Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Like Mother, Like Daughter?

You'd be mad, too, if you're mom was coming at you with just Pink Lotion and a comb, telling you it won't hurt- when you both know it will.

Last week, I shared how my often conflicted view of my own hair began in childhood. In talking to my sister over the years, I know it began there for her, too.

My sister Joscelyne, on the left at 10, and me at 12. Yes, it was HUGELY embarrassing that we dressed alike all the way through middle school.

While my parents strictly forbid me to get my hair relaxed, oddly, they dropped the cash for Joscelyne to get her first hit of the creamy crack at the tender age of ten. It turned out to be a huge mistake. My still tomboyish little sis rarely washed her hair and when she did, skipped the conditioner. Within six months, her hair had broken off severely, and she was shipped over to our Grandmother’s to get cornrows. And this was some years after it’s heyday in the late 70’s and 80’s, yet waaaay before Ms. Keys made the look fashionable again in 2000. Jos was miserable.

My crazy little niece, Sophia, posed like she's going to knock me out. She already tries to knock out her 7 year old brother. I think by the time she turns sweet 16, she'll be a real knock out ;-)

When it comes to her one year old daughter, Sophia Grace Marie, she’s going to try hard not to pass that misery on. Misery doesn’t always love company, but sometimes Jos has to watch her words when handling Sophie’s reddish brown, curly ‘fro. “Her hair just looks crazy sometimes! Just sticking up all over her head. And she doesn’t even want to keep barrettes or bands in it. She looks wild,” Jos told me in that exasperated tone shared by many other mothers over time. Funny that our Mom said the same thing about her a couple of decades ago.

One thing Jos won’t be doing to control her baby’s bushy hair: chemicals. And she’s not the only one. Dina, an administrative assistant, and mother of two, told me the same thing. “ No, I would not allow my daughter to relax her hair” she shared, regretting getting her own done as a girl. “I got my first relaxer at age 11. I begged for it. I just started doing my own hair and could not make it do what I wanted. I have very wavy hair and it only wants to go in the direction of the waves.” Unlike my sister, Dina didn’t experience any breakage when her hair was relaxed. She still skips the kiddie perms for her daughter, Aysha, though, and has found a way to make natural work: “I blow dry her hair when I wash it because it is very thick and takes a very, very long time to dry on its own. I use the flat iron on her hair to straighten and curl it for special occasions, such as pictures, Easter and Christmas.”

Dawn with her beautiful daughter Madison, who is also her mini-me. Kudos to Dawn for being the only mom I spoke to who wanted to forward me a picture, lol.

Dawn, mother to nineteen month-old Madison, loves to switch up her look. She prefers wigs, which give her versatility, and allows her own hair to remain chemical-free. As a kid though, she pleaded for a relaxer, despite her mom’s warnings. “My mother was like “NO!” she recalled, “and I think I mainly wanted one because when she did my hair it hurt soooo bad.” If that wasn’t bad enough, Dawn dealt with the flat iron’s menacing forerunner: the hot comb. She remembers it all like it was yesterday: “The hot comb burning me… the tugging and pulling, I had long thick hair…”. Oh, girl, I know the pain. And like you, I grew tired of having my scalp burned by the hot comb. And like you, I traded the burn of heat for the burn of chemicals. But this isn’t my story, so back to Dawn: after relaxing her hair, it “was damaged pretty bad and it was noticeable to ME.” So Dawn kissed Cream of un-Nature goodbye and went back to her roots, growing out the perm. Now when she wants it straight, she gets her long curls roller set, blown out and flat ironed at a Dominican beauty shop. As for Ms. Madi, she keeps it simple. “Being three, four, five or whatever, she is not going to have micro braids or weave- not even a doobie. Maybe when she gets 16 we can talk about it. I think putting all that in her hair so young will damage it and also make [her] look older.” Dawn wants to instill self-pride in her daughter, to love who she is. “She needs to accept her own identity… her hair is not like Caucasian hair.” And that’s okay.

My former neighbor, Monique, mom to four kids, is also trying to instill in her daughter, ten year old Aliyah, self-pride. She’s also trying to deal with her daughter’s long and extremely thick, wavy hair. She’s “debating on a relaxer for Aliyah. She has so-called good hair, but her hair is so thick it hurts when I do her hair. Her whole scalp is sore for days.” She doesn’t like using heat to straighten either: “I do not like them at all. No matter what, that heat has to destroy your hair, especially with abuse,” she explains. When she was a couple of years older than Aliyah is now, she cajoled her parents into allowing her to relax her hair, and experienced damage as a result. She still relaxes her hair, taking time to use special protein conditioners (she also uses them on Aliyah’s hair).

I asked Relona, a mom who balances full-time work with college classes, about perming her daughter's hair. She answered with a simple and resolute “No.” Like the last two ladies, she has relaxed her hair and experienced damage. So what’s the moral? Do as I say, not as I do (Sorry moms, that’s what you’re saying- but it’s OK, we just pass on what our moms taught us). But there’s another lesson here- that maybe, just maybe, relaxers, hot combs, weaves and wigs aside, it might just be best… to keep it natural.

In the next installment of Hair Stories, we look at some of the ladies who do.


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