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Mocha Mom Speaks about Length Retention and Protective Styling

My hair on the day I put in my Braidlocks before the shrinkage set in.

I considered making another video, but opted to return to my first love--writing. I've been reflecting on the many responses I've received on my Hot Topic: The Tangle Teezer is Breaking my Hair video. I've been wondering if there's a little more to my success story.

There was a time my daughters' hair remained the same length year after year. I thought their hair wasn't growing or had reached terminal length--meaning their hair had grown as long as it could possibly grow. It never occurred to me that their hair was breaking off at the ends as quickly as it was growing in from the roots. Culturally, as people of African descent, we do many things to our hair that's death to our ends.

I never set out to retain length. Something changed in me during a completely unrelated experience. I talk about it in detail in my post Her mother needs to do her hair!
When my expectations changed about the appearance of my girls' hair, some of my practices were abandoned. We've all heard of protective styling which is founded on the principle that by manipulating the hair as little as possible we can minimize breakage. We maximize protective styling by keeping our strands moist and tucking away the ends which are the oldest and most fragile part of our hair. Many of us have adopted protective styling but are still doing some things highly celebrated in the Black culture which may be sabotaging our efforts. If you want to see more length retention you may want to consider radically reducing or completely eliminating the following expectations:

1. My daughter's hair isn't done unless her style is smooth at all times. I enjoy a smooth style as much as anyone but I've learned to appreciate my girls' styles in three stages. I enjoy the smooth stage of when I first do the style and it looks perfect for the first day or the first week depending on which daughter and which style I have done. I've also grown to enjoy what I think of as the fuzzy stage, when the style isn't quite as perfect anymore but still looks neat enough to be worn a little longer. Nappy hair doesn't stay smooth for long, it wants to be fuzzy. We're always rushing to fix it because our perception of neatness is based on a straight hair aesthetic. I've noticed this is true for many races and hair types. I'm determined to stop trying to make our hair do what it wasn't designed to do, because what it does do naturally, is beautiful.

Sometimes I'll let my daughters' hair slide into the final stage, where some folks may be saying, her mother needs to do her hair--and I will, but not until I know I have positioned myself to be able to do the job right. Meaning I've got the time to finger detangle. I'm calm and ready to work patiently through the process without sabotaging all my hard work. I also want to make sure I am communicating the right message to my daughters about their hair. Even when we don't say a word, our frustration comes through. I don't want my girls to think their hair is a burden to me and a hassle to handle. Their strands are indescribably beautiful and precious. As you can imagine, I can live with a lot of fuzz. I've developed some tricks to make the hair pass inspection even when it should have been done over. I demonstrate one of my tricks in my video Maximizing Old Twists.

2. My daughter's style isn't perfect until I hang some beads or barrettes off the ends. I've shared a small portion of my bead collection with you, so you know I enjoy beads as much as anyone. I also have giant tubs full of barrettes I've collected over the years. I've learned that anything hanging from my daughter's ends for a prolonged period of time is death to their ends. Mocha Baby has never had anything suspended from her ends and the difference in her hair compared to her sisters' at that age is monumental. My kids all have the same mother AND father and are drawing from the same gene pool. I've learned that my method makes all the difference.

I'm not saying don't accessorize. I prefer to stick the barrettes anywhere but on the ends. I also love headbands. As for the beads, I've found a safer way to use them.

3. It's a special occasion and my daughter will be so cute if I flat iron her hair and curl it or blow it out. I no longer use heat on my girls' hair. EVER. I have very little experience using heat on my girls. I'm an expert on my own hair, but the only daughter who has ever received a blow out is HmG. I tried it when she was about 5 years old because I was curious. Wanted a change. Her hair hated it. I didn't even bother to move on to the flat iron because it looked dull and brittle and angry to me. I know hair is not alive, but I actually felt like her hair was screaming, "What are you doing???"

Please don't receive my experience as a judgment on what you choose to do. I've said I never use heat. I think heat is damaging. I prefer to develop styles that work with my daughter's natural texture. I think nappy hair is appropriate and beautiful in every situation. I am NOT saying that because you do what you do--if it is different from what I do--- you believe the opposite. I am saying that by doing what I do I am celebrating what I believe. No one doubts that using heat stresses the hair or there wouldn't be a market for heat protectants. I'm not a fan. I think it's Russian Roulette.

3. My daughter's braids last so much longer and look so much better if I get her some braid extensions. I have never added artificial hair to my girls' braided styles. Ever. I have been tempted with Mg3 because her hair is fine and her styles fuzz up within the first day and often look sparse. I don't do it because I doubt her hair can't handle the added weight and friction. I cringe when I see a little girl hauling around more hair than her poor neck can bear. Some girls have too much fake hair added AND too much length....the result is more breakage, Traction Alopecia
and as I've been saying--death to the ends.

Many of us think that once we put in those extensions we're done. Suddenly the hair doesn't need to be washed as often or moisturized regularly. The result may be dry and brittle hair. I've also seen horribly flaky and irritated scalps. I can speak for days about this because the damaged scalp was my own.

I have no doubt that braid extensions work well when installed and maintained properly--I've used them on my own hair for years. They worked beautifully after I made some changes. However, be advised that your daughters are still developing and their tender strands may not be ready for all of that yet.

I hope the above helps someone. Breakage and hair damage can be gradual and accumulate slowly over time. Sometimes we don't notice all the little things we are doing that are counter productive.


  1. Thank you thank you thank you.

  2. Brilliant. So well said. To me, you hit the nail on the head. Those 4 areas you mentioned can be such stealthy length stealers.

    I was getting ready to write a post on my blog (on a different topic.) So glad I read yours first. Now a link to your post will be my blog post for today. :-D

  3. Hello
    I found your blog about a month ago and wanted you to know that I feel like the sharing of your thoughts and ideas has changed so much of our life--we have 3 daughters and I don't know why I hadn't spent time on-line or checking you-tube for information. I guess I felt like we were doing a pretty good job with our girls hair (they're adopted) and many of my African American friends would say so--lots of positive comments and I felt pretty proud of how they looked. I now cringe when I think of "at what expense". And truthfully now that I'm doing things differently (based on some of your suggestions) I know what truly healthy hair looks like. I am amazed at the changes in their hair, the changes in our interactions while doing hair, the changes in my expectations for their hair--so many changes for the better!!! I could go on and on but won't take up your space :-) I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I know that I will never be able to model for my daughter what it is like to have a mother that looks like her, has hair like her etc but I can create in her a love of her own hair as well as skills in how to make it all that it can be. Again, thank you.

    Julie A

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Thanks Dr. D--I really appreciate the encouragement. My husband was hurrying me along this morning when the inspiration fell--but once again God is faithful to deliver through a willing vessel.

    Julie--thank you so much for all you've shared. I am very moved and blessed that you've found some answers and made some positive changes. You may not look like your daughters, but it sounds like from all that you've done--your soul is connected to theirs. Clearly you're the mother of their hearts and God chose well. Be blessed!

  6. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I've been using the advice you've given on my daughter's hair since last summer, and her hair has flourished. God bless you!

  7. Oh my you brought tears to my eyes....thank you for your kind, kind words.

    I came back quickly to add that I really liked that you decided to write a post--the videos are great for showing how to do things (I can't wait to try threading!) but I have read almost all of your archives and had missed the written insights.

    I also wanted to add on a somewhat related note that when I bought my Tangle Teaser I by passed the black one which was my preference and got the pink one with the thought that I could see the hair that was left in it better. It too has been a wonderful change for one of my daughters in particular.

    Glad I checked back in, you made my day. I too know that our souls are joined on purpose and I know it each night as I kiss them as they sleep (and now occasionally smell their heads :-)

    Julie A

  8. Thanks Michelle!

    @Julie Will definitely be writing more in the future. Thanks for your support!

  9. luv this site have 2 two nappy girls my oldest girl hair have been stunted for years. oldest is 4 youngest is 3 what type of conditioner do u use because my girls hair is brittle

  10. I love your site and thanks for writing instead of vlogging. My computer has a hard time with the vlogs sometimes because it is old! LOL I so agree with all you say even though my steps on this juourney are much newer than yours. One problem I have is that as in all things, not everyone knows some of the "new" data that you speak of. So I have black friends who think I do Lissa's hair "wrong" because I am white. Not because they think it looks badly, I get good comments on that, but they think I should use grease, extensions and don't know why I don't want her hair braided super tightly at the scalp. They pont out how much longer the style will last. I have to be so careful how I answer (my stock answer is I don't want her to dislike hair times) because I don't want to sound like a white person slamming black culture.

  11. @Lee You're welcome! The funny thing is that even when I was doing all the wrong things I imagined myself to be an expert. The issue of how Black people view there hair can get really complicated for some people and you're wise to tread carefully. Your input may not be well received. However, Black or not YOU are now the authority on your adopted child. I wouldn't make it a race issue (though it may be). Determine within your heart that none of us are genetically predisposed to do a good job grooming our children's hair. You can do just as well with it as a Black mother--no matter what anyone else thinks. You are doing the work to keep yourself informed. I would counter their advice by saying that "I picked up my knowledge from such and such place" and tell them to go have a look and tell you what they think. No confrontation necessary and if they are your friends, they are probably trying to help and from their perspective are offering the best of what they know. Thanks for being sensitive about this.

  12. @Crucian Girl--my four daughters have hair that responds differently to various conditioners. I live near Trader Joe's and have had success with all of their conditioners. I've also tried the Tresemme Naturals line. Some of my staples are Suave Naturals line and V05. I keep it simple and cheap because I'm working with a lot of heads. For deep conditioning I like GPB Honey Suckle Rose. I talk about this more in depth in previous blog posts. Follow my label for conditioner to the left of this page. Hope that helps!

  13. Oh wow! Like so many other women, I feel that this post in particular is speaking directly to me. My husband and I have 3 girls. Our youngest daughter's texture is somewhat different from our oldest girls and I too noticed that her hair has retained length due to the fact that I keep her hair in plaits. I may allow a break of a day or so where she wears her hair in a bun, but that's it. I believe that this is because my hair care practices have changed drastically due to the fact that I went natural shortly after giving birth to her. I am now in the process of tweaking the regimen of our oldest girls so they too can experience healthy hair that flourishes. Up until I read this post, I too felt as if their hair has remained the same length for years. I will try some of the practices you've mentioned and see how it works. All in all, thank you so much for addressing these issues.

  14. You're welcome Tiani!
    Thanks mike and chenoa.

  15. I have a question.
    I do hair to kids that aren't my own and one child is 3 months in to transitioning. I get to see her once a week and that is the only time it gets moisture so as you can imagine her ends get really dry. I need to use something on the ends when I braid because it will unravel if I don't. I like beads. They cover up the ends and thus keep the ends moisturized longer but I know it pulls on the ends. So I'm at a loss. If I just used rubber bands her ends because dry and brittle, but if I use beads it tugs on the hair and cause breakage anyways. What do I do?

  16. @Megan--any protective style in which her ends are tucked under and away would be optimal for her--a good example of this is a bun. One style i would do a lot with my girls' old braids/twists is gather them into 2 ponytails and bun the ends like Princess Leah of Star Wars. I would add 2 bows or flowers over each bun and a matching headband to match their outfit. Tons of variations of this. Once a week is actually not bad if you are putting n the style damp and sealing in the moisture with a good oil/butter like my shea butter mix. The key is to put the style in damp. Water is your moisture--not oil. However the oil is important too---it locks in tiny drops of water to the hair shaft. If she ditches her shower cap, her hair will get a daily steaming. She have to embrace a little fuzz though. If she does this you'll be surprised to kiss dryness goodbye.

  17. Also Megan--if she is transitioning and has a chemical relaxer on the ends--realize that there is no preserving the processed part. It will have to be cut off. It's OK to do this little by little as her natural hair grows in. Some breakage is unavoidable because her hair is extremely weak at the point of demarcation--where the 2 textures (relaxed and natural) meet. i only transitioned for 6 months and big chopped down to a tiny afro because it all became too much for me to deal with--i was dealing with a lot of relaxed ends--I'd guess at least 12 inches. I was chopping off an inch every month.


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