In recognition of Black History Month, writer Jenisse Minott details the DIY box braid journey that took her from “powerless to powerful.”
Growing up, I had one of those moms that could do almost anything. She cooked jerk chicken, built shelves and, most importantly, she could braid. When I was younger, I would sit on a pillow in front of the TV and get my hair done by her capable hands. After marathoning Charmed or One Tree Hill for hours, I would leave the flattened pillow with a bruised butt, a tender scalp and gleaming braids.
At the time, I wasn’t interested in the process. I was interested in looking cute and watching toxic couples break up and make up (Phoebe and Cole forever.)
When I moved to Toronto for school and noticed my lack of Black girl beauty skills, doing my own hair still didn’t cross my mind. Instead, I suffered through a few braidless years before meeting my favourite stylist, Stephon. Her styles never missed, and I never missed out.
However, in March 2020, haircare got complicated again. As stylists started cancelling appointments due to COVID-19, I started to feel completely helpless and powerless. On top of the chaos of layoffs and lockdowns going on around me, it was crushing to think that even my appearance was now out of my control.
That summer, while everyone else was baking bread, I decided to carpe diem my own new skill: the box braid. Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Do your research
While I love my mom, I’d rather swallow a jean jacket than have her teach me how to braid my hair over the phone. Instead, I turned to visual cues as my best resource and and watched tons of YouTube videos. Arnell Armon’s first attempt stood out.
But, let’s be real: Arnell is an Aquarius known for looking good, and I’m a Sagittarius who can’t even lay edges. I knew my first go would be way more chaotic than hers, but I soaked up as much information as I could, such as using apple cider vinegar as a cleanser and using pre-stretched hair to save time. Every tip made me feel like I was in on something special that only Black girls knew. Soon, I went from feeling powerless to powerful.
Step 2: Practice doesn’t always make the perfect box braid
Once I sourced my supplies — six packs of hair, wrap foam, gel and a tail comb — I was ready to go. Turns out, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. It was harder. My parts were messy. My braids were loose. My hair wasn’t blending in with the synthetic hair the way I’d hoped. I’d finish one hideous braid with aching fingers and then watch it unravel moments later.
After the first four hours, I felt like giving up. But, with the help of a couple pizza pockets and a lot of Phoebe Bridgers, I soldiered on and somehow managed the above look.
My friends said they looked good but…we all saw Arnell’s braids, right? I was proud of myself for trying, but I also knew I was rocking a look that would put a queen in the bottom two on Drag Race. Humiliating.
Step 3: Take a break, but try again
By fall, salons started opening up again and I went back to Stephon with a new appreciation. Like I said, her braids don’t miss.
However, by the following summer I felt like I owed it to myself to try again. I switched things up to work for me this time. I went with big braids instead of medium-sized; knotless instead of knotted; and I actually used the pre-stretched hair. The results were world’s apart.
I loved these chunky rose gold braids. They fit my style, they fit my skills, and I literally created them with my own two hands. I got tons of compliments from friends and even strangers on the street. I’d bask in that little look of shock they got when I said, “Thanks, I did it myself!”
The barrier that had always existed between me and my favourite protective style was suddenly gone. Although I did contemplate shaving my head once or twice during the process, now I knew that I could box braid whenever I wanted. On my terms.
Pandemic restrictions ended up showing me that you don’t actually have to be a perfect stylist to be your own perfect stylist. It’s never too late to learn a new skill, especially when it can make you feel instantly more powerful and in control of your own sense of self. What’s more beautiful than that?