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 and there are so many hair straightening products in the market that promotes this statement. 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. Even if she used a brush straightener for natural hair, it likely would still be too hot for a baby. Not to mention the fact getting hair straight with any 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.
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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.