch it out and hold it in place to determine its length. The degree of tightness with which the strand shrivels back when we release the stretch varies from nappy head to nappy head. When we consider the fact that these strands exist all over a nappy person's head, sometimes in varying degrees and shapes, we can understand the appearance and behavior of nappy hair.

Nappy hair is agitated by moisture to coil up tightly. More moisture usually results in more coilage. We call this phenomenon
shrinkage. The degree to which nappy hair shrinks once exposed to moisture varies from one nappy head to another. How much moisture is necessary to start the process also varies from one nappy head to another.

Stitching nappy hair into tiny braids stretches the strands and holds them in place. The tightness of the braid stitch pattern determines how much the hair will shrink once exposed to moisture. I can create a relatively tight stitch, but I prefer to braid my daughters' hair moderately tight, because tight stitches are difficult to remove. In braiding tightly, I'm referring to the tension along the length of the braid. I am careful to leave slack at the roots to prevent excessive tension to the scalp, which often result in small bumps with a potential to become infected.

Whenever I style my daughters' hair in tiny braids, we know to expect some shrinkage the next day as the hair soaks up moisture from the atmosphere. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry the morning Mocha Girl Two learned this important lesson.

After hours of dancing, flinging the tiny braids over her shoulders, giggling, and twirling around, it was bed time. In those days, I was encouraging my girls to wear satin bonnets to bed to preserve their styles and prevent the drying friction which occurs while sleeping on cotton pillowcases. Mocha Girl Two begged me to leave her tiny braids loose under her satin bonnet. I enjoyed her glee so much I capitulated. Otherwise, I would have gathered them into a loose ponytail first. Mocha Girl Two went to sleep with a huge grin on her face.

One can imagine my surprise when the next morning I was jerked from a deep sleep to frantic shrieks and a blotchy face covered with tears. Mocha Girl Two stood beside my bed.

"My hair is
gone!" She cried.

My heart stopped as I grabbed her head and did a desperate and thorough examination. It looked fine.
Gone? What did she mean gone? I wondered.

It took me several long minutes to realize my daughter's tiny braids had shrunken up to her chin. The style looked fuller, and the effect was adorable, BUT it was shorter. Much shorter. I released a sigh of relief and sat up. I gathered Mocha Girl Two close and introduced her to shrinkage. I made sure she understood that whether she loved or hated it, she should respect it.

If nappy hair loves moisture, and it shrinks when exposed to moisture we will find greater success in optimizing hair health if we allow it some modicum of freedom to shrink. This means sacrificing the appearance of length much of the time. My Mocha Girls find this aspect of their hair disappointing. I tell them they have choices, but should be willing to live with the consequences of how they choose. We can enjoy stretched hair every day, but the result may be hair that remains the same length year after year.

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