My daughter's hair was the slowest growing stuff you've ever seen sprout from somebody's scalp. It started out promising when she was born. After the crown of her head poked through into the brave new world, the doctor smiled and said, "Look at all that hair!" Indeed, she had her fair share of it.
But then she went through that balding phase that a lot of black babies endure, when the back of their heads look like some mean prankster scrubbed their hair off and replaced it with wooly looking carpet. I remember putting my hand out and praying over her precious little head when she would toddle by. That hair was a challenge and only the Lord could fix it.
Still, I refused to perm it. I didn’t straighten it. I wanted her to love her hair in its natural state, just like it was. I wanted her to love everything about herself, starting at the top of her head and including that wild mane of hair.
Having straight hair is so indoctrinated into black culture, some moms think it’s almost mandatory to relax their daughter’s kinks and curls. It’s a kneejerk reaction that, by the time the baby grows a few teeth and can sit up on her own, her hair’s got to be slathered into chemically treated mercy. If you saw Chris Rock’s Good Hair, you know what I’m talking about. Children barely old enough to be enrolled in school sitting up in a beauty shop chair getting their tresses fried. Good grief.
That teaches girls from the get-go that their crowning glory isn’t good, isn’t pretty, isn’t nice, isn’t manageable unless it’s been processed into straight anonymity. Then they have the nerve to slap a ponytail weave on it or throw some tracks of hair extensions in to add insult to injury.
The little girl doesn’t know any better. She’s just so excited to have hair that bounces and moves and hangs so she can flick it and twirl it around.
It’s sad on so many levels. I could get real deep and talk about the residual self-hatred that black folks harbor, which has been ingrained since the days of enslavement. But self-hatred is not always the case. I have a perm. And I think we all know by now I’m super proud of my African-ness and gloriously in love with my heritage.
My mother made me wait until I turned 14 before I could put any kind of chemicals in my hair. I had time to learn my hair, to appreciate its wavy thickness. Washing my hair was a job, but drying it was even worse. And the straightening comb? If you don’t know anything about black hair, ask an African-American woman about straightening combs and watch her facial expression.
I remember seeing my mom or grandmother gathering up a jar of hair grease and that wretched comb and heading toward the kitchen. I knew somebody would be hollering my name soon enough to come sit in the hot seat — literally. That’s like legalized torture when you’re a kid.
I continued the tradition when Skylar was old enough to sit through a hard press for special occasions, but I quit not long after because she hated it and I hated it, for different reasons. By the time she was in the second grade, I asked her if she wanted to grow dreadlocks. After trying all kinds of oils and pomades and conditioners and different braiding techniques, it seemed like the only solution to getting my baby’s hair to grow. And grow it has. Her locks are down her back now, beautiful and healthy.
Never once during the struggle of my girl child’s near-bald headedness was I tempted to weave her up or perm her down. She deserved better than to have a head full of horsehair making her feel cute. She deserved to feel cute on her on volition, getting confidence from hair that was naturally hers, not something she bought out of a beauty supply store or manufactured from a canister of chemicals. It’s the best decision I could’ve made for her exterior self.
Black, white, whatever — girls identify with having pretty hair. I’m sure if we hadn’t locked it that my child would still be struggling with the little nubs of growth she used to have. But I know one thing: I’m proud that she’s proud of her real hair. And if, sometime down the line, she decides to cut her locks off and get a perm, I won’t be upset. Because it’s the mentality I wanted her to embrace as much as the hair itself.
How early is too early to put chemicals in a child’s hair?
Image via bnghair/Flickr