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?


Parents, Support the PUFF!

AfroIn case you haven’t heard about it already, this week, a group of Black female students have been reprimanded for wearing their hair naturally, only this time in the Bahamas (sparking online outrage via the #supportthepuff or #isupportthepuff hashtags). Of course, this type of sanctioning is nothing new; there have been a number of other cases where natural-haired Black children have faced punishment at school for either wearing their hair out, in braids, or in locks. It seems like, for many, Black hair is not considered “school-appropriate” (or work-appropriate) unless it’s flat-ironed or permed, which I think is ridiculous.  But what I find most offensive about these incidents is that, in many cases, the disdain for natural hair is coming from fellow Black people! Alas, the oppressed have now become the oppressor!

So, why is this happening?  It is important to keep in mind that this notion of natural Black hair being “unruly”, “untidy” or “unkempt” by default is one that dates back to slavery, and has been ingrained in our psyche ever since. Negative rhetoric about African hair was used against slaves to rob them of their dignity and humanity, especially since hair design and care were integral cultural practices within African societies. Since slavery days, hair politics of this sort (in conjunction with colourism) have played an important role in constructing “otherness” as it pertains to Black people in society; and it has been perpetuated both within the Black community as well as through the media and social institutions.  This is why in 2016, girls are being threatened with suspension from school for wearing their natural hair, in spite of the Natural Hair Movement.  It is clear that Black hair is still considered an affront to mainstream culture.

Therefore, in a world that continues to make it hard for people of colour to feel comfortable in our own skin, I am urging parents and guardians of Black children to please

Support The PUFF:

Pride – We need to encourage our children to feel a sense of pride about their natural hair. After all, this is how their hair grows out of their heads. So why shouldn’t they be proud of it? Our hair texture and our hairstyles connect us to our rich African ancestry. Before slavery (and colonialism), African peoples took great pride in their hair. Back then, If you had a massive halo of Afro hair, it was a sign of good health and beauty! Moreover, African hairstyling was more than just hair maintenance: each hairstyle had significance and carried important messages about its wearer. Hairstyling was a revered occupation; and African hairstyles were (and still are) art.

Uniqueness – We should teach our children to celebrate the uniqueness of their natural hair. We all recognize that Black hair is different from everyone else’s, but that does’t mean that it’s deficient. Our hair can do things that other types of hair cannot: when it’s styled, it keeps its form and it can be sculpted into various shapes and designs. Not to mention the phenomenon of shrinkage—imagine, you can have long hair and short hair at the same time! It’s time for us to celebrate the unique properties of our hair, and to teach the next generation to do the same.

Freedom – We need to help our children embrace the freedom that comes from not feeling the need to conform to a straight- or long-haired aesthetic. Part of the reason why we often experience so much frustration with our hair is because we try to make it do things that it’s not supposed to do! [For more on this topic, check out Tress Stress – Pt. I: Have you ever tried to straighten a slinky?] When our hair is straightened, we try to avoid water like the plague—whether from sweating, showering, or the rain! And then when we decide to go natural, we try to get our hair to look like someone else’s—whether it’s trying to attain their definition, length, or curl pattern! If we would just accept our hair the way it is, and play to its strengths, we would be free to just be!

Fellowship – We should engage in the fellowship of the ever-growing community of naturalistas and natural hair lovers and allies. Thanks to the internet and social media, there is now a wealth of information, advice, and support to help our children wear their hair natural with ease—all available at our fingertips. There is no longer a need a to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by our hair care woes. We can find strength in each other!

So, together, let’s support the pride, uniqueness, freedom and fellowship that can come from wearing our hair naturally! Our children need to grow up knowing that they are beautifulexactly the way they are! And if we don’t tell them, nobody else will.



Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd & Lori L. Tharps.

What will you do to #supportthepuff?



The Natural Hair Movement is here to stay: Afrofest 2015


For the past 27 years, Afrofest has been bringing the rhythms, flavours, creativity, and vibrancy of the African continent to the heart of Toronto, in a free festival that attracts thousands of people annually.

This Saturday, I headed down to the festival at Woodbine Park, with my hubby and my brother, to not only celebrate Mama Africa but to also ask some of her daughters the following question:

Is the Natural Hair Movement just a trend, or is it here to stay?

First, I met Marilyn.  “It’s about time!” was her response, when asked for her thoughts on the traction of the Natural Hair Movement.  Marilyn started out her natural hair journey “spit-shine bald” two years ago, and now sports an oh-so-perfect asymmetrical ‘fro!


20150704_152532 20150704_152737 20150704_165730


20150704_154305Then I had the privilege of running into YouTube sensation, Samantha Gomez of I’m Samantha Gomez (click here to check out her channel), and fitness, lifestyle and hair blogger, Alaina Gomez-Henry of Shorty with a Curl (click here to visit her blog), who were working the festival as representatives for CURLS™ Hair Products.

They both agreed that the Natural Hair Movement is here to stay.  “People are embracing it more and more,” stated Samantha.

These beautiful curlistas were also kind enough to bless me with some samples of one of my favourite styling products, CURLS™ Crème Brule Whipped Curl Cream (love how it defines my curls!), which made my day!

Perfect travel size too!

Who doesn’t like crème brûlée?

20150704_163536Later, I met the lovely Shaniqua, wearing extension braids with grey highlights, at the Black Experience Project tent.  She was recruiting participants for the BEP Project, an important study about the “‘lived experience’ of individuals across the Greater Toronto Area who self-identify as Black or of African heritage” (if you’re interested in participating in the study, click here).

Shaniqua thinks that the Natural Hair Movement is here to stay, as “people are reconnecting with themselves and are embracing themselves.”  She shared that she decided to go natural about 4 years ago, when her hair had broken off from perming it.  The breaking point for her was when her stylist wanted $125 to perm just a couple of inches of hair…needless to say, she has been natural ever since!



Then I chatted with Sipo, whose glorious twist-out I spotted at the City of Toronto tent.  Sipo believes that the Movement is here to stay:  “Once you go natural, and get used to it, you never go back!”

She shared that earlier on in her hair journey, she would go to Afrofest just to check out the hair—the festival offered a great opportunity to see what kinds of hairstyles other people were trying out!

And I agree with her—what better place to get a snapshot of what’s happening in Toronto’s Black hair scene than a gathering of brothers and sisters from across the African continent and the Diaspora?

Honey Fig, the natural beauty supply store (www.honeyfig.com), also had a tent!

Honey Fig, the natural beauty supply store (www.honeyfig.com) had a tent too!

If my conversations with these naturalistas—along with my personal observations—were any indication, it looks like natural hair is not just a fleeting fashion trend, but rather is developing into a true movement of self-awareness and self-acceptance that is really taking root (pun intended) in the Greater Toronto Area.


Do you agree? Is the Natural Hair Movement here to stay, or is it just a trend?