Jul 31, 2013

DISCUSSION: The Ghost of Relaxers Past


Everyone may not feel the same way about relaxers. For me, my hair was relaxed before I hit middle school. I vaguely remember when I was around 5 years old and getting my hair braided. My mom used me to show off her braiding skills and would put stars and shapes and beads in my hair. Then at one point I remember my grandmother straightening my hair (and occasionally burning my scalp, lol) with hot combs. Do you remember your first relaxer? I'm not even sure how old I was.

Okay, fast forward to May 2013. My family was gathered at my Granny's house. And during one of my eldest brother's random rants about Afrocentrism, he pointed to my hair and said "That's what our hair is supposed to look like. That's the way it grows out of our head." He continued with talks of European beauty standards and then took the liberty to inform our grandmother that I "never liked perms (relaxers)." He said that she used to put them in my head and I didn't want them. And then he motioned to me and said "Am I right or not? Tell her. Go ahead!"

And as I sat there, I had a conversation with the inner me. I said, Self, you really didn't like perms when you were younger. Your hair was "stubborn" and it took forever to straighten. And you had countless sores from chemical burns. And remember that time you tried to get away from relaxers before you even knew what "going natural" was? That was funny. But do you really need to tell her?

I decided that no. I don't need to dredge up old feelings from the past because my Granny decided that the best way to manage my hair was with a relaxer. I mean, I was pretty clear about the fact that I didn't like getting relaxers when I was younger. And she was pretty clear that she didn't care because she was the one who was responsible for how my hair looks, and she didn't want invest the time to deal with my 'nappy' hair.

On some level, I can understand. You're working hard to take care of 3 children. And albeit in the early 90s there was hardly a natural hair "movement". Most people had relaxers and you had better not let your roots grow out too long. And back then, knowledge of the effects that exposure to the chemicals in a relaxer does to young girls wasn't readily available. So one may have weighed the pros and known cons of chemically relaxing a child's hair and decided that straight hair would be prettier and/or easier to manage. There were already a limited market of quality products for any type of black hair. When you filter out products that were not designed to manage kinky and unprocessed black hair, the pickings for hair care were relatively slim. I learned to get by with relaxers, Blue Magic®, and Pink Oil Moisturizer®. And although I was never too fond of it, I got along just fine with my long and straight hair.

Now that I'm an adult and responsible for my own hair, I'm natural and loving it. Even when I'm not in love with my hair at a given moment, I am happy that I have gotten to know and love my hair for what it is. My nappy, stubborn, kinky, curly, coils are everything they were meant to be. At one point I was annoyed that it took so much for me to transition to natural hair because neither my mother nor my grandmother thought that my naps were pretty. But that situation taught me to be more understanding of others' decisions. You don't have to agree with an action to understand the premise behind it. Once a permanent hair choice is made, it's done. It doesn't matter whether your hair was locked or relaxed at an early age, it's okay to enjoy the happily natural life without settling the score on hair decisions made by your caretakers. But this leaves me wondering:

What would you have done? Would you take advantage of an opportunity to talk about how much you didn't like getting relaxers as a child? Or do you consider it no big deal?

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