I used to do anything to have straight hair. Growing up in a predominantly white environment, I didn’t want to look different from my peers. So, to blend in, I tricked myself into believing the false narrative that straight hair was the single most beautiful hairstyle. Throughout high school, I flat-ironed my hair every day. But after four years, I was left with severely heat-damaged hair and major breakage. I resorted to wearing extensions, thinking it was my only option. I hated my natural hair so much that I couldn’t bear to see it anymore.
After I graduated college, I occasionally ditched the extensions, but I still wouldn’t go out without flat-ironing my hair. I never flaunted my curls, but I became more comfortable with them after I finally tried wearing my natural hair for a week last year. So, in March, I decided that I wanted to try wearing box braids — one of my New Year’s resolutions was to let go of society’s standard image of beauty that had been ingrained in my subconscious and to try hairstyles completely outside my comfort zone.
Box braids carry strong cultural ties deeply rooted in Africa. The style has been worn bywomen of Namibia and the Nile Valley as far back as 3500 B.C. The look gained more popularity in the ’90s with Janet Jackson’s iconic box braids in her 1993 movie, Poetic Justice, and celebs like Beyoncè rock them today.
Still, while we live in a time when black women’s jobs can be threatened for wearing braids that are deemed “unprofessional,” I reminded myself that box braids are a beloved style tradition that have been embraced by the black community for years, and I wanted to take part in it.
So I decided to get box braids for the first time ever, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Here’s how it went:
I called on Anta Niang of Anta Hair Braiding and Weave, a popular braid guru, to do the honors of braiding my hair. Instead of making you sit in a salon all day, Anta comes to her client’s homes. It made my experience so much more comfortable. It took six hours, y’all. Depending on your stylist, it can take anywhere from four to eight hours to complete the process. Prices vary according to the style and desired length of your box braids, but Anta’s rate is $155 to $179. On average, most stylists charge between $150 and $200 for this style.
Even though it was my first time getting box braids, I wanted to go all out. I got four feet of long, medium-size box braids that swung down my back. Anta created each braid by parting tiny, triangle-shaped sections of my hair and interweaving the braiding hair into my natural hair from the roots to the very ends.
This is how my hair looked halfway through.
After my hair was braided, Anta dipped the ends in a steaming pot of water to seal together the loose ends.
Honestly, I’ve never felt so damn beautiful in my whole life. At first, I told myself I’d wear them for about a month and go back to extensions. But it’s been four months, and I never want to take them out. Box braids can last between six and eight weeks, so when mine started to get a little fuzzy around that time, Anta redid the first two rows to make them look new. This is an easy trick to making your braids look fresh since box braids are layered on top of each other in rows. I only chose to get the first two rows of my hair re-braided since those braids are more visible than the others, but it’s up to you to decide how many braids you’d like to re-do.
In the two months since then, Stasha Harris of Magic Fingers Studio, who works on Cosmopolitan.com’s braid video series, has been braiding the front of my hair in cornrow designs with box braids in the back of my hair. This style can last up to a month and a half, so I go back every six weeks to get them done. When my braids get a little fuzzy, I lather them with Ampro’s Shine ‘N Jam Conditioning Gel and tie them down with a silk scarf for a half hour. I’m obsessed!
The level of fascination with braids is real. Questions flowed in immediately from people who were unfamiliar with box braids: “How long does it take?” “Does it hurt?” “Are they really heavy?” And, of course, “Can I touch your hair?” But instead of being offended, I took time to answer them and educate people on the beauty of this style.
I’ve gotten so many “Hey, Queen” and “Hey, sista!” greetings walking down the street. Wearing box braids gives me a sense of unity with the black community that makes strangers feel like family.
I already knew I shouldn’t buy into the negative connotations associated with traditionally black hairstyles, but it wasn’t until I tried box braids that I truly understood the power in these styles. It’s about more than just hair. Wearing box braids with pride is my form of resistance.
It’s even inspired several of my friends to give up heat-styled hair this summer and rock box braids, too.
Do it with us, sis. It’s a magical feeling.