Salon Mommy: Learning Culturally Appropriate Hairstyles

When we began the adoption process, I was open to adopting any race of child. I was not naive to the fact that adopting outside of our race would prove to be difficult, but I was more ignorant than I thought when it came to African American hair. When we decided to open our home to a child of a race different than our own, we were ready to ensure that that child would flourish in his or her own culture through representation, immersion, and education.

When we adopted our daughter, who is black, her hair was in silky curls that just needed coconut oil and occasional washing. By the time she was 7 months old, her hair had totally changed, and I was at a loss as to what to do.

I taught high school in Brooklyn, NY, where I also lived. I was used to seeing intricate hairstyles, knew about salon visits, and even had a basic knowledge of hair products to keep hair healthy and moisturized. What I didn’t know was that there were few salons that would do a child’s hair, and that lack of proper care wouldn’t just leave my child’s hair in tangles, but would make it dry, brittle, and unhealthy.

I immediately turned to women of color in my life for advice. I took product suggestions and tried out anything and everything until we found out what worked on our daughter. I watched Youtube videos, studied how my friends did their children’s hair—and in many cases—asked for a tutorial. I also invested in an arsenal of Gabby Bows.

What I’ve learned is that hair is super important in various cultures. I can do my child’s hair appropriately and nothing gives her more confidence than a fresh style (box twists/braids are her favorite). Many people that aren’t black don’t get it. They don’t understand why I don’t leave my daughter’s hair free, why I spend so much time on her hair, or why the styles she wears are both culturally appropriate and healthy for her hair growth. Most of all, I will likely never stop hearing, “It must be so easy to do her hair since you have curly hair too.” (To put that one in perspective, my hair is fine and thin with naturally relaxed spiral curls—pretty much the opposite of my daughter’s hair!)

Overall, I’ve learned that women want me to succeed in doing my child’s hair, and even if a question may seem silly, they always answer and are there to help. I am grateful to these women because above all, hair time with my daughter has been a way for us to spend time together that I treasure.