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My 13-year-old daughter and I recently embarked on a hair journey. Not a “heartwarming, blog-inspiring” journey. More like a “stranded on a desert island with nothing but a wide-tooth comb and a furrowed brow” kind of journey.
Also see: Curly Hair 101
She’s got tons of long, thick curls hanging in every texture imaginable. Don’t get me wrong, her hair is beautiful. Until now, a hasty bun was enough to get her out the door daily. But she recently discovered Creative Soul Photo’s flawless Instagram feed, and hair chameleons like actresses Yara Shahidi and Zendaya have landed on her radar. All of a sudden, she wants intricate updos, faux-hawks and whatnot. The usual 60-second hairstyle just won’t cut it.
My problem is actually me: I’ve never even mastered a basic French braid. My fingers turn limp whenever they come into contact with hair. I can’t stomach the smell of all those fruity, gloopy, upholstery-staining hair products. And then there’s the time suck of it all. I mean, I help her keep her hair clean ... is that not enough? It’s now gotta be clean and cute?! This kid wants “Black Girl Magic,” but I’m merely a Muggle.
The Bald Leading the Blind
I’ve worn my hair natural and close-cropped most of my adult life, taking a cue from my mother. In my adolescence, she was too busy being a boss-lady to oversee much more than an infrequent at-home relaxer. I never played much with dolls as a kid, so there was no practicing there. And by the time I was 13, early ‘90s hats were all the rage. All I needed to get by was a decent side-swept bang and a silk flower-adorned bucket hat. All these years later, I’m having this “a-ha!” moment: You can’t teach what you never learned.
So why don’t I plunge into the sea of YouTube tutorials guiding folks through the fun-filled world of styling curly girls? First off, I have zero patience for their claustrophobic bathroom settings and bad acoustics. Those tutorials kill me with their generic contempo jazz riffs and sped-up action shots that misguide you into thinking any of these styles can actually be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. (Apparently, I expect Ava DuVernay-esque levels of film production from these enterprising women.)
Then, there’s the laundry list of products they shill. The term “must-have” is grossly overused in the curly hair community. My daughter’s bathroom counter is currently overflowing with every kind of leave-in conditioner, co-wash, style pudding, curl custard and follicular flan on the market. Even still, her curls remain unquenchably thirsty on a level that may possibly defy science.
To be honest, the real reason YouTube is a dead-end for me… is me. I’m hard-headed, defiant and terrible at following directions. On exactly one occasion, I successfully used a tutorial to execute a hairstyle on myself (shout-out to natural stylist to the stars Felicia Leatherwood). But when I was unable to repeat that success a second time, I subsequently swore off chirpy, smiling vloggers.
Video: How to Coax the Best Curls
Seeing a Pro Is a No-Go
Having relied solely on a barber for years, the mere notion of a women’s hair salon stresses me all the way out. My daughter’s only had her hair professionally handled twice, thus subjecting us to phone tag marathons, botched appointment scheduling, sky-high pricing and lopsided cuts. When I consider trying someplace new, I’m stopped dead in my tracks by horrifying Yelp reviews about woefully tardy stylists, nonchalant attitudes and worse.
Thus far, our best experience has been paying one of her friends a nominal fee to coax her hair into two French braids. If that little hair wiz wasn’t otherwise occupied with algebra homework, piano lessons and, y’know, living her own teenage life, I’d put her on permanent retainer.
Something’s Gotta Give
Is there haircare bootcamp? Are there hair therapists out there who’ll help me deal with my self-diagnosed ‘beauty regimen blockage?’ I need someone to help unpack this paranoia of being the only African-American mom who doesn’t know how to “do” my kid’s hair. Otherwise … who knows? Maybe bucket hats will come back along with the current wave of ‘90s nostalgia. Or, maybe I just shave her head and pass it of as “Dora Milaje chic.” Too much?