Braided: How an ancestral hairstyle remains a source of pride for Black women
By Eye Candy
June 7, 2018
Words by Kai Black, AFROPUNK contributor
Creative direction: Jade Marlow. Photo credits below
Box Braids. Corn Rows. These are a few unique and historically rich concepts of protective hairstyling that has secured its place in history and withstood the test of time. Braiding can be seen on the stone walls of Egypt, in the pages of magazines, even on the stone heads of the Olmec in Central America, marking the presence of Africa and its people’s influence across the globe.
Spanning well over a good 3,000 years, cornrows/braids were once used to signify age, religion, kinship and ethnicity. In the United States it was and even in some instances today that braids with beads and “extra” items in ones hair could be seen as “ghetto”, “unprofessional” or labeled as a distraction; but isn’t it ironic that the Egyptian people would do the same thing and it showed a sign of wealth and status? The more “extra” the better. A hairstyle that causes so much controversy amongst white America, it’s something to ponder about when you see the same people criticizing something they know nothing about, turn around and adopt the same hairstyles.
We decided to create an ode to braiding with this photo shoot because we wanted to display our past, our present and our future, displaying the talent and versatility of OUR hair.
For most of us, braiding isn’t just simply a “protective” hairstyle but it’s a source of memories that we hold dear to our heart. Some having bittersweet memories when we’ve had a falling out with our mothers for not “holding still” and others of socializing and wondering when the beautician would focus solely on your head instead of worrying about her chicken order she’s placing with the girl who came ten minutes after you.
“My childhood, my mother, my sister, my aunts and my cousins. Everyone in my family wore braids in the 90s – 2000s. Especially my mother, she wore braids in the late 70s. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that she started wearing an afro… she shocked us all. I never wanted to wear braids, I always wanted my hair to be out, but she would never let me. She would also say I didn’t know how to take care of my hair properly and she worked a lot as well. She [was] right. I wore the same type of braid up till high school then she let me wear micro braids. Boy what a mistake! I would unravel them so they wouldn’t looks like braids and oh boy did it fuck up my natural hair underneath. I had long hair down past my shoulder blades and when I took out the micros it was like to my ears. Never again… listen to your mom.” – Asia (Co-Founder/Partner; Those Girls)
For many of us growing braids was something that we wore because it was a style that could maintain for a while and give our mommas a break. Even growing up in the era of the “Moesha” braids, most of us deemed braids as nothing more than a trend. For some, we know right off the bat that it’s a cultural statement and a staple of our cultural identity, and then there are some of us that gradually picked this idea of cultural identity as we matured.
“[I was] 12 years old – I came to school in with single box braids in my hair and my teachers had never seen me with this look before. My teacher made a comment that I looked like Anansi – which was a reference to the story book Anansi the Spider (Ghana folklore). I was confused at her reference as I thought I looked really cool with my new look and nothing like the storybook spider. As I got older it made sense that at that time that’s the only way my teacher could relate to the culture -with no black girl references it was only through that of a storybook character.” – Poofy (model/dancer)
Often, black women specifically, are targeted in their professional/work/school life about how they wear and manage their hair. In certain places dreadlocks are frowned upon or looked at as a distraction. Wearing our natural hair has caused talk amongst “Corporate America” labeling it as unprofessional. How in the hell is wearing hair that grows from our scalp “unprofessional”? We call racism and prejudice, but then again none of this is new to us because it’s been labeled as a problem for years/generations. From mandatory scarves to forcing us to assimilate and “process” our hair, yet and still we can remember our sisters who refused to go along with the agenda to eradicate our identity. We aren’t mad because others are inspired by our culture and our history, its when something that has meant so much to us, something we’ve fought for has been, in away (attempted at least) stripped from us and labeled as the new trend. For example, the Marc Jacobs conflict during NYFW16. Jacobs took colorful dreadlocks and put them on his Caucasian models. When the Cut asked Palau about the inspiration behind the dreadlocks, he said “the ’80s, raver culture, Boy George, and Harajuku as references.” BOY BYE! This is a problem that we will forever face as black people. May we stand strong and always remain proud of our locks.
“ [Every] black woman in America. Most professionals as well as other cultures attempt to restrict black woman from wearing their hair in certain ways such as braids, and label it as an unprofessional look.” – Nyassa (model)
Whether you rock braids because you like the look, understand the cultural significance or just trying to keep your hair in a fashion where you don’t have to touch it every day, it’s up to you. You are displaying an art form that has survived millennia and in no way looks as if it’s going to “let up” anytime soon. So go ahead and let them box braids, french braids, micros or “lemonade” braids (inspired by Beyonce’s signature look/album that left our wigs snatched) fly with full pride. Do your part to uplift the culture, whether you’re a braider or you just wear the styles, remember, not all of us know how to cornrow (Asia) and that’s okay, as long as we slay, that’s what will keep this tradition alive.