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It's All Good Hair: The Guide to Styling and Grooming Black Children's Hair

It's All Good Hair: The Guide to Styling and Grooming Black Children's Hair

by Michele N-K Collison

What are you going to do with your children's hair? Combing your daughter's hair is giving you a headache and now your son is asking you for cornrows. Relax. Finally, there's a lifeline for those who are desperately seeking help in styling their Black children's hair. Learn the tricks and techniques for today's most popular hairstyles with the easy-to-follow steps


What are you going to do with your children's hair? Combing your daughter's hair is giving you a headache and now your son is asking you for cornrows. Relax. Finally, there's a lifeline for those who are desperately seeking help in styling their Black children's hair. Learn the tricks and techniques for today's most popular hairstyles with the easy-to-follow steps found in It's All Good Hair. It features hair-care and styling tips from a variety of experts, and you'll learn all the secrets to braiding, relaxing, and locking, as well as discover many other creative styling ideas. Say good-bye to those disastrous attempts at doing it alone. Here's the support you need to help your children look good and feel their very best.

Editorial Reviews

Detroit Free Press
Michelle N-K Collison used to think she was the only black mother in America who was a klutz at styling her daughter's hair.

She made crooked parts, lumpy barrette hair and pitiful ponytails.

When she put 4-year-old Maya's tresses in braids, she had to redo it every day.

But now she knows the truth: Lots of moms and dads of black and biracial girls are thumb-tied.

"The tradition of how to do hair has skipped a generation," says Collison,a pre-school teacher. "There's no one around to help us untangle this hair stuff."

Collison is author of "It's All Good Hair: The Guide to Styling Black Children's Hair" (Amistad Press, $12.95.) In it, she contends that the ability to do home-style hairstyles is a fading skill.

Why? More moms work. More dads (who may not even know how to twist a rubber band) have custody. More sure-fingered aunties and grandmothers live far away.

In addition, more cross-race adoptions and more biracial families mean more little girls have different hair types than their mothers.

And here's the big one: Little girls want fancy hair like the stars on TV, not two pigtails like their mothers had growing up.

A pretty mess
"When I was a child, my mother did my hair every day. Now my daughter is always looking at books and asking, 'Mommy, can you give me that hairstyle?' I can do French braids, but only the fat ones," says Kimberly Whitsett, 36, of Detroit, the mother of Erinn, 6.

Because the black community is pretty unforgiving of untidy or short hair on little girls, Collison says, klutzy parents are over a barrel. Your kid has messy hair? No one will say anything to the child; they'll just feel sorry for you.

"They'll think, this is a busy professional mom or a white parent, and will delicately try to suggest ways to help," says Collison.

In her book, she relates a story of a white mom of a black daughter who followed another mother around in the CVS drugstore for help. The care of kinky African-American hair is so different than care of Caucasian hair that many white mothers have no clue how to properly take care of it -- washing it only once a week and cutting it sparingly, if at all.

But white moms aren't the only ones with trouble. Collison had to buy a $12 hairstyling mannequin just to teach herself basic braiding.

"We are at a time where you see a lot of people walking around with natural hairstyles like locks and twists, but still a large portion of the community doesn't approve of that," she says. "You should do what ever it takes to make your child feel comfortable."

And that may cost money.

Undoing the damage
With her 3-inch-long red fingernails a blur of motion, Regina Porter can press and elaborately basket-weave a girl's hair faster than most moms can snap a barrette. Her tools? A jar of yellow Ultra Sheen Satin Press and a sizzling hot Elite pressing comb.

No parent can work as fast or as efficiently as a hairdresser can, insists Porter, 46, owner of Kiddie Korner Salon in Oak Park. It specializes in girls' hair ages 3 to 16.

Age 3?

"Sometimes even a 2-year-old will sit quieter than an older girl," she says. She charges $30 per visit.

Porter says she spends a lot of time undoing damage parents have done to young girls' hair.

"A lot of mothers who don't know how to do hair, the first thing they think of is a perm. We get them in here when the hair breaks off. Or they put relaxing chemicals in it. They think that's the answer. Or they press it and it burns," she says, her own pressing comb steaming its way precisely through the hair of a very still Bobbi Mitchell, 16, of Detroit.

The atmosphere is already familiar to 6-year-old Marissa King of Detroit. She comes every two weeks.

"Before I came here my auntie would do my braids. It hurt my head," she says.

Today, Marissa waits her turn behind at least 10 other little girls in the stuffy room. Most sit politely with towels around their wet heads until one of the three stylists can make them beautiful.

The sight would pain Lisa Akbari, a Nashville, Tenn., specialist in black hair chemistry and author of "The Black Women's Guide to Beautiful Hair" (Sourcebooks, $12.95.)

She says that so many women have become "salon dependent" that they can't remember or never learned how to care for their own hair, much less a child's.

The consequence?

"This means that babies are being sent to the salon younger and younger," she writes.

But Bianca Turner, 11, says today's hairstyles are beyond the patience of most moms.

"My mother doesn't know how to do the hairstyles that are in," says Bianca, of Detroit. "When I was younger, she used to do the cutest little hairstyles. But they're not cute anymore."

Brittney Nelson, 15, likes a sophisticated updo called Twisties. No way could her mom do that. And don't even think about her dad.

"If my dad tried to do my hair, I don't know what would happen," says Brittney, of Detroit, grinning at the horrible thought. She does her own hair between salon visits.

Kiddie Korner stylist Katina Holmes says the do-it-yourself idea only works if a parent is skilled and has a LOT of time to spare.

"The same thing I can do in half and hour takes a parent two hours," she says, twisting Brittney's into a style that will last a week.

Collison would like to see a day when girls need not go to a salon twice a month like grown-up ladies. She'd like to see more natural hairstyles.

Even Kiddie Korner owner Porter concedes that parents should be able to learn basic styling techniques for little girls. It's not brain surgery.

"Moms who really don't know what to do use one ponytail," she says, now braiding Bobbi Mitchell's pressed hair into meticulously even segments. "Some do five ponytails, which is good, but only until age 12. After that, a lot of the older girls don't like the way mom combs it."

It's not easy getting beautified at any age.

"I usually sit still," says Erinn Whitsett, 6. "Sometimes I like to move my head a little. But when I move my head, they always say, 'stop moving!' "

Basic training
OK, parents. Collison's book book assumes you know as little as she did about hairstyling. It explains how to wash (every one to two weeks), condition (lightly, please) and blow-dry hair at home (style each section as you blow-dry.)

The book has how-tos for various twists, cornrows, ponytails, Zulu knots and zigzag parts. Some look simple. Others are as daunting as jigsaw puzzles.

She explains hair -- straight, wavy, curly, kinky -- in all its variations.

She tells how to get a child to sit still while you do her hair.

And she encourages dads to learn, too.

"There is this whole generation of dads now who want to learn how to take care of their children's hair," says Collison, of Washington, D.C. "They really want to feel like they can do their child's hair -- or at least put it in a style so people won't be laughing at them."

And how is Collison doing with daughter Maya's hair?

"I do it myself now," Collison says. "And my daughter is much happier now that mom can do more hairstyles."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Edition description:
1 ED
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.36(d)

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Read an Excerpt


What are you going to do with that child's hair? My friends started bombarding me with questions when my daughter Maya was around six months old. What did my friends mean when they asked what was I going to do with Maya's hair? I wasn't planning to do anything with her hair. I was a new mother of twins. Do hair? I just wanted to sleep. She was a baby and I let her hair be free. Her brother Michael's hair was even less of an issue. I'd use a soft brush on it occasionally.

But by the time Maya was a year old, it was clear that her freespirited, curly Afro was not working anymore. I would have to do something with her hair. I decided to fall back on the tried-and-true: two neat braids with a part down the middle. The first time I tried to do her hair, I sat her on my lap, just as my mother had done with me. I had all the necessary equipment — the comb, the brush, the barrettes, and the pink oil.

I thought to myself, "I am a college graduate with all kinds of skills and talents. What's so hard about a part and a few braids?" Maya wasn't so sure. She was squirming during my frustrating attempts to get her hair in this simplest of styles.

Finally I was finished. All right, so her part was crooked and her braids were kind of lumpy. At least I had gotten it in a style. I was feeling pretty good about my efforts.

All that changed, though, when my mother came over, rolled her eyes, took one look at her granddaughter's head, and said, "Bring me that child." Fifteen minutes later, my mother had Maya looking like a child in a toothpastecommercial. Her hair was perfect, the braids were flawless, and not one strand of hair was out of place.

Watching my mother do Maya's hair, it seemed so simple and natural. Why then, was it so hard when I tried? My mother had learned from her mother, who learned from her mother. Braiding had been passed down from the people of Africa through their descendants in America. This tradition seemed to have skipped me. I don't even remember braiding my doll-baby's hair. And I couldn't remember the last time I had done my own hair. Ever since I got a job making decent money, I've had a standing weekly appointment with my hairdresser, Tim Gray.

My struggles to learn to do Maya's hair became a running joke. When my friends saw Maya, they laughed and said, "Michele must have done that child's hair." When I picked Maya up from daycare, she would have a new hairstyle every day. Her teacher would just do it over. Finally, she just said, "Bring me a brush and comb so I can do Maya's hair here."

When I would share my hair-care dilemmas with others, they would tell me to just cornrow her hair — as if all Black women are born knowing how to braid. But I was going to have to learn some braiding styles pretty quickly, or other mothers would be clucking their teeth over my poor daughter's hair. Black folks put a premium on nice-looking hair. You simply can't have your child walking around in the Black community with some raggedy-looking 'do.

Eventually, with the help of my mother, I learned how to do some decent ponytails. That worked for about two years. But by the time I mastered simple plaits, Maya raised the ante. My fashion-conscious daughter started demanding more elaborate hairstyles. "Mommy, I'm tired of wearing my hair in two ponytails," Maya would say. "I want my hair to look like that," she'd say as she pointed at the picture of a girl with some fancy braids swept up on her head. (It's amazing the faith children have in their mothers.) Maya didn't know that it was a major accomplishment that her mother had mastered braids. Nor did she know that I couldn't tell a flat twist from a cornrow.

Eventually I learned that I wasn't alone with my hair-care drama. Many other Black mothers and fathers, and White and Biracial mothers, were also secretly ashamed that they don't know how to do their children's hair — folks who had law degrees but couldn't figure out how to make a straight part in their childrens' hair.

Conversation after conversation with Black parents and White parents with Biracial and Black children always turned to, "What do you do with your child's hair?" There are the tears and the drama associated with combing our children's gloriously curly locks. Half the battle in the mornings was trying to get the kids to sit still to get their hair done. My cousin Gina said it was always a struggle to do her daughter Tiara's hair. "First I have to find Tiara. Whenever she sees me pick up that comb, she runs away."

For some parents, the hair salon is their salvation. Mothers told me the way they avoided the hair drama was to schedule a weekly appointment for their young daughters at the salon, some as young as two and three years old. Even though their daughters' hair was done, these mothers still said they felt they should know how to style their own children's hair.

The Broken Link?

For a variety of reasons, many of today's African-American parents have no idea how to properly care for their children's hair. Forcenturies, Africans have been recognized for their intricate braiding styles. And African-American women have vivid memories of sitting between their mothers' or grandmothers' knees as they put Dixie Peach or Blue Beaugamont in our hair. We laugh as...

It's All Good Hair. Copyright © by Michele N-K Collison. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Michele N-K Collison is a veteran journalist who has written for such national publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Black Enterprise.

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