By Dr. Phoenyx Austin

Just this past week I was featured in Essence Magazine’s Natural Hair Diary. I was interviewed by Patrice Grell Yursik, the natural-haired beauty known as Afrobella, who asked several questions about my natural hair journey- specifically when I got my first relaxer. I was actually in kindergarten when I got my first relaxer. And I must admit that despite my mother’s best intentions, I don’t believe that it was the best decision to relax my hair at such an early age.

Lots of natural-haired women first started getting relaxers when they were children. It’s something that’s very common- almost like a rite of passage. Oftentimes parents hold certain beliefs about natural hair and ultimately accept relaxers because they think it makes our hair “more manageable,” “socially acceptable,” and “pretty.” So as expected, parents will relax their child’s hair. It’s viewed as normal. But unfortunately, little thought goes into how a parent’s perceptions of natural vs. relaxed hair can negatively shape a child’s self-image and self-esteem.

Personally, I do not believe relaxers should be used on children. Why? My reason is threefold. One, from a professional standpoint, I don’t think relaxers are even healthy for adults, let alone children. Two, I think relaxing a child’s hair to make it “socially acceptable” and “pretty” will ultimately lead a child to reason and believe that their natural hair is something that’s “less acceptable” and “less pretty” without some sort of chemical alteration. And three, it is my belief that the decision to relax a child’s hair is also about a lack of information and knowledge about natural hair care. And considering all the current advancements in hair care, like tons of wonderful natural hair products, online forums such as CurlyNikki, as well as natural hair salons, I think we are at the time where relaxing a child’s hair should be the rare exception and not the rule.

Children are very impressionable and need time to develop a positive self-image. And relaxing your child’s hair at an early age, especially before they’ve been taught to appreciate and style their own natural hair, could ultimately lead to hair related self-esteem issues later on in life. Grant it, your child may grow up and ultimately decide that she wants a relaxer. But that decision should be made only AFTER she has been given the opportunity to develop a positive self-image through loving and appreciating her natural hair.

What are your thoughts on relaxers and little girls? Do you think it’s psychologically healthy to relax a child’s hair? And if a child/parent does want a relaxer, when do you think is the most age appropriate time to get a relaxer?

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