Monday, 16 May 2011

Natural hair: Hard Work or a Life Skill?

I wrote this post way back in January but I never posted it because I was angry and it really sounded like I had taken a swig of poison before writing it.  However several months down the line, the sentiment still holds true and I really have not simmered down at all, so I wish to share it with you.

The Spark

I read a comment on another blog which incensed me. I will not quote it verbatim but the essence of it was a mother who said she does not see the benefit of spending hours doing her child's hair. She did not have several hours to detangle the hair, her child cried during the process and she felt that she was giving undue importance to hair.

It is at times like this when I wish that I could dish out a virtual hand slap (should not really have crossed it out) to this mother. I want to address the subject of unrealistic expectations which I feel this mother is guilty of.

1. Time Spent on Detangling:

Depending on the child's age and hair thickness it is not unexpected to spend 1-3 hours detangling hair, the curlier the hair, the more time you need to devote to this.  I will repeat this, It is NOT unexpected to spend several hours detangling hair.

2. Crying During Detangling

If your child is crying during the process, you are ripping the child's hair. Think about it, if you yanked a single strand of hair, how painful would it be? It is not unexpected that your child will cry. Yes, many of us grew up with the message that we should sit still and bear the pain but surely, we now know that legacy is wrong. We can be gentle and we can take our time!

3. Giving Undue Importance to hair

Are you really giving undue importance to hair by spending the necessary time and patience to make sure the hair is in good condition? No, you are teaching your child a life skill and helping her love her natural hair.


  1. I completely agree wholeheartedly about your views on the issue. This reminds me of the youtube video with the mother yanking at her childs hair while the child's older sister called her, "My nappy headed sister,"while laughing mockingly at the child's suffering. Honestly growing up I thought it was normal to get your hair yanked, normal to get plenty of scabs after a relaxer, normal to find tons of broken hair all over your shirt and bathroom floor. Honestly I'm going to say it, that was BS! Growing up I was unfortunately taught lies, not intentionally offcourse because my mother did not know any better. I'm so happy that this day and age we are all taking control of our hair. I will never for the life of me get so busy that I would refuse to detangle my child's hair improperly. I have a special area on my own head that I have to be extra gentle with because it tangles like no body's business. Around that area I go even slower in my detangling process because I know it's much more prone to breakage and single strand knots, it's also the densest part of my hair. The amount of care I take with my hair now, I expect to use for my future children. Also yeah you might not have time, but just as I bond with my hair and grow to love it every time I work with it. I will take the time I do my children's hair as a bonding time. I love happy girl hair, it's a blog about a mother taking care of her two children's beautiful and very different heads of hair. I can see the love and care and happiness that is in them through their hair. I could go on and on, but honestly I cannot wait for those long detangling sessions, I might have to make mine a bit shorter, but by then I would have mastered my hair. Thanks for this topic!

  2. Thanks for the comment Chimmy, I do truly believe that we can learn from mistakes of the past.

    I am a huge huge fan of Katie and Happy Girl Hair!

  3. I read your post and I was 100% with you and similarly outraged at this mother/commenter.

    Then I stopped to think about it.

    Today's a Monday and I just spent the weekend doing my fortnightly routine of hennaing and deep conditioning and styling for a total of 4 hours (not counting the wait times in between). I'm a busy working 23yr old. What if I had two little girls? A total of 12 hours just on hair? O_O Leave alone all other tasks that come with raising kids. This is scary.

    The natural mothers I've seen online so far are either stay-at-home or full time bloggers or part-time workers. How do professional mothers handle it? This is where a professional natural hair salon would be helpful, but those are still rare eg my city has none.

    I'd like to hear from a professional mom, because otherwise, we as single childless women are just speculating. It's comparable to those parents that are committed to feeding their babies organic foods and making them simple wooden toys then when reality hits they end up sticking a juice bottle in their baby's mouths and buying the most generic toys-r-us crap because, hello, sometimes you just have to face reality and do what works. Sounds sad but ask a parent.

  4. Growing up it was not uncommon for a little brown girl's cries to be met with an unsympathetic "you're tenderheaded!" response. I hate to hear these stories about helpless little girls at the mercy of a set of uninformed hands in their heads. I hope whoever's story that was takes the time to read your response and take the time to learn about caring for her daughter's hair.

  5. I'm glad you posted your opinion JC. I'm certain many mothers or caretakers of little girls feel the same frustration & feel they're somehow warranted & instinctively take it out on the young child. I remember those days as well, not too fondly when it felt as if I was a burden to my mother & her time while she was combing & washing the hair. It takes a lot of love, an open mind and the willingness to try new methods to ensure the experience is right for both mum & daughter. I'm glad more and more mother/daughter relationships are changing because of the added knowledge, but there's definitely more work to do.

  6. I feel that we make time for things that are important. Doing your daughters hair allows her to be presentable, and also instills in her a sense of pride (and functionality)!

    I totally can relate that it takes a long time - however, that's just life. As a mom, I plan on focusing on long-lasting styles to optimize the time factor, and to make it a fun/special mommy/daughter time! There's always a bright side to these things :)

    Also - mom clearly isn't taking her time if her daughter is crying. The natural hair online community has proved this MANY A TIME! Detangling does NOT have to be a cry session!

  7. Maria while I agree with you in parts I refuse to accept the idea that hair can only be managed in a salon.

    There are simple basic things like washing, conditioning and styling hair that everyone should be able to handle.

    I honestly never categorise mothers into full time or part time workers. All good mothers work full time on caring for their kids and all good mothers fully utilise the time they have with their kids. I do not honestly think it is right to say that a stay at home mother has more time to care for her child's hair than a working mother.

    My mother worked full time in a very demanding job and she still had time to do 3 heads of hair every Sunday. By the age of 10 we were given the responsibility of detangling and my mother would then do the braiding.

    I do also think there are many styles which can last several weeks meaning detangling instead of being a weekly affair can become a fortnightly or monthly affair.

    Part of the reason why I hesitated to post this is because mothers have a hard enough job without us picking on them. However I did post it because I do think that a crucial part of life is being presentable and therefore hair matters.......a lot!

  8. @ Maria...As a married working mom of 2, 1 being a 3 year old with thick hair I would have to say that you have to plan time for hair. I have to make time for my hubbs, my son, my daugther and myself. I do my daughter's hair every 2 weeks. It is NOT uncommon for me to spend 4 hours doing my daughter's hair on a Saturday. On the days that I don't have that kind of time I may do a style that doesn't take quite that amount of time, but I have never washed, conditioned, detangled and styled my daughter's hair in less than 2 hours. It is a bonding time for just us girls. We talk, watch tv, sing songs, tell stories, you name it. She learns about me (especially about when I was a child) and I learn LOTS about her. I am also natural and I do my hair once per week. I have to make time to keep us looking good. It's just what you have to do.
    Check me out at

  9. GGGRRRRR That mom has officially pissed me off. First of all she sounds selfish and ignorant as heck. Hours of detangling? Exaggerate much?! I had hip length hair and detangling didn't take that long. gimme a break. Have some patience and detangle it! As for the crying during detangling, I just feel for that poor child. I suffered scalp abuse growing up. This woman needs to be gentler on that baby's head! WTF.
    Undue importance on hair?! WHAAAAT?! Taking good care of your child's hair is part of the job of being a mom/dad. Does dressing your child in the morning put undue importance on clothes, or brushing teeth put undue importance on them? No. This teaches them to take good care of themselves from head to toe, and take pride in their appearance and love every bit of themselves physically.
    I feel that THIS particular mom was making excuses for her laziness/selfishness.
    ok i'm done


  10. As a working mother of a 2 1/2 year old darling daughter I look forward to my hair time with my daughter. I do it by taking the previous style down the day before. I generally do two strand twist that I wash, condition and deep condition biweekly with a touch up weekly of her edges. I just learned to plan, plan plan. I make sure I have time for my husband myself and my child. I want to make sure that she doesn't grow up with negative hair images or experiences. By the way my hair is natural also and I do it myself no salon needed.. Maybe this mother(smh)needs to check on what's important in her life.She should check out Katie and happy girl hair..

  11. In my opinion, hair care is a life skill. The more a person practices doing hair the better that person should get. I get the impression that the mother just dose not have any patience when the hair needs to get untangle. Time, gentleness to hair, and patience is one of the three basic skills to untangle hair. (SW)

  12. I have thick coarse curly hair which I wore shaved for a decade (because I love(d) the shape of my head). My daughter has frizzy curly type 3 hair whichI certainly spent many hours detangling and styling. Given the fact that my hair was completely different to my mothers hair and my daughters hair is totally different to mine I just l knew that I did not want her to hate having her done by someone who didn,t have the patience to do it properly. I remember visiting family in Ghana and if I sat anywhere for a minute someone would be combing my hair into an amazing style! Chatting to your daughter and styling her hair is really worth the time it takes and now she really appreciates doing her own hair and taking the time it needs.

  13. @ Dani: Very tightly curled hair can take up to 3 hours. I could easily spend that or longer on my shoulder length hair.

  14. I see your point Maria But.....

    Blogger is not the real world, and there was natural hair before it. My mum worked full time, so every sunday she'd put my hair in 4 cornrows for the week, she didnt wash it often probably because of the time consuming nature.

    I honestly do not remember my mum helping me take down any braids, i did that myself , she taught me how not to make it tangle too much

    by age 14 she left me to do my mid back length hair myself, washing, detangling, and braiding. But i could because she had been doing it the previous 14.

    Granted i was the only one but children don't need anything too fancy. basic care sholud'nt take forever

  15. Well I see both sides. I have a 2 year old and I'm promise you she does not like getting her hair touched. She doesn't like me to wash it and don't even talk about combing it.

    I'm natural myself, been natural for years and I know how to handle curly hair. (just so no one says otherwise)

    BUT, I still make time to do her hair. We just sing, distract, call in the dad and get through the process. Sometimes, it's fun and bonding and sometimes I honestly feel defeated afterwards.

    Doing her hair just comes along with having a girl, IMO and I love when I'm all done and she looks so cute! It's just the process sometimes can be a bit much with a toddler!

  16. I too believe hair care is a life skill. You have to learn how to do it to make sure you are well groomed overall. It takes planning and strategising.For most of us time is limited, so simplicity and durability are the buzzwords.
    It can be a bonding experience between mothers and daughters, sons included; sisters and friends. The picture you chose illustrates this perfectly. When you cannot do it yourself all the time, find someone who can help even if you have to pay. I am forever grateful to my mother who paid for my hair to be braided when I was really young. The styles I chose all had names much like how Katie of Happygirlhair names her styles. I felt good when my hair was done. It certainly helped me appreciate that part of me.


  17. I think many of you have been rather harsh in your comments. My natural texture is very coarse and no matter how gentle my mother tried to be when detangling, it DID hurt and it DID take hours. A full time working mun with three children, plus all the commitment that life in general entails, should not be made to feel guilty about their daughter's hair. Case in point, would you make the same comments to all the mothers in African countries with school aged girls with shaven heads? Are they all neglectful, selfish, impatient etc? Do these children then go on to not appreciate their hair when they are older? Or are they simply prioritizing other things that are more important to THEM. People have very different opinions on what is truly important in life, try not to judge.

  18. Anon to quote Maya Angelou, when you know better, you do better. Combing never ever has to be painful - patience, patience, patience.

  19. @ Anon: Where I'm from in Nigeria hair is cut when the girl is of age to attend school. But this is at the schools request, because they don't want the girls to be distracted with their hair as it maybe time consuming to do. Girls who attend private school, usually don't have to cut their hair. I hardly see women cutting their daughters hair as a preference.

  20. Anon 17 may 12 36: I am african and I had my hair shaved as a child. My mother took care of my hair the best way she knew she could, but that's the problem she did not know what we know now. If she did, then I would definitely have had less tears. Because my mother did not know how to properly take care of my hair, I did grow up to hate my hair, mostly because of relaxers. I yearned to have long flowing silky black hair like some people in my class.(I came to the us at age 6 with me mum)My mom was a hard working single mom. She was a pharmacist and she definitely took the time to do my hair, but unfortunately just did not know how.

  21. Being a parent is not an easy job and it takes time, dedication, and care! I am a single mother, full time student, and work part-time. I also have 3 daughters and I spend a lot of time doing hair!! It can be a lot to handle at times, but it is worth it knowing the positive self concept my children are developing. There are many mothers who have so much more on their plate and still find the time to PROPERLY detangle and care for their daughters hair. Big UPs to all those dedicated mothers out there!

  22. Thank you all for your comments. I do appreciate all your view points :)

  23. I have the impression that many people are unaware that it does take time to maintain hair in general. It has nothing to do with colour or texture, if you look around in the subway in the morning, you see many people with hair issues, no matter Asian, African or European. I think the reason is that many people think haircare is half an hour of shampoo + conditioner and some form of heat, and if the result doesn't seem right, then buying a more expensive shampoo or a flat iron with a funny "scientific" claim might help.

  24. I think your initial thought was right you article is very negative. I think that it made hair more important than it is. I think that this mother made a progressive decision. African Americans dedicate a huge amount of time to hair, and how is sitting for four hours detangling any different that sitting in the salon for several hours. It's sad to me to see this mother criticized because she decided not to invest that time doing hair. To me she choose to teach her child she is more than her hair. Growing up my mother rarely did my hair it wasn't her gift. I doesn't make her a bad mother . She showed me the most she never invested a ridiculous amount of time in her physical appearance and I think there's a freedom in that, at the end of the day it's just hair.

  25. I just want to echo the last anon's comment. Sometimes getting your hair done does hurt. I'm tired of having my experiences de-legitimized. I can take 5 hours finger detangling my hair, and there will still be some pain and discomfort (in my biceps, at the very least!). Even when someone else does it who is very gentle, skilled, and just hurts. I *am* tenderheaded.

    I wish that you'd recognize, Jc, that just because when *you* do your hair it doesn't hurt, that doesn't mean that others are doing it wrong if they experience some pain. Not everyone's bodies are the same.

  26. lol Anon 19 May 2011 - Your comment actually made me chuckle. Going by your example, a Chinese girl with straight 12 inch hair may take 10 minutes to detangle it but an African American girl with curly 12 inch hair may take 1 hour and consequently the AA girl is wasting time? Should she then let her hair matt or perhaps shred it with a comb?

    There is a huge vast space between investing too much time and doing the minimum. Detangling is actually the minimum.

    Courtney - The reason why we feel pain is because our bodies are trying to tell us something. Pain is not and never will be in my view a sign to ignore or gloss over.

    I think there is a difference between feeling tender and feeling pain.

    Tenderness happens not necessarily as a result of pain but because the hair has been pulled (i.e the actual combing process did not hurt but the scalp feels tender afterwards). Tenderness occurs after combing and some people do not feel it while others at the slightest pull may feel quite tender.

    Pain on the other hand is different because it occurs when the hair is tangled and gets stuck in the comb or fingers. It occurs during the process of combing and you should feel it and stop.

    I do feel that there are genuine remedies to ease tenderness for example

    1. Sectioning hair and detangling one section at a time
    2. Taking breaks - i.e not doing the full head in one seating, a really clever trick I saw from another blog was where the mother does one half of the head before lunch then they stop and eat and she completes the second section after lunch.
    3. Detangling in the mirror as opposed to doing it blind. The purpose of the mirror is to help with seeing the hair while you part it and avoid snagging a hair that you did not see.
    4. Being more aware of tension - i.e using your hand to hold the root of the hair while detangling the tip to ensure that you do not pull on the scalp.

    Tenderness is relative and even if all the steps above are followed, some people will still feel tender because they are more sensitive to hair being pulled.

    Pain on the other hand is avoidable. Yes you may yank the odd hair and yelp a little bit but just ploughing through the hair mercilessly as a child cries is just unfair.

  27. I totally agree! Your post showed a lot of emotion and truthfullness. As mothers we have to make the time to do our children's hair....I have 5 kids(3 girls and 2 boys)and believe can be trying at times,but I make the time because I'm teaching my children to love themselves and their hair.


    natural since '01

    P.S. I will be starting a blog real soon about maintaining my kids hair. So, I'll check back with you real soon.

  28. Interesting post. I have been working hard to learn this life skill and my daughter's hair has grown from shaved to many inches in the 2+ years she's been with us despite my practicing, her lack of experience having her hair done and weekly swimming. I have had a TERRIBLE time getting advice aside from what I find online. I live in Germany and I see very little natural hair here. Natural products come via mail from the US or UK.

    Hair cuts are a problem. I trim twists myself but have no natural salons where I live. Several months ago I took my daughter to a natural salon while visiting in the US and there the stylist blew her hair out straight to cut it. She had never had or seen her hair straight before then and I was disappointed that despite our pre-cut phone discussion this method was "necessary." Then a supposedly natural shea butter/coconut oil product with a majority percent of mineral oil was applied to her hair. As a white mom of a black child I have a very fine line to walk (in general and in front of my daughter) when discussing hair care preferences and choices with a black stylist.

    Recently we visited her friends and former caretakers in her old "home" in Ethiopia. One of the caretakers offered to do her hair, but said "What is this bad hair!?" and then was so rough comb-detangling her DRY hair that my daughter was sobbing and shaking after 2 minutes. I tried to step in and was berated for having spoiled my daughter so much. I kept the liquid paraffin oil off her head.

    She now has a disaster of broken hair and will need another 2 years to grow it out. AND we're confronted with the no-salon problem. She really needs a professional cut!

    I agree that making time for detangling is normal and right and that hair care should be pain free. Personally I takes me an hour or more to detangle and remove shed hair and styling can take from 5 minutes (tangle prone style) to 4 hours (smallish cornrows I leave in for 3 weeks). Yes, I am very slow, but if you add washing and conditioning time to the above that is up to 6 hours of hair time in one weekend. So is that UNDUE importance?? Her short-haired brother is washed and done in less than 10 minutes.

  29. Hi Anon in Germany. Let me start by saying thank you for sharing your story.

    First I really want to emphasize to you some things

    1. I personally never ever go to the salon because many stylists caring for black hair do not understand it themselves! The practices that you discuss such as ripping hair out with combs and use of blowdryers often at high heat when you do not want them is rampant. Believe me the same mocking that you may receive is exactly the same for me.

    2. Please please you were not wrong to try to intervene when your child was crying. Across the African diaspora there is a traditional view that hair must be combed (often dry and often with the wrong comb). Children are rewarded for being brave and not crying. It is a misguided practice!

    3. Doing a good hair trim really does not require a salon or straightening. What it does require is patience and confidence to trust that you have cut the correct amount of hair. Please see thenaturalhaven magazine on this site.

    4. Honestly the shorter the hair, the easier it is to do. This is true too for any race, a little white girl with mid back length hair will take longer to brush her hair compared to her brother with 2-3 inches of hair. I do think it is wrong to tell our children that growing long hair and taking the necessary time to care for it is a waste.

    Some extra resources for you, if you do not already know about them - Katie adoptive mom of two Ethiopian girls - Hair blog in German (I read it because I am learning German!). It has a mix of product tips and features of other people with natural hair. While the hair tips tend to be more for someone with loose curls, I find the reader contributions a good way to find new sites to look at.

  30. Thanks for your support! It's helpful to hear that I am not the only one feeling frustrated with salons. One positive outcome of our various experiences is that my daughter is becoming more and more confident in my skills! If I could only speed up a bit!

    I agree with you about the time to fix hair - And it is also my experience that the little white girl needs to fix her hair daily and shampoo several times x week. Our 3 week cornrows are worth the time investment and then are FINISHED and in need of very little upkeep. Nevertheless the weekend scheduling and (occasional) time investement does seem like undue importance sometimes. My lack of success in finding an easy-going salon that accepts kids makes me wonder about natural hair's undue UNimportance where I live. (I looked at the German site and emailed their recommended salon but the owner told me that she doesn't take kids under age 12! Argh!)

    I'd read your informative magazine and just looked through again. A 1 cm trim on twists like I've done before will not fix the current
    broken hair with thinned cuticle layers. Could you offer more details about how to prep hair before cutting (is it best to wash in sections, air dry banded, then cut open and "picked out"? or should I cut fresh twists and just take more off?? what size of twists? the smaller the better I suppose). I'm needing to take 2 inches or more off and am worried about a lop-sided outcome! I guess I have another life skill to learn!

    BTW, I love Katie's site, but she has a great stylist to cut her girls' hair!!

    Thanks much!

  31. I'll post some youtube videos in a few minutes that I think are quite informative in terms of trimming.

  32. I feel for that child. I understand the mother's fear that too much attention is being paid to appearance, but when you opt to change the way you naturally are, what does that say about attention to appearance? I wonder if the mom spends the time she saves with her child...Sad.

  33. Wow. I can't imagine having to spend that much time detangling. It never takes me more than 5 minutes. I can understand, though. Being half black and growing up with natural black cousins, I used to watch them getting their hair done and it took hours. I think my Auntie was gentle with them, though.

  34. Just found this page, so forgive my late to the party comment: I am 54 years old, and am still as tender headed today as I was as a child. I still cringe when doing my own hair. My mother had 3 girls heads to contend with and she worked full time. I think the mother may have used poor word choice but I do understand the what she was saying. No so much " UNDUE importance" but other priorities. Feeding the family after working 8-12 hour days, helping with homework, preparing for the next days events. Trust me when I say having the police come to your house because a neighbor thinks you are torturing your child (true story happened to me). It doesn't work for everyone. I too say don't judge

  35. I'm actually a wavy/curly girl, and my mother used to make me cry detangling and styling my hair all the time. Tons of heat, metal combs with spinning tines, and a very strong arm. To her, pretty hair was beaten into straight submission. I used to actually run from her when she wanted to do my hair (which was thankful not always -- my father did it more often, and was much gentler and left my texture alone).

    My mother believed womanhood was pain. Being beautiful was a measure of worth, and being beautiful meant pain. Hair and shoes and weight were all supposed to be painful, and they were important to femininity.

    I responded by fighting her, and neglecting my hair completely through most of my adolescence. Eventually I just cut it all off.

    Growing my hair back out and learning to be kind to it has, in a way, been kind of transcendental to my experience of womanhood. I am quite tenderheaded, and even leaving my hair up for 8 hours can make my follicles a bit tender. But teaching myself how to detangle properly and that it doesn't need to hurt has been an exercise in patience (even though it doesn't take me as long to do as kinky hair types). Rediscovering my curls and how to care for them, rather than throwing up my arms in frizzy frustration and fighting them, has helped retrain my response to it.

    I've started getting nice comments from other women and questions about how I care for and put up my hair. Recently, a friend of mine asked about why I used hair sticks instead of bands, and I told her it was to reduce damage. Her hair is only a few inches shorter and she said she couldn't possibly have the length to do it. I turned her around to put it up for her and show her she definitely could. And I noticed as I was doing it that I was so cautious about hurting her that, while it did stay up, it was extremely loose. I don't want to teach anyone that women's hair is pain -- even though she's a grown woman.

    Strange the way childhood affects us.


I love comments! All comments are moderated so they will only appear on the blog once I approve them.