fam­ily af­fair

Beauty direc­tor Vanessa shares a per­sonal story about mother-daugh­ter hair woes #blamemom

ELLE (Canada) - - News -

when I was grow­ing up, Sun­day was a day of pain, not rest. It was bleak, some­thing to be en­dured. Sun­day was, as my mother re­cently agreed, “tor­tur­ous”—and she wasn’t even the one do­ing the scream­ing.

Once a week I would sit in my py­ja­mas, with the Dis­ney week­end movie on as dis­trac­tion, while my mom yanked and brushed “the rats” out of my hair. It was cer­tainly an ex­ter­mi­na­tion. It took hours and left lit­tle fawn-coloured knots of bro­ken hair float­ing across our worn par­quet floors.

My mom had long, silky blond hair that hung straight down her back. I took af­ter my AfricanAmer­i­can fa­ther, who sported an Apollo Creed­style ’fro and was never with­out a hair pick in his back pocket. My tight, kinky curls grew up and out of my head like Ro­man can­dles.

There were so many things Mom couldn’t pos­si­bly know about my kind of hair: that us­ing a quar­ter-size dol­lop of light “creme rinse” to soften it was equiv­a­lent to us­ing a spray bot­tle to wa­ter a foot­ball field; that knots need coax­ing with a sturdy wide-tooth comb when the hair is wet and weighed down with a keg of con­di­tioner; that the un­for­giv­ing, stiff-bris­tled dollar-store brush she used on her own hair wasn’t go­ing to have a “meet cute” with my coils—not then, not ever.

My mother and I are very close, but we bonded over books, not beauty. We de­lighted in dis­cussing the ex­ploits of Amelia Bedelia, Ra­mona and Har­riet the Spy, but there were no shared mir­ror mo­ments of styling ex­cite­ment. Not when I’d wince and squirm ev­ery time she gave me her hip­pie-hair­don’t-care ver­sion of afro puffs, which were more like flat, flammable-look­ing frizz balls with an er­rant cen­tre part. (Run­ning a fine-tooth comb down the cen­tre of a brushed-out, un­der-mois­tur­ized afro wasn’t any fun for ei­ther of us.) Some­times, Mom would mix it up and wran­gle my hair into two h

braids, one on each side of my head. Be­fore I had even left for school, they would curl up away from my neck, not want­ing to be forced flat. Per­haps we should have been read­ing Pippi Long­stock­ing.

My hair was de­hy­drated for a decade, but I didn’t mind. I wasn’t that in­vested in my looks. I was at that bliss­ful age when all I thought about were stick­ers, bike rides and uni­corns. As for my mom, there was lit­tle ad­vice to be had. This was be­fore the In­ter­net, and re­search had to be done the old-fash­ioned way—by ask­ing. But who? My dad was un­in­ter­ested and only cared that my hair was clean. I’d yet to meet his fam­ily, who lived in the United States and surely would have been help­ful. My friends’ moms knew hair like mine but didn’t know my mother well. (Even if they did, it would have been too po­lit­i­cal for a black woman to broach the sub­ject with my white mother. The late ’70s and early ’80s were no Benet­ton ad­ver­tise­ment; Mom was more fo­cused on deal­ing with the racism we en­coun­tered ev­ery day than if my hair was on

Mom was more fo­cused on deal­ing with the racism we en­coun­tered ev­ery day than if my hair was on point.

point.) And the only other in­ter­ra­cial fam­ily in our apart­ment build­ing had kids with the same “my mom has no clue” hair­styles as I did.

Things changed in ju­nior high, when I be­came very in­vested in pas­tel eye­shadow and hair­styles. Then my friends with kinky hair came in handy. I fol­lowed them into re­la­tion­ships with straight­en­ing irons, hair grease, roller sets, fin­ger waves, re­lax­ers, braids, weaves and the high-oc­tane fruity fragrance of Let’s Jam gel. My ex­ten­sive-ef­fort hair (hours get­ting it “set” in a pineap­ple-shaped updo or cooking a deep con­di­tioner un­der a shower cap on Satur­day morn­ings) was the op­po­site of Mom’s min­i­mal-in­ter­ven­tion ap­proach. It wasn’t re­bel­lion, though; it was more of an ex­plo­ration of my op­tions. Mom let me do what I wanted, although she al­ways main­tained that my hair was most beau­ti­ful in its nat­u­ral curly state.

I never gave a thought to her strug­gles un­til I had a child of my own. My daugh­ter’s fa­ther is English, and she ended up with fine, soft hair that, as­tound­ingly, grows flat against her head and moves when the wind blows like she’s rid­ing a horse in a hair com­mer­cial. When she swims, she emerges with the beachy waves that I’ve been telling read­ers for years how to repli­cate with surf sprays and tex­tur­iz­ers. I’m equally amazed and con­fused over how this kid’s hair works. It took me a year to re­al­ize that her lank, greasy hair wasn’t the re­sult of her en­ter­ing pu­berty at only seven years old; it was be­cause my lib­eral ap­pli­ca­tion of rich con­di­tion­ers was caus­ing a fol­lic­u­lar oil spill. Un­like my mother, I am both­ered by the fact that my daugh­ter and I don’t have hair in com­mon, that I get it wrong a lot when I try to style it. But she, much like me at the time, doesn’t care all that much.

When my mom comes to stay with us, I of­ten dis­cover her with my daugh­ter, chat­ting away on the couch while they brush each other’s hair. The lack of scream­ing is no­table. I’d never imag­ined that the sim­ple act of brush­ing hair could be some­thing plea­sur­able. Watch­ing this bond­ing take place from afar is bit­ter­sweet, but it’s bet­ter than let­ting ei­ther of them come any­where near me with a hair­brush.

Curly hair needs more TLC than any other type. Try Won­der Curl Restor­ing Deep Treat­ment ($27) or Kéras­tase Paris Serum Solide Elixir Ul­time ($38). For de­tails, see Shop­ping Guide.

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