Dear Box Braids, Your Boxes Are Packed

Coming out of the hair salon with a new look is like an interchangeable tattoo, never short of making one feel fresh, renewed and rejuvenated. In 2016, for my 21st birthday, I did the *Big Chop*. The last couple months prior to sitting down in that big, black chair were filled with numerous hair dyes and heat (I had grey hair - twice). It was definitely time! 

Fast forward to present day. I've been growing my hair out for the past six months. The last time I got my hair trimmed was in late January before taking a two week vacation overseas. I ventured into a new salon and paid almost $100 for an awkward, wanna-be buzzcut that left me lacking a lot of money and hair. This is the same, monotonous story I've relived for the past 100+ weeks. I try a new salon and am charged an exorbitant amount of money, only to leave unsatisfied.


Last Thursday, after spending hours finding stock photos, asking multiple friends for advice and researching my own damn culture, I went and got box braids. 5.5 hours later, after sitting in a chair while someone pulled my roots out for the sake of a protective summer hairstyle, I was feeling amazing! Box braids are specifically known as a hairstyle to help natural hair grow faster. PLUS, I wasn't going to have to wear bandanas to cover up the awkward curly mullet time had created. It was the first time in a long time that I felt truly confident about myself.

In reality, box braids caused me and my scalp a lot of harm. In seven days I learned a lot about my skin and my patience. While I will never condemn protective hairstyles, especially as an African-American woman, they didn't work for me. 

This is what I learned:

1. Everyone's hair is different. I have 3a texture hair on the underside of my head and 3b/3c texture around the circumference. Neither of my hair textures are coarse. My hair slipped right out of those braids like butter (or coconut oil). Your braid's size and length need to suit the texture and grip of your hair follicle in order to remain intact. Disregard these essential tips = Time and money -> Gone and gone.

2. Sensitive skin? You must take sensitive precautionary actions. I learned after the fact that my scalp is ridiculously sensitive, specifically to synthetic products. The "itch" I was warned of, didn't seem to match mine. My scalp was hot, burning and red. I didn't know I should have soaked my synthetic hair in apple cider vinegar prior to braiding, to remove the chemical film. There were nights I couldn't sleep because my head felt as if I had inflamed gouges along my hairline. The more you know. 

3. Work with someone who has specifically worked on your hair type. The best advice I received was that no matter how great of a job someone does on someone else's hair, if they don't have or are familiar with your hair type, you're going into the situation blindly. Whether it's social media, word of mouth or asking someone with similar hair to you for reference, make your experience compatible to you. 

4. Ask questions. A lot of questions. I asked my friend questions leading up to getting box braids, but then felt annoying and almost ignorant - so I stopped. As someone who had never received braids before, I should've asked her about my scalp issues initially, rather than wreak havoc on my head for days on end thinking I was being sensitive. The only thing sensitive was my head. 

5. Just wait. I was impatient (per usual) - don't do that. Though I was sick of feeling insecure with the way my hair wanted to grow, I can guarantee box braids would have been a much more pleasant experience had I waited another six months. And while I'm still rocking the half-mound of braids left on my head (see point #1), it wasn't worth the rush of having them for two weeks of summer. 

So long, box braids, my cute summer 'do - for a day. 

Carly Quellman