Natural hair care is a relatively young industry and new territory for even the most skilled hair stylists. Curly-girl hair products and YouTube tutorials for natural hair only emerged in the last decade. Even with these resources, getting knowledge about textured hair is a journey most women of color have to go through on their own. Our society still clings to Eurocentric beauty standards, while naturally curly or “ethnic” hair is relegated to its own section on the shelf at the drugstore.
So what do you do if you appear to fall under the category of Eurocentric beauty ideals, but are raising children who might not?
Kylie Jenner and her sisters are among the most famous women raising multiracial children. And despite the family’s very (very) problematic experiences with their own hairstyling in the past, they’ve surprisingly brought attention to the fact that there is a learning curve that comes along with styling and caring for their kids’ curly hair.
Women with no experience styling the curly, kinky hair of their multiracial kids may feel completely lost, which can sometimes leave their child feeling (and looking) a bit out of place.
HuffPost spoke to some mums about navigating the complex-yet-beautiful world of raising a multiracial child while also learning the equally complex world of curly hair care. We also spoke with some multiracial women who learned how to style their curly textures on their own when their mothers could not.
On learning how to do cornrows and other styles:
“Just being able to [do] cornrows was a big deal for me. I just thought I’d never be able to do it. I could braid, but I never knew how to cornrow. Being able to do that was such a big accomplishment. I went on YouTube and I was looking at different tutorials on cornrowing and getting better at it every day.” ― Fariba Soetan, 49, London-based mother of three multiracial daughters and blogger behind Mixed Up Mama
“It had its challenges, definitely, but I tried my best. It wasn’t always the fanciest. I didn’t have a computer or anything like that. I just winged it, all by myself. Nobody taught me, nobody really showed me.” ― Debbi Merinsky-Browne, 47, Alberta, Canada-based mother of Jasmine Merinsky, her multiracial daughter
On the relationship between hair and identity:
“My oldest, who was 4 at the time, came home from school and said, ‘I want a mommy who looks like me.’ It was such a painful moment for me, because I realised that as her biggest role model, in terms of I’m her mom, I don’t have the same features, I won’t necessarily have the same experience as her, and some people will question whether I’m even her mom on the street.” ― Soetan
On hair care as a form of bonding:
“I enjoyed doing her hair because we actually got to sit and talk for a few hours. It was our time and nobody could take that away because it was very important that she have her hair done.” ― Merinsky-Browne
“[My mom] worked a lot so sometimes [doing my hair] was the only quality time we got to spend together. We would try to make it fun and we took lots of breaks. My best friend would come over to hang out and watch TV sometimes. Funny enough, my mom decided to give me and her ‘the sex talk’ when she was halfway through braiding my hair. I was basically trapped in my seat.” ― Merinsky
“The ritual of doing hair from mom to daughter is such an important one. I feel like it’s becoming a time for me and my daughters [to bond]. They sit between my knees, we talk, I do their hair. It’s time together.” ― Soetan
On learning to style on their own:
“I learned to do my own hair because my mother could not do my hair. For my mother, a nice big Afro puff was beautiful. I think when I saw people [at school] with their hair more on a neater side or friends with straight hair, that’s when I decided, ‘Oh, God, I needed to do something about my hair.’” – Kim Etheredge, 48, co-founder of Mixed Chicks curly hair products
“My mom handed over the reins of my hair when I was 16. She thought I was old enough to make decisions about my appearance but still refused to pay for relaxers. That was the beginning of my hair journey. I was stubborn and adamant on straightening it so I got a part-time job to afford the service. I proceeded to get thermal straightening treatments for years [and] eventually got [it done] so many times, I learned [how to] do it on myself.” ― Merinsky
On colorblind parenting:
“I just love the curls in their hair and I think they should be expressed rather than suppressed. I encourage white mothers to learn to do their children’s hair. You just should. If you’re going to have black children, you have to learn how to do their hair.” ― Merinsky-Browne
“If you are trying to raise your kid with the old viewpoint of being colourblind, I think it’s the biggest mistake you can make. I grew up mixed Iranian-English, and one of the things my parents didn’t do was talk to me about my identity or the cultures that made up who I was. I try to encourage other parents to really have those discussions around race and racism as well. Especially parents of black boys [and girls] growing up in the United States. It’s such a big deal for parents of multiracial kids because they’re actually realising that their child is going to have a massively different experience than they went through.
If you’re trying to treat hair as if it’s the same as straight hair, for example, I think you’re doing a disservice not only to your daughter but to the different cultures that make up who she is.” ― Soetan
On being scared, embarrassed or afraid to ask for help:
“Everyone calls or emails us and they send photos or videos. A lot of the time those talks aren’t even about hair, it’s counselling that mother with straight hair, [telling her] that she’s a great mother and she’s doing a great job caring about her child’s hair. She’s not supposed to know right away.
Never be embarrassed to ask questions and be open to learn. It’s OK not to know how to do textured hair if you don’t have it. But it’s beautiful to learn so that you can teach your child.” ―Wendi Levy, 49, co-founder of Mixed Chicks curly hair products
Quotes have been lightly edited for style.