Fashion, Natural Hair

Braids and Beads: Elle Magazine examines Black hairstyles in America

When Black women talk about any of the myriad Black hairstyles, it’s like our eyes light up with excitement. Ask anyone and we have stories for days. The first time we get a perm. Our mothers, grandmothers, or aunties slaying our hair the night before Easter. We can tell you about different rites of passage we have like having a professional hairstylist do our hair for a special occasion. I look back at old photos and cringe because I remember doing so many things to my own hair like chopping it off in middle school or burning off a chunk off with a hot comb that was too hot.

About the Documentary

Earlier this year, Elle Magazine released a short documentary titled “Braided: an American Hair Story” accompanied by an article by Ayana Byrd titled “How Braids Tell America’s Black Hair History”. It’s not too often you see a mainstream magazine make content strictly for and about Black women from a historical perspective. The documentary includes actress Lupita N’yongo, rapper Young MA,  and celebrity hairstylist Vernon Francois explaining what braids and Black hair mean to them as individuals.

Why You Need to Watch It

The documentary begins with a montage of various non-famous people getting their hair braided in salons. Anyone watching is left amazed from multiple shots of hairstylist’s weaving hair together. The intricate designs and masterpieces highlight our history not only in this country but also the Motherland. Not to mention there’s some insane creativity too. It’s interesting how braids are looked at for anyone apart of the Diaspora. Our African relatives braid hair to show status and age. Slaves braided their hair to protect it from the elements during the week. Same thing for Black women now; it’s protecting the hair but it gives the opportunity for creativity to shine. I get my hair braided to give it a break from the usual styling and weekly stresses put on it.

What’s great about the documentary are the interviews definitely. It’s a variety of opinions and stories, but the outlook on the braids are the same: they’re just a way of life. Dr. Zinga Fraser, assistant professor at Brooklyn College, CUNY shares here childhood memory of sitting between her mother and other female relatives’ legs getting her hair braided. Other interviewees like actress Karrueche Tran and hairstylist Twy Bernal also share their childhood memories with braids. Funny enough, it reminds me of the time I let one of my middle school friends braid my hair during P.E. while everyone else was playing. I thought I’d get in trouble for it but my mother ended up liking it.

Final Thoughts

This is the kind of content I want to see more of from mainstream magazines. I think the more storytelling there is about other cultures, the more we see and understand the influences. I don’t want my hair looked at as “what’s hot”. It’s a part of my culture that is such a good portion of it. Our styles tell our stories, our struggles, and what it’s like to live Black in a country that considered you 3/5 of a person at a point in time. It’s frustrating when it’s seen as exciting on other people but unkempt and dirty on someone that looks like me. Our hair is non-stop inspiration and bonds all us Black women together.

Watch the documentary here:

Header photo courtesy of Popsugar