Is Relaxing Hair Child Abuse?
by Maria of

As we wrapped up my women’s studies course for the semester this week, I was to report a summary of my action project to the class. My action project was the very beginning to creating the Naturalista’s student group which has now, rather quickly, sprung into many different things. My class is small and comprised of white women save myself. They are now well educated on the several reason’s why chemical processes are bad and even dangerous. As I shared some of the stories, one woman asked me how young do most women start relaxing. I told her in my mother’s time, usually not until after 18 but I received my first one at age 9. THEY WERE SHOCKED. And their shock shook me, because I never thought about the actual danger that children are being submitted to. Then I said, “Well, that’s not considered too young, but, I know someone who got her first relaxer at 2.”

And then I thought about that, and realized what is taking place is child abuse. I NEVER wanted the burning and sores and puss I received after having my hair relaxed. I can recall sitting in class in sixth grade sliding small pieces of scab down my very long strands of hair so as not pull the hair out and give myself a bald spot. I remember feeling silly patting my head when it itched around white people. And I also remember purposely swinging my bra strap length hair so as to intentionally make other girls jealous.

Then it got shorter. And shorter. and shorter. Until my sophomore year of high school when I had to get a layered cut, short in the back, long in the front, to ease my mind in the mirror with the illusion that my hair was still long. My mom couldn’t always afford to get my touchup as often as I thought I needed and my new growth always came back quick. I remember a high school mate telling me I “needed” a perm bad and how jacked up my hair looked. One well meaning friend suggested her hair dresser “Bink” who would lay my hair “real flat” to my head. She did. I recall being amazed at how when I laid my palm on my head, there was no cushion to my scalp. I took the city bus two hours one way to have her get my hair “right.”

….but I’ve strayed. Why are we submitting infants to poisonous chemicals? One Naturalista told us her biggest wall to going natural is her mother. Her mother says the Naturalista’s hair is too nappy to not have a relaxer. I asked how old was she when she got her first relaxer. Two. Two years old. No one on the face of this planet has any idea what her natural hair is like. Her baby hair was processed. And while I am sure that her mother was well meaning and took care of her properly, where do we draw the line?

What is taking place in our minds that says it is okay to put our babies at risk by for the sake of giving them straight hair? I have a friend who says it is “self-hatred” but I prefer to say it is lack of knowledge. Because we have lost the knowledge of how to maintain our hair in the manner in which it deserves, we seek an alternative that is reflective of the larger, dominating society around us. As an African-American, I am too a member of that society, but the values and ideals that are held up as standard and normal tend to miscatogorize me as absurd. What’s worse, is that African descended women who are putting chemicals in young children’s hair are acting severally irrationally in order to be considered normal. While the objection reason it is simply easier to maintain a child’s hair who is resistant to sitting for long periods of time, when had easier over safety and sanity ever been okay. But that may be the clue to my query. “We” prefer unhealthy, life threatening, obesity inducing, fast food over taking time to prepare every meal which enables us to monitor what is going into our bodies. We rather sit and watch “the movie” over taking the time and sit to read the book allowing for self interpretation instead of accepting what is being forced into our minds. In school we memorize the answer instead of understanding the process. And now, we threaten the safety of our children and their self concept rather than learn how to care for our natural hair and encourage pride in it.

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