Our Mums Taught Us To Do Our Hair – & So Much More

Earlier this summer, Serena Williams posted a photo of her doing her daughter's hair to Instagram, and judging by the number of likes and comments, it's one of the most engaged pictures on her feed. Soon after, none other than Beyoncé's mother, Tina Knowles, filmed herself trimming her daughter's natural hair, split ends, greys and all. Both of these Instagram moments were incredibly intimate and portrayed the poignant, life-shaping natural hair journey black women go through. It's a precious bonding experience and a collection of memories most black women treasure.
Understanding our hair – not just the texture but the significance – often starts at a very young age, and is usually taught by parents, mostly mothers. We may all have different experiences, whether your hair was relaxed, braided or styled into kinky curls, but aside from aesthetics, the mother-daughter connection and hair education gained from these personal hair moments is important. To black women, hair is so much more than just hair. It is inherently linked to identity, family, culture, ethnicity, creativity, expression and much, much more.
Ahead, Refinery29 spoke to three black women about their touching hair journeys, alongside their mothers and daughters.
Jasmine, 26, is a marketing assistant from London.
"Growing up, I let my mum do her thing with my hair. I don’t remember a hairdresser doing my hair until I was about 16. My favourite styles were twists and my mum used to do a cross hatch style, which happened every two to three weeks; it was our quality time. As she was a single parent it was rare that she had a spare moment, so I relished this. I saw my mum with a variety of hairstyles when growing up but I never felt as though my hair was horrible or 'nappy'.
I do my daughter's hair now, and it is so important to me. She can be a bit difficult at times and without getting too political, I feel like that’s due to the area we live in. She’s at a stage where she doesn’t see the beauty in her hair yet, so she’ll say things like, 'Oh, I wish my hair was straight'. But I just have to reinforce the fact that her hair is beautiful. Although she'll say, 'No, it’s not', so trying to change her opinion is the biggest struggle! Hair texture isn’t important to me. As long as our hair is healthy, I’m happy.

It would make me feel sad if my daughter felt like she had to relax her hair. There is a correlation between hair type and how you feel about being black.

The most important thing I learned through my mum was making sure I maintained my hairstyles. If you are going to wash and blow-dry your hair, make sure you’re sectioning, parting, moisturising and putting it in plaits. This is what I do with my daughter. I love it when she sees her hairstyle for the first time and tells me she loves it. That makes it all worth it. Sometimes I take my daughter to the hairdresser because I need a break or I have something else on, but I make sure I’m the one that washes, blow-dries and moisturises her hair.
If my daughter wanted her hair relaxed, I would probably do what my mum did at age 16 and let her do it if she wanted to. Like my mum, I would educate her about her hair. It would make me feel quite sad if my daughter felt like she had to relax her hair because there is a correlation between hair type and how you feel about being black, particularly when you’re in an environment where your friends are different to you. There’s so much we don’t know about relaxers and the chemicals in them.
I’m at a stage myself where I want to lay off wigs and weaves because my daughter needs to see me with natural hair. Otherwise, how can I expect her to celebrate her natural hair? Overall though, I think my daughter definitely does see hairstyling as quality time. I know it's important for her. There have been times when she has spoken about her friends or her crushes and boyfriends while I’m doing her hair and it just feels like girly time."
Toyosi, 24, is a styling assistant from Stevenage.
"My fondest childhood memory is being able to have my hair done at home. The day before school my little sisters and I would get our hair done together in single plaits or cornrows. I was one of the only kids who would have braids done so it was certainly a bonding experience. Memories of my mum doing my hair include me sitting on her lap, getting the comb ready and her washing my hair. We were connecting without even knowing it and while she did my hair, we would watch Nigerian movies together. Just being able to say, 'My mum did it' when anyone asked about my braids gave me a sense of pride.
Recently, I needed to get my hair done but my mum couldn’t do it, so I found someone else to do it for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the red flags. She was whispering things while doing my hair, which made me super uncomfortable. As I left, I realised how heavy and tight the hair was. I couldn’t sleep so I had to take all the single braids out at the front and redo them myself. It was so bad that I was left with scars.

Just being able to say, 'My mum did it' when anyone asked about my braids gave me a sense of pride.

If I have kids, I want them to know that their hair is precious. If you do your children’s hair it teaches them how to look after it themselves and regard it as an important tradition. Even now, I still ask my mum to do my braids but I also make wigs for her or do her weave, so it’s like an even exchange. If I could go through that bonding experience with my mum again, though, I would definitely tell her not to relax my hair. I also wish she would’ve taught me Yoruba (our native language) and that I had monetised my hair skills!
My hair is now thick, fluffy and long because I don’t touch it all the time or manipulate it. My hair makes a statement without me having to say anything. When I see other girls with their natural hair it makes me feel so proud. It’s not just about texture, it’s also about being able to accept your natural hair as it is. Do the basics and that’s what will make it thrive."
Jessica is a 23-year-old radio producer and DJ from London.
"I remember my hair being relaxed every few months and also styled with hair bobbles. It was such a natural thing to me; a routine that had to be done. While I would be distracted by TV as my mum did my hair, it was always something we'd bond over. For instance, I wouldn’t go and talk to my dad about hair or ask him to do it!
My mum taught me to always have my hair in protective styles like braids. To this day, I have braids and don’t leave my natural hair out for too long. My hair is an integral part of my identity. Growing up, I didn’t know what my hair texture was until I actually cut all my hair off and went natural. I was about 18 when I first realised I had 'kinky' hair. I grew to like it because the majority of my life, my hair was straightened. I thought, How can I be proud of myself and my heritage if I can't even be proud of my hair, or know anything about it? I was about 5 or 6 years old when it was first relaxed, as it was easier for my mum to maintain. I associated beauty with having straight hair and it took me a while to see my natural hair as beautiful once I went for the big chop.

The experience of having my mum do my hair made me see the beauty in it.

I think it's mainly the experience of having my mum do my hair which made me see the beauty in it. I never really went to the hairdresser's. I try to do my own hair and now I’m pretty self-sufficient. I learned through YouTube tutorials because I went to university in Brighton and there was only one black hairdresser, who was quite expensive, so that pushed me to find a way to do it myself. Sometimes I’ll still ask my mum to braid the back of my hair or cornrow it.
I wish I had asked my mum more questions during the time she did my hair and tried to be better friends. I believe that taking care of your hair is an important duty passed down through generations and if I have kids I will definitely do theirs. It's something I see as a truly motherly act."

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