Braids: A Tale of Love and Hate

In my earliest memory of having my hair braided, I am maybe four or five, sitting in the living room in a tiny pink kiddie chair. I am getting ready for a Ukrainian dance performance, two very tight French braids being the necessary hairstyle for that sort of thing. My mom kneels behind me, getting organized, and although she hasn’t touched me yet her methodical movements send a shiver of uneasy anticipation up my neck. She picks up a spray bottle full of water and wets my hair, and then draws the tail of a comb slowly and carefully down the centre of my scalp, parting my hair in half. Her long fingernails separate first the teeniest, tiniest hairs at my temples. A chill runs down my spine as I feel the first tug of what I know will be a long, torturous series of hair pulls. I am terrified. My lip quivers. Braiding time inevitably becomes crying time.

I hated braids first because, being little and a wimp, they hurt my head. But dancing required that I endure the torture of French braids often enough that eventually I learned to keep my loathing to myself. Later still, I had to learn to braid my own hair, which was another kind of tragedy entirely because, when you’re 10, French braiding your own hair is hard. Your arms get tired and your braids get lumpy in funny places and nothing ever looks as smooth and neat as it did when your mom was doing it for you. Braids went from frightening to frustrating, and I didn’t much like either.

Even when braiding my own hair got easier, I didn’t ever do it unless dancing required it. The idea of wearing them for fun, because they looked nice, did not occur to me – I had no love for them at all.

Then, one evening about four years ago, I came across the 1949 version of Little Women on television. Throughout the movie, Meg (played by Janet Leigh), wears half of her hair in a thick braid wrapped around her head like a headband. The rest of her hair hangs in loose curls at her shoulders. To me it looked so elegant, and so unlike the tight-enough-to-give-you-a-facelift French braids I have always known and mostly hated. Braids could be pretty. The next day I fought with my hair until I had a Meg March hairstyle of my own.

I’ve loved braids ever since. Meg March, it turns out, was just the first in a long line of characters that wearing braids allowed me to pretend to be. Braiding my hair has become my own secret game of dress-up, allowing me to feel like someone else when I am otherwise bored with regular old me. I can be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I can be Heidi, or one of Pride and Prejudice’s Bennet sisters, or any number of romantic and princess-like characters from centuries past. I’m not sure what it is about braids that make them feel so transformative. It might be that their first job in my life was as part of a performance, or that they seem to pull so strongly from history, appearing over and over again in different ways from century to century.

It’s true that in the past few years, braids of all styles have become very popular, and maybe even trendy – but I am okay with that. To me they seem timeless, and are so versatile that it is hard for me to find them boring. Maybe they are especially “in style” lately, but I don’t know if they’ve ever really been out – and either way, despite our troubled past, we have managed to become very good friends.

-Hailey Siracky

8 thoughts on “Braids: A Tale of Love and Hate

  1. My mom was a tyrant with the braids, too. Her theory was that, if she twisted them tight enough, she wouldn’t have to deal with my hair for days at a time. She’d yank my hair so hard I thought she’d pull out my brain. I’d have headaches for hours afterwards. But if I yelped or whined, she’d just say, “Learn how to do it yourself and you won’t have to put up with it.”
    I did. Quickly.

    In university I thought it would be fun to have corn rows (don’t ask) so I sat in front of the tv and braided my hair for HOURS. I was done by dinner… and by midnight I had to undo the whole mess again because my scalp was on fire. Nice frizzy effect, though. heh.

  2. When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to wear braids or any form of hairstyle that would pull my hair away from my ears as I had (have) two different shaped ears and my mother was afraid the neighbours would brand me as a witch. I was always jealous of girls who got to wear their hair in braids – even the bully at school who beat me up regularly and always had the most perfect french braids.

    But then when I was 9 my family went on a guided tour of Japan, and one member of the group (a lovely older lady named Mrs. Coffin) decided she would french braid my hair for me every morning, infuriating my mother (bonus), but I loved it! The picture I have of me in french braids and a kimono is probably my favourite childhood photo.

  3. I also have painful braided youth stories, but though it hurt like crazy, I loved every minute my mom braid my hair. She would also put the tiniest bit of mascara on Braid Days too. I try to do that to my little cousin every chance I get now.

  4. I also have love/hate memories of french braid sessions with my older sister. She used me for practice when she started pulling the hair out of her favorite doll. So painful, but I felt so lucky to be her guinea pig. Even more amazing was the day she started to let me braid her hair, that was trust.

  5. My aunt`s 1st wedding (1982, I`m 4) , all I remember is the getting the 2 french braids on either side of my head and the pain. Looking back, I think I look cute! Long live braids!

  6. Unfortunately I have no youthful braiding memories… in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve never had my hair done up in braids. I have had a desire to be able to put my hair back in a french braid in the last few months, but alas I am completely uncoordinated and it never works out.

    I’m completely braid jealous.

  7. Love this post! I have really thick, curly hair, which my mom never knew what to do with, so there were lots of braids, French and otherwise, throughout my kidhood. Piano recitals, you see. Learning to braid my own hair was pretty awesome–age 9, I think? It really helped pass the time in boring 4th grade :)

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