Growing up, I was one of the few black kids I knew whose parents didn’t know how to cornrow. A regular braid? Oh, mom and dad had that down. But ask either of them to do some straight backs, and you might as well have asked them to cure cancer.
Growing up in the North Bronx in a majority Afro-Carribean neighborhood, pretty much all my classmates wore cornrows at one point, often adorned with colorful beads (à la the Williams sisters back in the day). But me? Nah. I longed to hear the sound of the beads clicking against each other as I ran. Instead, my parents took a minimalist approach to my hair. I would have a few bubble hair ties (y’all remember those?), four at most, or some ribbons in my hair for church or special occasions. Ribbons reminded my parents of their childhoods in the islands, specifically children looking smart in the kind of uniforms my American public school did not require. I hated those ribbons. I thought they made me look like a baby. They didn’t make noise. They didn’t hit me in the face when I shook my head. They were far out of line with the aesthetic I was going for.
It wasn’t until I was about 13 years old that I finally got the beads-and-braids look I’d desired for all those years. It was 2001, and Alicia Keys’s Songs in A Minor was pretty much the only album I listened to that summer. But besides the fact that her music was amazing, I was oh so jealous of her hair. I loved the elaborate cornrows that snaked around her head in beautiful shapes. Her signature look included two braids just above her ears, coming forward. I thought it looked super feminine and different. Of course, I was also a fan of the beads she put in her hair — for a minute there, the beads-and-braids look had gone out of style. Keys brought it back, and I was so grateful.
I spent part of that summer in 2001 visiting my father’s family in Trinidad. My aunt, knowing how much I loved Alicia’s hair, called her braider friend over to the house to hook me up with the look — beads and all. When it was done, days before I hopped on the plane back to my home in the States, I thought about what my parents’ reaction would be, knowing they wouldn’t like it. I didn’t care. I was doing me, and in a small way, snatching up a previously lost opportunity to control my appearance.
I hadn’t thought too much about the style again until it started to pop up all over Instagram. This time, instead of colored plastic beads, it was grown women rocking their braids with wooden beads that were earthy and at the same time glamorous — kind of like Alicia Keys, actually. But strangely, I didn’t think too much of it until I saw Blue Ivy Carter in images her mother (my queen) posted, wearing the hairstyles I’d wanted my whole childhood. “She is so adorable,” I thought to myself, browsing through photos of Blue, a #carefreeblackgirl for the ages, living the kind of life myself and the other kids who grew up in my neighborhood will never know. My heart melted at images of her with all those beads bouncing in her hair, fanning out as she twirled in photos with Bey. I also couldn’t help but see Lakia, Uniqua, Clarissa, LaToya — all the girls I grew up with. Blue Ivy Carter became a reflection of me, or at least, the girl I wanted to look like when I was a child. Even when she’s wearing the ribbons and bows I used to hate as a kid (but now love as an adult), to me Blue is aspirational. She rocks feed-in braids, puffs, braids adorned with cuffs — the works. Basically, almost everything I wasn’t allowed to wear when I was a wee one.
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Blue Ivy Carter has been attacked on occasion by idiots on the internet for her hair texture, which happens to look a lot like mine. That her parents would let their little girl’s kinks be what they were, letting them grow, coil, and fan out to the heavens, seemed to be an issue for some people who didn’t think that they were taking care of her strands — even though they were growing just fine in spite of their faux concern. It was a little nuts for me to see a child being critiqued on her appearance, especially at a time when kids generally don’t give too much of a hoot what they look like, as long as they are having fun.
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My parents painstakingly brushed my hair back as a child. I wondered how it would feel for me to hear people mock my hair, which would come undone — at times almost as “undone” as Blue’s — in almost the same amount of time it took my parents to get it to look “presentable.” Blue is a little girl. With all the rolling around and God-knows-what-else kids get into, it was only natural that her hair would be all over the place. I never returned home from school as a kid without my once slicked-down hair rising like agitated dust in the desert, leaving me with mass of frizz towards the front of my head. It wasn’t neat, but it was cute because I was a little kid. And pretty much anything short of not soiling yourself is cute. It broke my heart to hear people dragging poor little Blue, who was (hopefully) oblivious to the criticism over her hair — something a little girl like me never saw as messy, even when it was.
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When I think about the crap Blue (knowingly or unknowingly) had to take from random people with dumb opinions, I am heartened when I see her looking fabulous all over her mother’s Instagram page, full of pride and joy in how she looks. Blue is truly styling on ’em in a way I never could, and yes, I’m living a little vicariously through her, enjoying seeing her out and about in all the braided hairstyles I wish I had when I was a child. Her aunt Solange may be a more age-appropriate hair icon for me, but I still count little Blue among the grown women whose hairstyles inspire me. The confidence and joy in which she embraces her hair, most likely instilled in her by her parents, is something I think young black girls need today — and something adult black women like myself can get behind.
More people with excellent hair:
- Solange Just Went Blonde and Fans Are Freaking Out
- Beyoncé’s Braids Are Back and None Of Us Are Worthy
- Blac Chyna’s Blonde Box Braids Are Giving Us Serious ’90s Nostalgia
100 Years of Black Hair: