I’ve been following the recent outrage on hair blogs about a mother, who shared a video of her 2-year-old daughter, Kailee, getting crochet twists, a “protective style,” which is more or less the latest euphemism for a weave.
That statement is likely to get some backlash, so let me explain it up front. The differences between a weave, which is sewn in with thread, and crochet braids, which use a different kind of needle and no thread, are largely semantics. They’re different methods of adding hair to your own.
Jessica Pettway, who does seminars on children’s hair, is behind the video of her daughter wearing twists that fell below her shoulders. The style was achieved by cornrowing the child’s hair, then crocheting twisted hair into the braided hair, a process that took “less than three hours.” After a week, Pettway untwisted her daughter’s hair and styled it in a twist-out that resembled singer Marsha Ambrosius’ hair while she was promoting her Late Nights and Early Mornings album. Some viewers considered both styles, but especially the latter, too “grown” and were appalled at the idea of using faux hair in a child’s hair, especially one so young.
Pettway defended her choice in an interview on Black Girl Long Hair, stating that she had worn extensions as a child and her daughter’s hair “needed a break” because it’s “always out.” She added that she is a busy mother and needed her daughter’s hair to be “healthy and strong.” Pettway explained that the process was not a “traumatic” experience and that her daughter loved her new hair.
“People may not parent the way I parent my child, and that’s fine,” Pettway said. “But don’t try to force your philosophy on someone else.”
Pettway isn’t the first mom to come under fire for adding extensions to her daughter’s hair. Singer Christina Milian faced some backlash when she posted a picture of her young daughter wearing similar twists that fell beyond her backside.
I’m no fan of extensions on kids, but I see it often enough to gauge that a lot of moms don’t take issue with it. I’m concerned about the message it may send to a child that her own hair isn’t good enough. She will get that message, as all black girls and women do, from the world at large; I don’t think that idea—that her hair and, by extension, she is not enough—needs to be re-enforced at home. But maybe that’s me projecting my adult issues, and the child may see it as something fun, like playing dress-up.
That said, I can’t join in the backlash thrown Pettway’s or Milan’s way over how they style the hair of their respective daughters. There are a couple of reasons—the first being that those aren’t my daughters. Yes, there may be some valid concern about whether the look is “too mature,” which is subjective. I’ve heard concern that the style can be damaging to hair, particularly the fragile edges of young children’s hair. I also know that there are reports of an “epidemic” of black women dealing with traction alopecia due to excessive tension on their hairlines. Beginning that process at the age of 2 doesn’t sound promising for the long run. And yet I find this a hard issue to criticize moms about.
Another reason is that I empathize with busy moms who, even with the best support systems in the world, get overwhelmed caring for themselves and another small person. That is no easy task. Styling a daughter’s hair in a way that doesn’t require much daily maintenance is a huge time-saver for a mom and the child. Are there other styles that don’t require extensions, which moms can try, like, say, just leaving their daughters’ hair in “just” cornrows? Or even leaving it in a textured ’fro? Absolutely. But some moms want to do something else. Extensions for kids aren’t my clichéd cup of tea, but does that make them wrong?
Also, what is right here? Because no matter what a mother does, there always seems to be criticism. And it’s often not based on anything logical but is subjective, via visceral feelings about how hair should be “done.”
If a mom approaches her child’s hair with, say, the method Beyoncé used with Blue Ivy, which was to leave the child be and rock a teeny ’fro, then she’s shamed for not “doing anything with” her child’s hair. If a mom does classic Afro puffs, there are folks who want to figuratively snatch the mom’s edges for putting her daughter’s edges at risk. Too many ponytails, especially with brightly colored bobbles and barrettes? There are cries that the style is “ghetto.”
If Mom straightens the child’s hair, with a blow-dryer or a perm, then she’ll be accused of using too much heat, using too many chemicals, damaging her child’s hair and self-esteem, and, finally, conforming to white beauty standards. Simple or even intricate cornrows, and Mom can be called lazy for not making more effort. And it’s always moms who get blamed—never, you know, dads, who are also capable of doing (and paying for) hair maintenance. It’s a learned skill, not an instinct.
What is a mom supposed to do to get it “right”? The truth is, when it comes to styling her daughter’s hair, she’s in a no-win position. Someone is always going to have something to say no matter what the style is, to which I say this: Do what you want with your own kids’ hair and leave these mothers who are trying to do their best alone.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.