Written by Kelley Mather, Postpartum Doula, Belly Binding Specialist, Henna Artist with Tulsa Family Doulas.
What’s the Deal with Henna?
It’s a tradition that has been practiced for over 5,000 years in Pakistan, India, Africa and the regions in the Middle East. First used to aid in cooling inhabitants down from the extreme heat, it was later transformed to be a great form of body decoration and adornment. From Cleopatra to Madonna, the times have changed, but traditional Mehndi designs on skin are still a much sought after and desirable art form and mode of self-expression.
What Exactly is Henna made from?
Henna (Lawsonia Inermis, hina, henna, mignonette, Egyptian Privet) is a small flowering plant that grows in dry, very hot climates. One of the properties of the plant is the presence of Lawsone, a reddish-orange dye that reacts and bonds with the keratin in our skin, providing a temporary stain. When dried, crushed and mixed a variety of ingredients, including essential oils, the leaves of the henna plant provide a temporary dye for skin, hair, nail and textiles.
Throughout its long history, special Middle Eastern holidays or events have been celebrated with henna. Birthdays, weddings and childbirths have special ceremonies or events and henna often plays a part in the celebration. My personal favorite is the Mehndi Night tradition, in which the bride, her family and friends come together to celebrate the upcoming wedding. Bridal Henna patterns are very ornate, and can take several hours and multiple henna artists working together to complete at this celebration. Two interesting traditions surround bridal mehndi: the bride doesn’t have to do any household chores until the stain fades, and the darker the stain, the more successful the marriage AND better the mother-in-law will be!
Henna is a growing trend in the Western world. No longer is it just sported by those who have travelled overseas and return with exotic fading designs on their hands and feet. 21st century henna artists can be found at fairs and festivals and concert venues henna kits can be found online or at craft stores. But on the cutting edge of this henna trend is a desire to return to its cultural roots and create a design that honors an event, special rite of passage or a make a beautiful tribute to special time in someone’s life and this is how I got interested in henna art.
Beautiful Designs for Special Times
When I saw a gorgeous henna crown adorning the bald head of my husband’s sweet cousin, I knew I had a new skill to learn! At age 25, Alexa began a battle against Hodgkins Lymphoma which required her to undergo chemotherapy. She valiantly faced down the disease and found a way to feel beautiful despite her hair loss. Adorned with a beautiful henna crown, she did a photo shoot with talented photographer, Britney Higgs. Once I saw these pictures, I knew that this was something I wanted to learn to do - to restore a woman’s self-confidence and bring something beautiful to a loss. But don’t listen to me - here’s what Alexa had to say about her experience:
“The crown made me feel more beautiful and less self-conscious during chemo. For once, people weren’t looking at my head and thinking: “What’s going on with her? Why is she bald? Is she sick?” …It took the questions away from my diagnosis and focused it on who did it and where could they get one!”
A new use for an Art Degree
About a year later, I was doodling during a seminar (don’t judge - I am a kinesthetic learner and listen better when I am drawing!) and my co- worker saw my drawings and asked if I had ever thought of doing henna bellies. Bellies, I asked? An even bigger canvas for henna art - it sounded great! Similar to henna crowns’ ability to empower a cancer fighter to feel beautiful, henna can make a woman feel good about her changing and growing belly. Growing a child within us is a beautiful thing and wonderful experience. We have that pregnant glow - but sometimes its so hard to feel pretty in clothing that reminds us of a tent rather than couture! One of our recent clients had this to say about her experience:
“The application process was super relaxing, I loved the scent-REALLY loved all the comments after! Everyone thought it was so awesome and pretty and that made me feel good :) it was such a fun thing to do!”
Done as part of a henna baby shower, your friends can get their hands hennaed as a show of support for your upcoming birth, an idea which takes the tradition back to the ancient Mehndi Night participants.
Tulsa Family Doulas
As a doula, building confidence, happiness and creating great experiences are my goals for my clients, so this is just an extension of my job - and a really fun one, at that! Tulsa Family Doulas is a full service doula agency, offering services from the moment you discover you are expecting, throughout the postpartum period. Childbirth education and parenting classes, birth photography, henna art, and Bengkung belly binding are also offered. Contact us today and let us know how we can assist you in making your birth a great celebration.
This Saturday, April 4, Tulsa Family Doulas henna artists will be at Babies R Us from 2-3pm offering henna art for $5/hand! Come join the fun and connect yourself with this amazing cultural trend.