As a student at Griffin Elementary in Lakeland, Merlande Petithomme sometimes drew a scolding from her teacher for creating braids out of her classmates’ shoelaces.
Her mother became exasperated because Petithomme would cut the hair off one of her dolls and affix it to the head of another, after changing the hair color or fashioning it into braids.
“At one point, my mother, she got tired,” Petithomme recalled. “She said, ‘Listen, I’m not going to keep buying these dolls for you to keep cutting the hair.’ So she went to the hair store and bought me hair extensions so I could braid it into my dolls’ hair.”
Some three decades later, Petithomme is still drawing attention for her experiments with hair. The heads she now adorns belong to humans, not dolls, and the reaction she provokes is dazzled admiration.
The Lakeland native is featured in an episode of the Netflix documentary series, “We Are the Champions,” which began streaming in November. The show presents such lesser-known competitions as cheese rolling in rural England,
The third episode introduces fantasy hairstyling, a competitive realm Petithomme entered more than a decade ago. The show documents her winning performance in 2019 at the Bronner Bros. International Beauty Show, billed as the nation’s premiere multicultural hair and makeup event.
As the category name suggests, Petithomme and other stylists created looks not intended for a day at work or a trip to the grocery store. Her winning design, fitting the Mardi Gras theme for the New Orleans gathering, set a towering fleur-de-lis symbol atop the head of a model in a jewel-encrusted gown with feathered wings.
“I felt all of that tied into who I am and what I’m bringing into the competition,” said Petithomme, 38. “So I always let them know whenever I came to a competition, I’m going to have the