Saturday, September 8, 2007

My First Relaxer

In spite of the fact that I have such fast-growing hair, I have not had long hair since I was 5. I was and still am extremely tender-headed. You can imagine what struggles my mother and I had when I was little with a head full of thick curly hair that was past my shoulders. So, out of frustration, she took me up the street to get my first kiddie perm.

I distinctly remember not wanting one. I had an aversion to the smells in the shop and the salon lady was mean. My mother actually didn't make me get one that day.

But then, it was soon time to wash and style my hair again and we went through the struggles and she promised me that if I got a perm then it wouldn't hurt anymore when she tried to comb it after a wash.

And she promised that if I didn't like it, I never had to get another one.

So, we made a deal. Of course I didn't understand the concept of new growth and that even if I never got another one it was still a permanent change to all the hair that was on my head. And I could not think forward in time and know the problems that would result from having two textures of hair. But I don't feel bad about that. I was 5 and there are adults who still don't get that concept.

I'm telling y'all... My hair is fine and soft...but sometimes it fronts like it is tight and kinky. (I don't even rappers who grew up in the suburbs, but front like they're hardcore from the streets...not namin' names or nuthin'...)

So it was one of them days when I got my first relaxer. And the stylist decided that I needed, not a kiddie perm, but a super perm, and that she wasn't going to leave it on for 5 minutes or 10 minutes, but for 20.

I told her it was burning and she said, "It's supposed to. That means it's working."

I said , "This hurts!" She said, "Stop whining!"

I started to cry. She called me a spoiled brat.

Now, I know you must be wondering where my mother was.

Like I said, this shop was literally a few blocks from our house in D.C. and we walked there. She was there for the application and the first few minutes and everything seemed to be under control, so she went next door to shop for a few minutes. It couldn't have been more than 10.

When she returned I was in tears in the sink chair getting the relaxer washed out...along with clumps of my pretty thick hair...

I told her what happened and she told that lady off like I have never seen! But the damage was done.

My hair had to be cut to just above my shoulders and she gave me a surprisingly cute style and of course we didn't pay...but later that day my scalp started to ooze pus from the chemical burns I received and the next morning I woke up with scabs all over. My hair was glued to my head in places.

All my mother could do was brush it back in a ponytail.

So after my first relaxer, we still couldn't comb through my hair until the scabs healed. By that time I had an inch of new growth and two textures and it was still a struggle. Isn't that ironic?

I don't blame my mother. She couldn't have known that would happen. She was doing the best she knew how at the time.

Needless to say I didn't get another relaxer for years.

But when you have trauma to your hair and scalp like that, the hair continues to break off from the ends and to fall from the scalp in patches for months. And even the new growth comes in weak and sickly. I thought my hair would never be right.

Technically, I had my first BC when I was 6. My mother decided to just start over!

After that, it was decided for me that my hair would stay short to medium. It was always about ear-length to just above my shoulders. I was told that when I could do it myself, I could grow it longer. That I didn't like, but what could I do? It was preferable to fighting with my mother about the hot comb or braiding or the box kit relaxer or whatever was the thing to do at the moment.

By the time I did start doing my own hair around the age of 13, there were so many cute hair cuts to try. Y'all remember, short hair, asymmetry, and the Halle Berry were in during the early 90's.

I liked shorter hair. It looks good on me. And I like change. Because my hair does grow so quickly, I never had any reservations about cutting it short (or trying new colors or chemical processes) because I knew it would grow back. I can go from twa to shoulder length layers in a year. So, I tried a lot of different styles during my teenage years, some of which were damaging and required me to start over completely.

I've lost track of the number of times I did that.

Even after I went natural I still periodically tried texturizers and softeners and silkeners in efforts to loosen and control my curl. I have said before that I have several different curl patterns on my head (as most of us do). I was on a quest to bring some sort of uniformity and predictability to them.

I'm here to tell you. Chemicals are not the answer. I never used chemicals - no matter how mild or gentle or 'natural' they claimed to be - that didn't fry my scalp and take my hair out at worst...And at best, they would leave my hair stripped and fragile and thin and limp. Which condition I couldn't abide, not after having known the fullness and thickness and body and bounce of my natural hair.

Renea called me impatient. (And it's okay, I take no offense.)

One reason I have not had long hair is the string of unfortunate encounters with chemicals (including hair color...I'm gonna try to find the pics where my hair was yellow, red and orange like Kelis.) But the other reason I have never had long hair in my life is my own impatience. I get impatient while growing it out and decide I will cut it. Color and cuts are the most instant changes you can make.

So one or the other would always get me. I would either get desperate for change and cut it. Or I would try something new with color or straighteners and it would break off. And hair has not been past my shoulders in 25 years...

And I see this as my opportunity to learn to exercise patience and discipline with regards to growing my hair out. It is not so much that I want to have long hair swinging down my back. (Although I do love the look of long locks!) It is more about proving to myself that I can do it. It is a challenge to myself.

I have promised myself that never again will I resort/revert to chemicals to manage/style/straighten my hair. And for the next few years I will not cut it. I have never in my life gone more than 1 year without making a drastic cut of anywhere from 4 - 6 inches, or put myself in the position of having to pick a length and stay there while test patches that broke off caught up with the rest. (Thank goodness for high-density hair! I was always able to conceal the breakage quite well. No one ever knew but me and my stylist.)

So, there you have it, another installment of my personal hair story.


Carmen In NC said...

Boy do I remember the Halle Berry. I was with my parents out of town and she was on a hair magazine. I had to have the cute. My mom didn't care what I did, but my dad was different. And the he saw Halle and his face turned red. I said something about liking her hair. A few weeks later he paid for and took me to the salon. No big deal he was used to taking me to salon, but this time when he picked me up had a heart attack. I thought he was going to cry. Ponder - why didn't my mother ever take me to the salon???

Carmen In NC said...

Please add words/punctuation and correct spelling in the above post. You know what I'm saying.

Aya said...

Boy, BR, what a story. While reading this, I became angry at the hairstylist who gave your first perm, as if it happened yesterday. What an experience to have to suffer at such a young age. Unfortunately, incidents like that are all too common, even if done in different ways. The bottom line is that we are robbed of something each and every time a relaxer is applied to our hair, wether it is identity, self value,or healthy head of thick African hair. So glad you have embraced going natural through sisterlocks. And, I've got my eye on you to make sure you don't cut your locks prematurely (-:

Anonymous said...

BR> I remember I went through the same experience with my mother but she had my cousin, who was attending cosmetology school, perm my hair. My hair broke off so much my mom then took me to a salon. Next came the curl...WAH!!!!

It's very good your hair is very thick and grows fast. Thankfully Sisterlocks have come to the rescue for us all!!!

n'Drea said...

Wow, you had a real hair nightmare when you were younger :( Thank God for SLs, right? No burns, fuss, or muss. Lord knows I don't miss the relaxer, the strong smells, the pain, the heat, watching my hair do a flop in rainy weather, yada-yada-yada...

blackrussian said...

Carmen needs to re-take keyboarding 101!

JK! (I am the WORST typist when I start to comment. I have to proofread about three times before I hit publish. Y'all would think I had NO Ed-u-ma-cation if you saw my first and second drafts!)

Why DIDN'T your mother ever take you to the salon?

I think every one who had A CUT back then got THAT cut at some point in time...and there's still some folks hanging on to it to, just like the curl...

I think I rocked the WAVE NOUVEAU from '87 - '89, at least. Maybe one of these days I'll scan and post some photos. Remember that?

You were supposed to be able to wear it like a curl and like a perm? It was supposed to be 'no-drip'?

Lies they told us...moving on...

Aya, I've been natural on and off all of my life. Although before I made a conscious decision to 'go natural' around the age of 16 or 17, it was more out of necessity than any particular ideology. I just couldn't tolerate chemicals.

I'm always shocked when I read about people who CAN'T remember NOT having chemically treated hair!

I just always had problems with chemical processes, so I would decide not to use chemicals at all because of the damage to my hair or scalp, but I posted before about how I would try anything new that came out.

You know how they told us that different formulations were new and improved or something rare had been discovered. Who remembers COPA? Was that the name? There was an infomercial...

And marketing is a powerful thing. I would see styles in hair magazines and want them. I would go to a salon and they would say: you'll have to get a relaxer for that one.

Not true! Over the years I learned that almost any style could be simulated on pressed hair - including the oh-so-popular-at-the-time wrap and a wet set. You just have to use differeent methods.

So a few times I went back to the creamy crack even after I knew it was bad for me. I guess I always knew relaxers were bad for me. I just felt - like so many others -that I didn't really have a choice.

It really DOES make me want to preach the sisterlocks gospel...I know they are definitely NOT for everyone, but a lot of people who are looking for something different need to know they're an option.

My friend I referenced in the other post told me yesterday that she wished she had known about sls 2 years ago when her hair was all-natural and she went back to the relaxer just out of frustration.

How many of us do that?

Anyway...moving on from THAT as well...

MM, the saddest part is that my mom took me to a salon because she was certain that an expert would do a better job than she would. She didn't want to damage my hair.

n' much I don't miss.

brunsli said...

Awww... that is a heartbreaking story. And it made my scalp hurt -- I remember what those burns that paste your hair to your scalp feel like. But not at 5. Poor baby.

NappyTexanGirl said...

Ahhh, chemical 'relaxation'. That is torture at the least. My beautician had me convinced that I needed a relaxer once a month. She literally brainwashed me to believe that my 1 inch of new growth needed relaxing every month. I can not believe I fell for that perm/relaxer propaganda...

Renea said...

I meant impatient in a jokey way. When you are watching your locks grow, it's like watching a lawn.
It's too bad so many of us have sad childhood relaxer stories to tell. It's so traumatic to put little girls through that. I almost wish you couldn't give a child a chemical service until they were older. In a way, it's kind of like getting them a tattoo. It has long-term implications that children just shouldn't be burdened to deal with before they are old enough to understand.

Anonymous said...

I'm 24 yrs of age and have NEVER in my life had a perm/relaxer. I've always donned braids. My hair has never grown any longer than right above my shoulder. There was a point in time where my hair became very damaged (follwing the advice of my ex-stylist). I left her and now I'm on my own. I've done everything from Angie Stone in the summer to 2 strand twist. Many of my friends have relaxers and maintain their healthy locks. I find that no matter how you wear your hair, chemical free or permed to the follicles, if you're not properly taking care of your hair its going to break. So I'm considering a relaxer...not sure, its a big step.

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