Braiding a Bond: Serena Williams Shares the Time-Honored Tradition of Braiding With Daughter Olympia

Illustration for article titled Braiding a Bond: Serena Williams Shares the Time-Honored Tradition of Braiding With Daughter Olympia
Screenshot: Pampers (YouTube)

It’s been years since we’ve seen Serena or Venus Williams rocking their once-ubiquitous braids and beads; memorably, long before #TeamNatural renewed respect for textured and traditional hairstyles, the Williams sisters were frequently derided for the cornrows and beads they sported on the court. As writer Chanté Griffin reminded us in a 2018 essay for Medium:

Serena and Venus Williams literally turned heads when they debuted their signature braids on the court. While their competitors sported ponytails, this sister-sister combo sported beaded braids secured with aluminum foil, a staple hairstyle in their Compton, California community and the larger African American community. Their seemingly innocuous hair choice enraged the tennis community while simultaneously inspiring a generation of black kids to take up tennis as a sport.


Both sisters have long since outgrown their ’90s braided looks, evolving into flowing sew-ins and Senegalese twists. But as Serena revealed in a recent Instagram post, she’s now carrying on the tradition of braiding with daughter Alexis Olympia. She shared a post of the two during styling time, with the caption:

Braiding started in Africa with the Himba people of Namibia. We have been braiding our hair for centuries. In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Because of the time it would take people would often take the time to socialize. It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world. I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter and add another generation of historic traditions. @olympiaohanian

While we can’t verify that braiding started in Namibia (though the Himba do have an extensive history and symbolism), we nevertheless stan for Serena’s culturally relevant share and teachable moment. Her decision to publicly share this mother-daughter moment pays tribute to the rich significance and intimacy of braiding in black communities.

Notably, Olympia’s father Alexis has also been looking to up his hairstyling game, though we don’t know if he’ll be ambitious enough to attempt braiding. As The Glow Up recently reported, he’s been seeking out online communities to better educate him on his daughter’s texture and hair care.

And can you blame him? As any adult who remembers childhood hours spent beneath braiding hands can tell you, braiding can also be our bond.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



This is so true! I fondly remember sitting in my Mama’s, Aunties and older cousins laps getting my hair breaded for the first day of school, Sunday school or during the summer to keep my hair neat when I would go swimming. Feeling their hands in my hair, taking the time to (cause it takes a LONG ASS TIME LOL) to care for me and put in effort for me, because it is most definitely an effort. That helps your bond grow and feel loved and cared for. It also made me tougher cause you had to take the pain or risk a slap on the back of your head for being “Tenderheaded”. Being Tenderheaded was a cardinal sin lol. But, I cherish those moments, especially since some of those people are no longer here with us. If I’m blessed with a baby girl (or baby boy, boys get their hair braided too in our community) I’ll definitely try my best to continue that tradition. And hopefully I’ll do a good job and not leave my future children looking busted lol.