Ode to the wide-toothed comb

the gate - Jamaica

The gate that sealed my fate…

When I was a little girl, I absolutely dreaded combing my hair, especially after having it washed. I have a distinct memory from my first trip to Jamaica when my Mom announced one day that she was going to wash my hair.  A high-speed chase ensued, as I took advantage of the fact that my Grandfather’s house- unlike our apartment in Toronto- had a back door which led around the house to the front courtyard, giving me a chance to make a break for it…Much to my dismay, however, the front gate was locked, which prevented me from running right off the property (to safety).

“Pleeeease just cut it off, pleeeeease, Mommy, cut it off,” I screamed, as my Mom, Dad, and company, chased me around and around the house, til they finally cornered me…and, alas, my fate was sealed…Sadly, my Mom did not cut my hair off that day- she proceeded to wash it- and let’s just say I ended up paying a pretty penny for making her have to exert extra energy to get the job done…

wash day smiles - Jamaica

Me, after the ordeal, with my signature post-wash chiney bumps (aka bantu knots)…my Uncle Geo (middle) and his friend somehow managed to make everything better

Needless to say, I hated washing my hair.  And washing my hair never went down without a fight, which also meant I’d have sudsy water running into my eyes and sometimes even into my nose, which only made the situation worse.

I hated washing my hair because I knew that after the washing and conditioning, came the detangling part, which meant having to endure my Arch-Enemy…the Comb.

fine-tooth comb

My Arch-Enemy for many years

Due to the spiral shape of Black hair, it is prone to getting tangled: the curls end up linking up with each other, forming knots and snarls, which can make combing difficult.  Back when I was a girl, the standard comb was not made with textured-haired girls in mind: the teeth were fine, and therefore couldn’t get past the tangles.  On top of that, in their efforts to “detangle” the hair quickly, our mothers and other caregivers would just yank the comb from the roots, which made for a less than pleasant experience, to say the least, filled with lots of screaming and tears.

So, when the wide-toothed comb finally came on to the scene (around the time when I was eight or nine years old), I counted it as a blessing from on high; and ever since then, my life has never been the same. My wide-toothed comb has changed my life so much that I wrote it a love poem:

 

Ode to the wide-toothed comb

O wide-toothed comb

When you came into my life,

you removed the pain and strife

of combing through my curls.

 

tail combO wide-toothed comb,

Once I was tender-headed, and

Doing my hair was dreaded

Since the tines were way too fine

 

 

O wide-toothed comb

Using you, I’ve not regretted

And forever I’m indebted

To your wonderful design

 

O wide-toothed comb

Now detangling I’ll survive

And my hair will grow and thrive

‘Cause you’re made for natural girls

~ Ndija Anderson-Yantha

wide tooth comb

 

Pretty corny, I admit, lol! But having suffered through my own terrible experiences with having my hair combed, I know that the detangling process can be one of the most frustrating parts of having natural hair.  However, I also want you to know that your child’s natural hair IS actually manageable- you just have to be armed with the right tools, products, and techniques.  And trust me, having the right type of comb or brush can make all the difference!

Here are some tips for detangling natural hair:

  • Separate the hair into 6-12 sections (depending on the thickness) using your fingers, and hold the sections with butterfly clips or ponytail holders
  • Take a section of hair, and use a spray bottle to spritz with water
  • Apply a water-based moisturizer to the section
  • Use your fingers to gently work through the ends
  • Use a wide-toothed comb or a detangling brush to work through the section, while gripping the section with your other hand to absorb the pull of the comb/brush through the hair
  • Comb through the ends first, and then work your way up to the roots

AVOID

  • Raking through natural hair with a fine-toothed comb- this will not only damage your daughter’s hair by ripping through the curls and causing breakage, but it can also make for a very traumatic experience, resulting in tears and creating negative feelings about her hair
  • Combing through natural hair when it’s completely dry, if at all possible- moist hair makes the detangling process easier, as it allows the comb to glide over the curls easier

Believe it or not, combing natural hair DOES NOT have to be a nightmarish process: with the help of a wide-toothed comb and/or a good detangling brush, combing and styling your daughter’s hair can instead become a time for growing closer, passing on traditions, and creating positive memories that will last a lifetime.

What types of tools and techniques do you use for detangling natural hair?

 

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Why braiding matters

Braiding school in Senegal

Honing my braiding skills in Senegal

Ten years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn about the practice of hair braiding around the world. Why? Because, at the time, I noticed that even though hair braiding, in its various forms, was (and has always been) a universal styling technique in various cultures, people seemed to have a negative view of African stylized braiding; and I wanted to know why.

I’ve always loved braids, both wearing them and doing them.  To me, hair braiding is an artform, and I couldn’t understand why people have had a problem with it (and I still don’t know why).  So, I wanted to help people acknowledge the beauty and significance of hair braiding, not only to persons of African descent but to humans all around the globe; I really wanted people to recognize the value of hair braiding as a human practice.

Also, at the time I wrote my Watson project proposal, most of my girlfriends from college and many other Black women I knew had never been taught how to braid– and in many cases, they had no real desire or a need to learn- since, for the most part, they wore their hair straight. So, what this meant was that the practice of stylized braiding, a long-standing tradition in Black culture, was no longer being passed down from mothers to daughters.

Braiding O.N.'s hairThankfully, things were slowly starting to change: more and more women were beginning to return to their natural state.  As a result, braids (which, for a long time, had been reserved simply for the maintenance of little girls’ hair) began to be considered as an appropriate styling choice again.  Even so, many women were still not learning how to braid themselves, or teaching their daughters, for that matter.

Ten years later, that trend toward “going natural” has turned into a movement; and with the Natural Hair Movement now in full effect, I believe the art of braiding has become all the more important.

Spelman Naturalistas

10 years later, and we’re all natural!

Though I don’t expect for anyone to be as crazy about braids as I am, here are a few reasons why I think braiding matters (and why you should learn and also teach your children):

Braiding facilitates day-to-day maintenance and manageability

  • shrinkageBraiding can help stretch your hair if you’re experiencing shrinkage.
  • Braiding your hair into sections can make the washing, conditioning, and moisturizing processes easier, especially if your hair is thick.
  • When your hair is braided, it is easier to oil your scalp.
  • Once your hair is braided, you spend less time on a day-to-day basis doing your hair.
  • Being able to even just plait your hair before you go to bed at night can make a world of difference between having a manageable head of hair or having to spend time detangling your matted tresses the next day.
  • Braiding can be used to create heat-free crimps (also known as a braid-out).

Braids can help with the transitioning process

  • If you’re going natural, and are not ready to go the full nine yards yet by doing a big chop, wearing properly-installed extension braids can help during the process of growing out your hair (which can be a particularly frustrating time, in terms of styling, since your hair is two different textures at the same time).

Extension Braids (front)Extension braids (back)

Braids serve as great protective styles (provided they are done properly and are well taken care of)

  • Braids (which also serve as the basis of many protective styles, such as crochet braids and weaves) are great for protecting your mane from the wear-and-tear of constant manipulation; friction from your clothing, pillowcases, etc; and the elements.
  • Make sure you don’t braid your hair too tight, or leave your braids in for too long, otherwise you could do more damage than good to your hair and/or scalp. (Click the following link for Protective Styling Do’s and Don’ts tips from London Ivy ProductsProtective Styling ebooklet)

Ancient Egyptian braidsBraids connect us to and are a celebration of our African roots

  • Since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, braiding has been an important cultural and hair maintenance practice throughout the entire African continent.
  • Stylized braiding serves as a cultural souvenir of our African heritage, and is one of the main practices that survived the Middle Passage.
  • By learning how to braid and teaching your children how to braid, you would be carrying on a treasured ancient African tradition.

Braiding and bondingBraiding is bonding

  • Braiding creates bonds between the braider and the person whose hair is being braided- whether it be stylist/client, parent/child, between sisters or friends, etc- given the amount of time such styles may take and the conversations which take place.
  • The act of braiding is very intimate: when someone allows you to braid her hair, she is inviting you into her personal space and trusting that you will handle her hair with some TLC.
  • Braiding your own hair allows for deeper interaction and a better understanding of your tresses.

Braids are beautiful!

  • Braided styles are art: they are essentially hair sculptures!
  • Braiding highlights and displays the unique properties and beauty of textured hair; it’s a styling technique where your kinks and curls work to your advantage!
  • There’s nothing like a well-designed, neat braid-up to make you stand out from the crowd!

Natural Updo

Do you know how to braid? If not, would you like to learn?