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It's Okay, North: My Mum Didn't Know How To Do My Hair Either

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Photo: Getty Images/Raymond Hall.
On a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim Kardashian West confessed that she didn't know how to style her 3-year-old daughter North's hair. "North is so proud of her curly hair, and she's very opinionated on how she wants to wear [it]," she said. "As a mum, you don't wanna have to tell her, 'I don't know how to do your hair.' It's such a prideful thing to make her look pretty and make her look confident; it's important to me."

During the episode, Kardashian seeks out lessons from celebrity stylist Kim Kimble, particularly for help with braiding. Unsurprisingly, her admission of bewilderment earned lots of criticism from the internet, including dozens of eyerolls-via-Twitter and a (since deleted) piece from Madame Noire about how "ridiculous" it is that Kim can't do North's hair.

But watching the episode, I was nodding along with Kim. Sundays were my most hated day of the week as a child, because that was the day my Puerto Rican mother took me, her half-Black daughter, into the bathroom and spent a good hour on her knees wrestling the tangles out of my crazy-thick, waist-length curls as I sniffled and tried to control my sobs.

Once my baby sister Amaiya entered the picture and my mum found herself with two heads full of curly hair, she had no choice but to seek help. The poor lady tried anything and everything based on the recommendations of the women in our family and the hairstylists she consulted: Throughout the years, we got our hair cornrowed, individually braided, chemically relaxed, and blown out. By the time I was in high school, that dreaded Sunday routine had morphed into four-hour-long sessions under a hooded dryer at a nearby salon for a roller set that needed to last me the entire week. As for pool-and-vacation-filled summers? Braids, honey. There was no way my mum was washing, detangling, and blowdrying that hair every single day.

Photo Courtesy: Arianna Davis
Me (left) and my little sister in 1991. Photo evidence that even back then, we had a whole lot of hair.
Let's face it: For many women, much of their identity is connected to their hair — and that's especially true for women of colour. So it's understandable (and even admirable) that Kardashian would want to make sure her daughter feels positive about hers from a young age. I've heard some critics argue that North's pretty ringlets should be relatively easy to deal with compared to other textures. But imagine suddenly being responsible every single day for a hair type that's completely different from your own — with no prior knowledge of how to keep it healthy, how to keep it out of your kid's face while she's playing, or even what products are safe to use on it. Unless you were a professional hairstylist, you'd probably feel a little lost, too.

I also disagreed with the critics who didn't like that Kardashian made her Black child's hair a storyline on her show. The beauty struggles of being a multiracial kid — or being the mother of a multiracial child — aren't often openly discussed on popular television shows. So, sure, one could argue that Kardashian did it for ratings, an argument you could make for most of this show, but the upside is that she's helping normalise a conversation that many women might be hesitant to have for fear of looking like a "lesser than" parent. Personally, watching the episode helped me feel a lot more empathy for my mum. I don't have children yet, but I imagine that it must be hard to swallow your pride and admit your shortcomings as their caregiver.

Now that I'm older, I've learned how to style my hair myself, which I mostly owe to my gurus at the Ouidad salon, as well YouTube tutorials and recent product innovations for curly hair. But as a kid, I had no compassion for what my mum was going through at all; I was too busy whining endlessly when she dropped us off at the salon to be subjected to hours under that super-hot, ear-burning hairdryer, or rolling my eyes at the beads she insisted we add to the ends of our braids. And when I went natural at 23 and was told by multiple stylists I should've never had my hair relaxed because it's so damaging, I silently cursed her for putting me through those chemical treatments.

"I felt like I needed an extra set of hands all the time!" my mum cried when I told her I was writing this story. "Having the addition of your sissy was the straw that broke the camel's back. That's why I went with relaxers; it felt like it was too much to handle, and I was told it'd make our lives a whole lot easier. But I'm glad I asked for help. And I'm even more glad you got old enough to handle it yourselves!"
So while she may have been misled at times and I may have spent many a Sunday reluctantly being her guinea pig, I'm grateful that I had the type of mum who cared enough to ask, to educate herself, and to make sure we weren't walking around looking like a hot mess. At 29, with some hindsight and maturity, I can see that — like Kardashian, who has naturally straight hair herself — no one, including her kids, can fault my mum for not knowing what the heck she was doing. And, also like Kardashian, instead of being shamed for being ignorant, my mum should be applauded for her honesty and willingness to put herself out there for the benefit of her kid.

At the end of that KUWTK episode, after much practice on a mannequin head, a proud Mama Kim shows off the two French braids she successfully executed on North. "All you can really do is try your best, and just keep on learning and keep on practicing," Kardashian says in her confessional. I'm thankful to my mum for trying her best — and for always being willing to do everything she could to give her daughters confidence in their hair and in themselves. My sister and I are lucky — and so is North.
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