Throughout her decades-spanning career, Serena Williams has worn her hair in a variety of braided styles, from delicate micro-plaits wound into a towering topknot to the hip-grazing ponytail cast in Senegalese twists that she wore to the royal wedding. But it all began with the matching halos of flying beaded braids that Williams and her sister Venus wore from their childhood through the beginning of their careers.
An on-court signature for the Williams sisters, the braids were woven by none other than their mother, Oracene Price. “Venus and I were not afraid to wear braids,” explained the 23-time Grand Slam champion in an interview. “We weren’t afraid to be black in tennis. And that was different.” Continuing the family tradition, Williams now braids her young daughter Alexis Olympia’s hair, nodding to the rich origin of braiding while she’s at it.
“Braiding started in Africa with the Himba people of Namibia,” Williams wrote alongside a candid Instagram snap of her plaiting the one-year-old’s natural curls. “We have been braiding our hair for centuries. In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe. Because of the time it would take, people would often take the time to socialize. It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world.”
And while there’s nothing like the mother-daughter connection, Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, make a point of subverting antiquated gender roles by sharing the responsibility of their daughter’s hair care. Last month Ohanian, who has also spoken out about the importance of paid paternity leave, shared that he’s joined natural hair Facebook groups to further educate himself on best practices.
“I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter and add another generation of historic traditions,” Williams concluded. Paying homage to her roots while questioning gender norms in her marriage, the tennis pro continues to redefine modern motherhood.