Stock Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/afro-beautiful-fashion-fashionable-573317/
I can’t remember when I first got a relaxer, but I can guess by looking at school pictures. My hair looked at least “texturized” on my kindergarten picture. According to my mother, my hair was super thick and super long. She said we would both cry in the mornings before daycare. My grandmother tried to help by taking me to the salon with her biweekly to get a press-n-curl. As the story goes, one day I arrived home with the best press-n-curl ever! It was indeed a permanent relaxer!!!
My mom was happy that my hair was easier to comb, but not happy to have to maintain a relaxer. This required that I get my new growth “retouched” every 2-3 months. I enjoyed going to our neighborhood salon and listening to the adults gossip about the happenings in our small community. I learned many things little ones should not know (Close my eyes by Mariah Carey)! I was the little girl that no stylist wanted to tackle because my hair was notoriously hard to detangle. I usually got skipped and often was the last one in the shop.
Despite the strong chemicals that were applied to my sensitive scalp every couple of months, my hair grew longer and longer. My hair rollers grew larger and larger which made my hooded hair dryer time longer. There is a photo somewhere of young me sitting on two phone books under the dryer with my feet dangling from the chair. This was just a way of life for me.
This drama continued for 30 more years until I became a mother of two. My first child was a boy and I thought I had it easy. I could get up, brush his hair and go! Shortly thereafter, my little diva was born. Things were not so easy anymore…
The Diva was an easy baby but a not so easy toddler. She was into everything and made her wants known. Everything was going well until she wanted to be Cinderella instead of Princess Tiana. She told me she wanted blonde hair and blue eyes. Wow! I was in for a whole new challenge.
I never remember wanting to be White when I was a little girl. I always accepted me for me. Was it because my hair was already straight and long? I went to a predominately White school just as she did. What was I doing wrong?
This all happened during the dawn of the natural hair movement. A pharmaceutical representative in my area opened a natural hair product store. Back then natural hair products could only be purchased online. This pharm rep had the novel idea of making these online hair products available on the ground. I thought that maybe if I made my daughter’s curly hair look better, she would stop asking for her hair to be flat-ironed. The pharm rep now store owner dropped some serious knowledge on me during my first visit. She gave me a scientific journal article that discussed the adverse effects of hair products marketed to Black girls with texturizers and relaxers. These “drug store” hair products were laden with harmful chemicals that may cause Black girls to enter puberty at a younger age. These chemicals are also known as endocrine or hormone disruptors. I was horrified because I understood the article too well. This was right up my proverbial alley. Not only did I learn about the possible effect of the chemicals, I also learned that I was the reason for my daughter wanting to have straight hair! The store owner told me that my daughter only wanted to look like me.
I honestly never thought about it! I was walking around in my own fog with my light brown eyes and below bra-strap length, straight hair. My daughter not only wanted to be like Cinderella, she also wanted to be like me! I was horrified to say the least. I was also panicked. Could this be true? I had a decision to make. I could get her hair texturized/relaxed or I could go back to natural.
As I pediatrician, I could not recommend anything to my child or anyone else’s child that could be potentially harmful. There had been articles in the scientific literature showing a possible link between relaxers and fibroid tumors. Ever wonder why Black women suffer with them so often?? I knew that I would not allow my daughter to get a relaxer. That meant that I had to go back to natural.
I tried to transition back to natural by stopping the relaxers cold turkey. My stylist said she was fine with it but I think she thought I was going through a phase. Up until this time, I was addicted to the creamy crack (a colloquial term for cream relaxers). As soon as I felt one wave or kink, I was begging for her to relax my hair. I had a standing weekly appointment. I looked forward to going to the salon every Tuesday afternoon. Everything worked out until my stylist got tired of detangling my new growth. She finally said that my perfectly healthy relaxed hair was breaking off and I needed to just get a retouch. I was determined to go natural so I changed stylists. The only natural hair stylist I could find was so busy that I could no longer have a standing weekly appointment. I certainly did not want to deal with two different hair textures! After three months, I big chopped in Atlanta on a girl’s trip. Everyone thought I was crazy or getting a divorce. Remember the movie, Waiting to Exhale? I went from straight long hair to a teeny, weeny afro in two seconds flat.
Fast forward to now. I have been natural for 5.5 years. My daughter rarely asks for her hair to be straightened. In fact, she loves her curly “puff” and gets upset when it is not curly enough. She is very tender-headed and hard-headed too. She walks around with either a puff or a bun all the time with the perimeter looking like the Statue of Liberty. She is a preteen now and wants to do her own hair. She is still a pain in my backside, but she is fine with being Black and curly haired. I am fine with my curls and have only straightened my hair three times in the past five years. I guess natural was good for both of us.
Actual photo of my daughter and me by Bernie Saul Photography, Inc.