“I think it should be emphasized that for many women relaxing their hair is a habit that is based on a choice that was made for them when they were very young.”
“While I don’t think of perming as a form of self-hate, I know perming for ME was a result of me not knowing my options or realizing what I could do with my own hair in its natural state.”
These quotes are parts of two different comments I read today on CurlyNikki.com in response to an interview of an African-American guy on his preference of natural textured hair and his dislike of relaxed hair. The link to this interview can be found here:
These comments really struck me because I identify with them so much. I as an individual never made the choice to begin relaxing my hair. That choice was made for me many years ago by my mother because my hair was deemed “bad” or “nappy.” Every time I sat down on a pillow in between my mother’s legs on the floor when it came time to get my relaxer touch-up, I had to endure the disappointed announcements that my perm “didn’t take.” The blame for my perm “not taking” or not effectively chemically straightening my hair was always put on me for not allowing it to sit on my head long enough. Perhaps the reason was because no matter what lengths I went to prevent burning (including not scratching my scalp and applying a relaxer base), my scalp would always feel like it was on fire after 7-10 minutes. This was practice occurred every couple of months until I went natural a year and a half ago. It was all I knew. Every woman in my family got their hair relaxed. Black women’s hair was SUPPOSED to be relaxed unless you were “blessed” with loosely textured hair (or you know, had Indian in your family *cough*). There shouldn’t even be a question about it. If you started to let the time stretch between touch-ups, there would be the constant questions of “When you getting a perm?” or “When are you gonna do something to that head?” The practice of relaxing was so ingrained in my head that I was unaware that there were alternative ways to manage African-American hair and I myself thought of my hair as a problem that constantly needed to be dealt with. I know that I have been frustrated with this practice for years. I was sick of burning the skin off my scalp every three months, paying $80-$90 dollars every time my hair started to become “unmanageable”, I was sick of the breakage. But I kept relaxing because in my mind these were part of the perils of being a black woman. This is what we HAD to do to look presentable in society.
I am aware now that natural haired ladies have always existed, but for some reason until a year and a half ago they were never on my conscious radar. Perhaps because no one in “real life” wore their hair that way. It took a friend going natural for me to realize that there was another way to be. She too had to do a big chop due to years of hair damage from relaxers, weaves, half wigs, etc. And at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I teetered between shock, awe, envy, and disapproval. How dare she walk around in public without a perm? I mean, I guess it’s cute. Her hair’s not so bad, but I know *I* could never do that! But her hair grew on me. She wore it with such swagger and style that I envied her confidence. After a few months I began to think to myself, “Maybe I don’t have to put myself through all this misery. Maybe I can go natural too.” And thus began the mental transition (which trust me, starts long before the physical transition) of breaking free of the slavery to the relaxer and to the salon.
Many consider this “natural hair movement” to be a trend or a fad. That may be true, but I think it’s a good thing. Why? Because exposure is everything. This fad is demonstrating to women of the African-American community that there are other options and alternatives if you are tired of the perming. I wish I had been exposed to it sooner. Perhaps years of frustration, giving my hard to come by money to the stylist, and the infamous hair catastrophe that led to me choosing this option could have been prevented.