When I adopted three children from Liberia, over a decade ago, I asked the foster mother who ran the orphanage if she could show me how to cornrow. She and the other women just laughed. I was frustrated, and left the country thinking I’d never learn how. But shortly after we came home, I realized how much scrutiny I was under from the African-American community. People didn’t comment on their hair in a negative way, but it was obvious that I needed to learn something about it. My husband found an adoption hair and skin care group on Yahoo. The group emphasized natural hair care, and I’m so glad I learned this early on. If damage is done to their hair, it takes a long time to repair. I don’t straighten my daughters’ hair and I use as few products (especially chemical-laden ones) as I can.
I could figure out most hairstyles by looking at pictures and instructions people posted, and by asking lots of questions. Some good starter styles are veil styles (these don’t require braiding) and “piggyback” braids. Eventually, I started making things up on my own. I realized that looking at pictures wasn’t enough for other moms in the group, though, so I made an instructional video. I shared the video through YouTube, but I didn’t think anyone besides those moms would watch it. Now it has had nearly 300,000 views! I’ve since posted dozens of other videos.
Learning to care for your child’s hair requires perseverance. You can ask people for product suggestions — in our family, we can’t live without Taliah Waajid’s Protective Mist Bodifier and Conditioner — but different hair responds to different products, so there will be trial and error. For those of us who are used to just running a brush through our hair, caring for tight, curly hair is big change, and also a big commitment. The process of taking out the old hairstyle, washing and combing, and putting in a new style takes about eight hours. I usually split that over two days, and we eat snacks and watch movies to keep us going!
I sometimes feel that my life revolves around my girls and their hair. But hair is so important in the African-American community, and I’m glad that I’ve learned to do it myself. It is one way I know I am doing right by my girls and showing them how important they are to me.
Find Katie’s hair tutorials on YouTube by searching for katelynylyn.