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.