Chapter 21: Weaving Messages of Self-Esteem: Empowering Mothers and Daughters through Hair Braiding

Hair braiding has occupied a significant role among African Americans. For centuries African American girls have had their hair braided by their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and other-mothers. Although there is a strong body of research that examines the role of hair in the construction of African American identity, few researchers have investigated the role of braiding in African American families. The purpose of this chapter is to examine how hair braiding can be utilized to promote conversations and learning for young African American girls about issues such as self-esteem, racial identity, health education, and the benefits of supportive communication between mothers and daughters. Each of these issues is known to have significant positive influences on girls as they enter adolescence and are challenged to negotiate peer relationships. The project was facilitated through several community-based workshops that trained mothers and daughters on hair braiding and provided a context for conversations about self-esteem. This chapter presents findings of the major themes that emerged from conversations during the workshops, as well as focus groups that were conducted at the conclusion of the workshop. The chapter concludes with a discussion about the implications of the findings of the research project and proposes a conceptual model of the role of hair braiding in promoting self-esteem and positive communication between mothers and daughters.