December 13, 2013

Hospital Advises Straightening Children's Hair?


The natural hair community is getting stronger by the day here in the U.S., but that isn't the case for the rest of the world. In Brazil, the home of the Brazilian Blow Out treatment that uses formaldehyde to straighten tight curls and coils, the pressure to straighten begins very young.

Much like the stories that comes from those in the natural hair community today, who remember long, painful hours of having their hair straightened before they even stepped into an elementary school, women with tight curls in Brazil are encouraged to straighten their hair as well as that of their daughters. And, that encouragement doesn't just come from the media and culture -- it has also been supported by medical professionals in hospitals.

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This story isn't new. Back in September, the site Black Women in Brazil broke the news about Santa Joana hospital, which posted a response on its Facebook page to the following question:
“Minha filha tem o cabelo muito crespo. A partir de qual idade posso alisá-lo? (My daughter has very kinky/curly hair. At what age can I straighten it?)”

Their response was to use alternatives to formaldehyde straightening treatments (which the ANVISA [Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária or National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance] strictly prohibits on children) in order to give your daughter beautiful hair.

Many on Facebook considered the post racist and prejudiced and since, the hospital has removed it. However, per usual, there were two sides to the argument.

While many thought the use of the words "makes children more beautiful" in reference to straightening the hair was an outright declaration of prejudiced and even adultification of children, others thought that the post was simply meant to encourage mothers not to use chemicals on their daughters' hair -- especially in a country that so values straightened hair.

And, to be fair, the post did call out straight hair alternatives to chemical processes.  Either way, the story is just one more reminder that this movement is borderless and just as important
globally as it is locally.

My question to you: what would be your response to seeing the post?

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Marques of Black Women in Brazil says:

OK, so here’s the issue at hand. It is clear that whoever asked the question in regards to when she can begin straightening her daughter’s hair because it is very kinky/curly/nappy herself wants to find a way to avoid the maintenance of her child’s hair. The woman that asked the question never actually said she wanted to make her daughter “more beautiful”. The hospital’s reply immediately implied that straightening a child’s hair would make her “more beautiful” although it attributes this idea to “some mothers (algumas mães)”. While it is indeed true that the idea that straighter hair is more beautiful among many black women/mothers, the hospital could have avoided this whole controversy by simply not using those words.

Could it be possible that the mother who asked the question wrote this along with her question? Is it possible that other mothers have asked advise and also used the words “more beautiful”? Or did the writer of the response simply take it upon himself/herself to use this wording as a personal opinion or a citation of the opinions of others? In reality, there’s no way to know. The bottom line is that the writer of the response used words that were not included in the original question and thus made a reference to an idea that is widespread throughout Brazil. The idea that straighter hair is “more beautiful” than kinky/curly hair. Whether it was done on purpose, as personal opinion, or as representation of the thoughts of society, it was a poor choice of words. In the development of self-esteem of black children in a country and world dominated by European standards of beauty, this type of comment cannot be tolerated. 

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