Why I Go So Hard for #naturalhair and Self-Love: A Baby with Straightened Hair

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I made the decision to grow my natural hair in January 2009. It feels like a lifetime time ago, but three years really isn’t that long. So understand that I write this post not out of judgement of women who choose to relax their hair, but out of concern for the child.

Initially, my reason for going natural was simple: Relaxers aren’t good for me, or the planet. The chemical cocktail, a.k.a. creamy crack, that many African American women slather onto their heads multiple times a year is replete with toxic chemicals that I’d prefer not to go near with 10-foot pole. So I couldn’t, in good conscience, continue putting the stuff on my own head, and there’s no way in the world I’d even remotely consider putting it on my daughter’s. So we are natural together:

But I learned something else along the way. Having natural hair has really helped me learn to love myself exactly as I am. There was something freeing about having my kinky, curly hair standing big and tall that just made me confident in who I was and how I looked. Even on days when it won’t cooperate with whatever style I’m trying to coax it into. Even on days when I get side eyes from other women who aren’t feeling the whole “natural thing.” I still felt awesome and empowered. This was a side effect that I did not expect, but I embraced it, because I needed all the help I could get when learning to love myself.  I’ve tried to pass this empowerment on to my daughter, teaching her that she should love herself, and her hair, regardless of the circumstances.

So I am understandably appalled when I see mess like this:

I. Just. Can’t.

I feel sorry for the woman who did this. I really do. Because how much do you have to hate yourself and your hair to project those feelings onto a 4-month-old baby?! Some people will say, “it’s just hair”, or “maybe she just thought it would be cute.” But therein lies the issue. The societal opinion is that straight hair is cute, and kinky hair is not. Which is obviously the bigger issue at hand here, but still patently ridiculous.

I’m sure this baby was cute as a button with her kinky, curly hair. But apparently, her own mother didn’t see it that way. Apparently, her dislike of her daughter’s hair was serious enough for her to risk the baby’s safety in order to change it.

Let me say that I don’t know for sure that this child’s mother used a relaxer on her hair. The straightening also could have been done with a flat iron, a hot comb or even a blow dryer. Still, it is BEYOND ridiculous to subject a child that young to any of these methods — to torture.

Harsh words, I know, but Relaxers. Freaking. Burn. I say this from years of experience that started when I was in third grade. And babies have tender, sensitive scalps and skulls that have not yet fully fused, so I imagine that putting relaxer on an infant’s head for more than a minute or two would result in burning. Also? Hot combs. Freaking. Burn. I can still remember, at age 5 or 6, cringing in my aunt’s kitchen whenever the hot comb got anywhere near my neck or ears. I remember how terrible it burned when my aunt’s hands slipped. I remember the smell of my hair frying. And this is when I was old enough to sit still for the process. If a hot comb was used on this baby, do you really think she was able to sit still while it was being done? Highly unlikely. And as a grown woman, I have burned myself with both a flat iron and a blow dryer. Not to mention the fact getting hair straight with either of these tools takes time and patience. Even if the child was asleep, burning hot tools so close to her scalp are a bad idea. This should go without saying.

So even if you can look past the obvious self-esteem issues. Even if you can ignore the conversation happening in the photo comments. Even if you say that maybe no one ever told this baby’s mama that natural hair is beautiful too. Even if you can say that mama was just trying something new and that it’s not a big deal that the baby’s once kinky hair is now straight, how can you possibly look past what it would’ve taken to get her hair that way?

This is why I am happy to talk to women about natural hair. This is why I tell people on the regular that there’s no such thing as “good hair”. This is why I designed t-shirts like these:

But it’s also why I don’t judge women who choose to wear their hair relaxed, my sister and nieces included. Because while I do believe it would be better for their health not to alter their hair chemically, at the end of the day, it’s their hair. And they should love themselves regardless. Plus, women and teenagers, and even older children are capable of choosing how they want to present themselves to the world. Whether they GET to choose is another story for another day (since my own daughter will be natural until she’s at least 18, and hopefully long thereafter), but my point is that older girls and women can understand the repercussions of their actions.

But a baby? An innocent baby who doesn’t know a hot comb from a pacifier? I’m just mortified.

NOTE: I decided to post the picture that shows the name of the person who posted the picture. At the end of the day, the pic was posted publicly on Facebook. So I’ll use it as I found it.

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37 responses
  • Yoli Ouiya August 8, 2012, 3:48 pm

    Now this is another form of child abuse. Smh poor baby that her mom is impatient and lazy.

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 4:43 pm

      Exactly. All I can do is SMH…

      Reply
  • Kristina Brooke August 8, 2012, 3:53 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I am writing a series of blog posts covering several of the topics I have posted on my FB page, this one included.

    I agree with you that this is torture and that no baby should have this done to them regardless of the reason. Self-hate/love is definitely at the root of this but the disregard for this child’s safety is what pissed me off the most.
    Kristina Brooke´s last blog post ..Learning to embrace the New Normal

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 4:07 pm

      Exactly, Kristina. I can look past the fact that she just wanted her baby to have straight hair. But mama couldn’t have waited until the child was out of diapers? Maybe even in elementary or middle school? No…apparently straightening her hair was important enough to pretend while she was doing it that it wasn’t a huge safety hazard. Just SMH…

      Reply
  • B August 8, 2012, 3:57 pm

    you say you don’t judge those with relaxers but then say things like this:

    I feel sorry for the woman who did this. I really do. Because how much do you have to hate yourself and your hair to project those feelings onto a 5-month-old baby?!

    So even if you can look past the obvious self-esteem issues.

    those statements are beyond judgmental. In my opinion.

    Writing articles like this and basically downing people and their hair journey is silly…

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 4:04 pm

      B, I can appreciate what you’re saying, but at the end of the day, I’m not downing the mother’s hair journey, as she is free to do what she wants to her own hair. But I’m sorry: I do see self esteem issues here. Because if the child’s mama really loved her own hair, wouldn’t she have looked upon her child’s hair with love as well? The desire to change her child’s hair had to come from somewhere, and in my opinion, it likely came from a problem with self love. If she thought her own, or her child’s hair, was beautiful, or even just fine, the way it grew out of their heads, she would’ve seen no reason to take it this far.

      I cannot, and WILL not, defend her right to do this to a 5-month-old baby. I feel sorry for her because no one told her that it was wrong to do this to an infant. I feel sorry for her because she herself thought that it was OK. I’m not judging her styling choice, but I sure as heck am judging her parenting choice.

      Reply
      • B August 8, 2012, 7:57 pm

        I’m not talking about the child’s hair…I was speaking in general…

        what that fool did to that baby’s hair is just well…foolish…

        but in general many natural hair women make these sweeping statements about why women choose to relax their hair.

        I find it greatly offensive to say that a woman who relaxers her hair is self-loathing…I hate myself because I prefer to relax my hair instead of letting it be natural and me having to deal with it way more than I deal with my hair today. And I thought I was just being lazy lol

        Contrary to the rhetoric you can have healthy relaxed hair. Look at my avi and that pic is about 3 years old.

        And another thing, burns, missing edges and lack of growth and healthy hair…is not all the relaxers fault. A great deal of that falls on the lack of education and proper use of said relaxer. Again look at my hair!!! If you do not have an educated and caring hair stylist and good personal knowledge of haircare then yes you will have some issues with relaxers and those issues will more than likely carry over to your natural hair.

        I have been blessed with an amazing stylist who has spent countless hours and her own money on finding what works for my extremely funny acting hair (well its more my scalp than anything).

        I have never understood the “natural hair journey” but that might be because I grew up in the 70′s. My sister had a big giant Angela Davis ‘fro and I had cornrows that’s all we knew back then. And as far as I can remember there was never any hair shame. But Lawd some of y’all natural sisters will do and say anything to us relaxed sisters to shame us. Which is just wrong.

        It truly is just hair and how it is worn is a personal choice that should not be shamed in any way shape or form.

        Reply
        • jennae August 8, 2012, 9:12 pm

          The crazy thing is that I agree with you 110%.

          You’ll notice I started by talking about my OWN hair journey. Like I said, loving myself was not my initial goal or reasoning for going natural. It was a positive byproduct of the process. I never said that relaxed hair is inherently unhealthy or that the mother lacks self esteem simply because she is relaxed. What is inherently unhealthy, in my opinion, is the desire to, and the act of, straightening the hair of an infant. Why I say she lacks self esteem is because most mothers see their children as a reflection of themselves, so seeing something “ugly” or “not good enough” in her daughter probably means that she sees something that way in herself.

          So please do not take this as an attack on relaxed hair. The only person on whom I’m passing judgement is the woman who would be so idiotic as to do this to a baby. I am very aware that there is such a thing as healthy relaxed hair, and in fact, my own relaxed hair was pretty healthy before I went natural. Unhealthy hair wasn’t my reason for making the switch. Unhealthy habits were, and I tried to change my whole lifestyle. Not just my hair. Hence this blog :)

          There are natural hair nazis out there. I am not one of them. More power to any woman to do what she wants to her hair. I’m not saying natural hair = self-love. Just that the two can go together and are not mutually exclusive. You can — and in fact, should — love yourself no matter what your hair, or clothes, or body looks like. I will never, and have never, looked down upon any woman because she is relaxed. How could I, when my own hair was that way for years? I do talk about my hair all the time, but 99.99% of the time, the conversation is initiated by someone else asking a question about my or my daughter’s hair. Plus, if a woman’s hair looks good, relaxed or not, I go out of my way to compliment her because I believe women should show each other love and support regardless. I’m not shaming anyone — except this baby’s mama — who could use a good dose of shame for doing something so dumb. Maybe she didn’t know better before, but I sincerely hope she does now.

          One more thing: At least in my experience, I spend a LOT less time taking care of my hair now than I did when I was relaxed. Just my experience :) Like all things, natural hair is just something we have to learn how to take care of. Before I did it, I thought it would be hard too. But experience taught me that it’s not nearly as hard as most of us think it would be ;)

          Reply
          • Al August 9, 2012, 9:50 pm

            I know a Dominican lady who has straight/wavy hair. Her daughter is half black (because the daughter’s father is black). The dominican lady relaxed her daughter’s hair for the first time when she was 4 years old. Why? Because she didn’t like the daughter’s hair in it’s kinky state. That’s not an example of self-loathing, in my opinion. We can’t really say that the mother is self-loathing here. We CAN say that she made a poor decision, but we don’t know WHO the mother is or HOW her hair looks. The mother may be white, or asian, or dominican with straight hair, and she wants her daughter to have straight hair too.

            We shouldn’t judge when we’re not sure…

            Reply
            • jennae August 9, 2012, 10:31 pm

              Al, you bring up a good point, in that we can’t be certain about the mother’s race. However, whether the mother was black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or some combination, it doesn’t excuse straightening the hair of a baby. Are we forgetting that this child is only a few months old? That was a stupid decision regardless of who the mother was or why she did it.

              And I’m sorry, but a mother “not liking” her four year old daughter’s kinky hair or wanting the child’s hair to be straight just because her own hair is straight isn’t exactly sending a good message either. It’s still telling a child that she and her hair are less than. So while it may not be direct self-hate on the part of the mother, doing something like that certainly has the potential to create self-hate for the child.

              LONG before I ever thought about going natural, I wished that my mother hadn’t relaxed my hair when I was so young. I just wished that I’d been given the choice. Because relaxed hair was all I knew, it took me until I was 26 years old to figure out that there WAS another way, and I would still be beautiful if I chose it. Why am I wrong for asking mothers to give their increasingly younger daughters that choice?

              And again, above all else, doing this to a baby is just plain dangerous, even if you consider nothing else I’ve said.

              Reply
            • EBONY August 17, 2012, 10:10 pm

              first off, most Dominicans have African decent, but that’s another conversation.But being that her daughter is mostly black and her wanting to straighten it to look like her, is no different from people of Dominican decent straightening their hair and denying having African ancestry at all, no matter how dark they are. Her hair texture is apart of her heritage , wearing your hair in its natural state is a statement of love and pride, just like slapping your native flag EVERYWHERE to show your native land, like many other cultures do. for her to want to hide, something that is a display of what her daughter is at such a young age IS A FORM OF SELF HATE. …. POINT BLANK-PERIOD. its not like she was doing it just for versatility. That’s a baby. stop making excuses for people’s self hate, it is real and unfortunately common, in one way or another.

              Reply
            • TTT August 18, 2012, 2:04 pm

              Just sayin’

              Not to criticize, but if momma’s Dominican…, she’s Black (she may not realize it).

              She is a Black woman that speaks a language which is an offset of Spanish. Their textures differs, as ours do.

              Reply
        • Martini August 9, 2012, 3:51 pm

          Yesssss this is exactly true. Natural hair wearers have become a group of elitist snobs. You are not better than anyone because u go natural. You don’t love your selve soooo much more…lol You just like your hair unprocessed. This whole natural thing is just another way to divide us. WAAAAKKKKE UPPPPP!!! This is the same as the chick on one ofthose reality shows crying about veal yet she had an abortion.

          Reply
          • jennae August 9, 2012, 10:19 pm

            Martini, I wonder if you realize that your own statements are just as offensive as the elitism of which you accuse me. And the idea that women with natural hair are elitist is ridiculous, given the flak most of us take about our hair regularly. Hell, our hair isn’t even considered “professional” in most workplaces.

            But all this proves that you have missed my point. This post is not, and was never, about natural vs. relaxed. It was about one mother’s stupid decision to straighten an infant’s hair. How many times do I have do say that? This isn’t a pissing contest about who loves herself the most. I simply stated that going natural helped ME learn to love myself more. ME. And if it seems like the same is true for many other women who have gone natural, maybe there’s something to it.

            Reply
    • Kalamis Smith August 9, 2012, 1:27 pm

      Ultimately this is a situation that needs to be judged, in my opinion. And I am NOT natural and the fact she straightened her 4 month old baby’s hair is appalling to me. For those of us that have relaxers know the stress and strain that it puts on your hair due to the chemicals involved, clearly knows better than relaxing any child’s hair under the age of 5. Personally, I believe in keeping a child’s hair natural for as long as possible. Clearly you have issues embracing the “natural way” also, or you’ll be alarmed too. Obviously you, just like this mother in question, don’t know that these chemicals have adverse reactions on the hair as well as the scalp and can be damaging for LIFE. By the way, I LOVE my relaxed hair.

      Reply
  • Lynn August 8, 2012, 4:21 pm

    Jennae,

    Believe it or not I have very, very curly hair. Growing up outside of NYC, I used to go to Harlem and line up with all the other ladies to have my hair straightened. Did that for a couple of years, but hated the way my hair felt so gave that up. Then slept on orange juice cans INCLUDING ON MY WEDDING NIGHT, LOL! You can imagine my new husband’s horror (no, we’d not slept together before). But anything for straight hair.

    Eventually I gave up trying to straighten it and lived with it curly and sometimes even liked how it looked. But the problem was that in order for it to look decent, that is, not all dented on one side and springing from my head on the other, I had to wash it every day. It was a pain to get up extra early to wash it, then go off to work.

    Eventually someone asked me if I’d ever hear of a flat iron and I hadn’t and that’s when I moved to my current cut and style. It changed my life cause I only have to do it once a week and though it doesn’t look great for a week it’s good enough.

    Of course, then I decided to stop coloring and let it go white and that’s been an interesting journey. I immediately became invisible. Seriously. I can walk into a store with a half dozen sales people and no one even sees me. BUT, like you, I feel so strong, so empowered by who I am. It doesn’t matter to me what other people say. I’m me, this is who I am at this point in my life. I’ve never felt more like who I am than I do now. Yes, I still flat iron my hair and probably will until I no longer can. But your bigger point is so important. No one should do this to a baby. Very sad.
    Lynn´s last blog post ..Healthy Eating with the Olympics

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 4:36 pm

      Lynn, I remember you talking about your curly hair when I first started writing about going natural. It’s always nice to hear that our cultural barriers aren’t always as huge as we think they are :)

      I am so all about women doing what they want to themselves, and finding ways to accept themselves. If that means a relaxer or a flat iron, so be it. If it means colorful outfits and singing at the top of your lungs at the grocery store, so be it. No judgement from me. Honestly. But to do that to a baby is just bad parenting.

      I bring this up in the context of natural hair because the sad truth is that natural, African American hair is still viewed by many as being less than. And I thoroughly believe that societal view has affected the self esteem of so many black women and led some of us (apparently) to view our own daughters’ hair the same way. It breaks my heart.

      Reply
  • Akilah August 8, 2012, 4:30 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly, sis! For me, it’s about making decisions based on conscious analysis of the “Whys” behind our actions. Many of us (myself included) used relaxers for years, and the experience was always anything but relaxing! Besides, it made me a slave to my hair, and I knew that when Creator blessed me with daughters, I would not subject them to that poor habit. I think it’s our responsibility as mothers, aunts, sisters, etc. to use self-inquiry as a tool for raising women who practice conscious decision-making. If a woman chooses to relax her hair, and does not feel as if she “must” or “should”, then that’s fine; but when we make that choice for our daughters, I can’t help but think that we’re reinforcing an idea rooted in judgement of self (my hair in it’s natural state is not okay), not to mention the effects of the chemical over time. *Deep sigh*

    Thanks for using your space as a platform for this Jennae! Really important to examine and discuss.
    Akilah´s last blog post ..The danger in being inspired

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 4:38 pm

      Precisely Akilah. It’s about the choice. And no matter which way you twist or turn this, that baby did not — COULD not — choose. And even if her mother doesn’t acknowledge it, something has led her to believe that her baby’s hair wasn’t good enough the way it was.

      Reply
  • Mandee August 8, 2012, 5:47 pm

    I for one love naturally curly hair!
    Mandee´s last blog post ..Save Big with Scott!

    Reply
  • Daenel T August 8, 2012, 6:09 pm

    Wow! This is unbelievable. What if she had burned that baby?

    I was natural for 2 years and recently went back to relaxing, no real rhyme or reason for either, I just like change… Either way I feel beautiful and get pings of envy when I see a head of healthy curly hair.
    Daenel T´s last blog post ..Seventeen {What I Wore Wednesday}

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 9:15 pm

      Exactly, Daenel! What if she had hurt that child? That’s the bottom line.

      If you (collectively. Not you specifically :) ) feel good about your hair, relaxed, natural, bald, pink, mohawked, whatever, then that’s something to celebrate. But making the choice for a tiny baby? I just can’t get down with that.

      Reply
  • jen August 8, 2012, 6:39 pm

    OMG! I am the one that usually wont ever say anything about what another parent does or don’t do, but in this case all i can say is she serious!! Poor baby! why would anybody in their right mind do this to a BABY!! This makes me sick!
    jen´s last blog post ..Sweeping Saturday 8/4/2012

    Reply
    • jennae August 8, 2012, 9:16 pm

      My heart hurts for this child. I would really like to get into her mama’s head to figure out what would make her do something so ridiculous, superficial, and dangerous.

      Reply
  • Mary August 9, 2012, 11:34 am

    Wow… what an interesting article!

    As an aunt of a gorgeous baby girl (she’s 16 now, but she’ll always be a baby to me!) with “kinky” hair, I found this fascinating… And even though my hair is straight as a clothesline and couldn’t hold a cornrow in a bucket (which makes me sad, actually, I think cornrows are very cool!!), I sympathize and agree about the baby in that picture… Because I wasn’t much older when my mom gave me my first perm, trying to ensure her baby girl would have curly hair.

    Kudos for speaking up about the issue of beauty and learning to love the gorgeous hair, and everything else, the good Lord has blessed each of us with. No two are the same, but isn’t that what makes us all beautiful? Relaxed, curled, permed, natural, whatever… As long as you look in the mirror and see your best you looking back, I think you win.

    Happy writing!
    -Mary
    Mary´s last blog post ..Full

    Reply
  • Martini August 9, 2012, 3:54 pm

    OH and what this crazy woman did to that baby is a crime. she should go to jail for child endangerment.

    Reply
  • Jeanette August 10, 2012, 8:59 pm

    I find it absolutely appalling that any mother would do this to their child. I remember growing up my mom had absolutely no clue what to do with my hair. I’m Puerto Rican and my mom has pretty much straight hair, maybe a slight wave to it on a humid day My dad on the other hand had very tight curls that could easily be put in an afro which is how it was in most pictures of him when he was younger. I ended up with my dad’s hair and growing up my earliest memories are of my mom pulling hard brushes through my hair some of which broke in the tangles. My hair was in braids and ponytails often and most of my childhood pictures show me with very short hair as my hair would get cut if I gave my mother too much complaint about combing it. When I was in middle school the hair rollers and blow drying started and a couple of relaxers went in. One day my aunt who has my hair exactly finally pulled me into her bedroom when I was about to start high school and taught me to comb my curls with gel and let it dry into a mass of curls/afro. I rocked the look for awhile but my hair was dry and brittle and I was fully ready to cut it off and start fresh when my friend told me to go to this salon that specialized in curly and kinky hair done naturally. They cut, conditioned and taught me how to work with hair that has given me issues for 27 years. That was a year ago and now my hair takes me about 20 mins to do, the style lasts for days with just some refreshening with spray in conditioner and I have gorgeous tight ringlets curls that look healthy and I feel amazing. I can understand why pure frustration can lead you to want the relaxers and the straightening but seriously a 5 month old? My own journey shows how frustrating it can be to a mother who’s not sure of how to deal with naturally curly or kinky hair but she tried her best and never did anything as foolish as this woman.

    Reply
  • Gigi August 11, 2012, 1:36 pm

    If you read the Facebook page, it was the FATHER. NOT the mother!

    Hey man and “duuuude” are terms referring to and by men.

    The only fault of the woman is having bred with a moron.

    Reply
    • jennae August 11, 2012, 7:29 pm

      Sorry Gigi, but you’re wrong about that. I was the one who redacted the names in the photo so no one would go crucify the mother on her FB page. The name is decidedly female. Also, lots of women use “duuuude” when talking to one another, and there’s no “Hey man” in the comment thread. Rather, the mother responds to someone’s question with “Hah yes mam.”

      Reply
  • Janelle King August 15, 2012, 2:20 pm

    I love this.. But I agree no way I am putting relaxer in my daughters hair. I just now have to do the same for myself. Great article as always Jennae!

    Reply
  • Simone E August 15, 2012, 2:21 pm

    This is coming from a relaxed head…straightening of this baby’s hair (by any means) is child endangerment. But as is so many thing that we do and allow our kids to do today to conform to the norms of society’s ever evolving standards. What this mother did is really drastic, and contrary to what anyone says, we do things for a reason – she did this for a reason. Now I’m not saying she doesn’t love her child, but she obviously doesn’t love something, because putting your baby in danger for the “look” of her hair is not on the TOP 10 characteristics of good parenting.

    And as for mom’s statement ” its just hair”…if that were the case why would altering its natural state be necessary, especially if it imposes danger??? Come on she’s just a baby!!!
    We have got to do better!

    Reply

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