Cultural Conversations #1: Why Does The Baby’s Hair Gotta Be Straight?

I got my first perm at 8 or 9.

My hair was ‘so thick’ and ‘so nappy’ that my aunts wanted to try something different on my hair to ‘get it straight.’ All I remember is my scalp burning.

Yes. BURNING.

I remember how old it was to start, and how it heated up, and how I panicked. I had no idea why this was being done to me, or what I had done to deserve it. I remember it was a Just For Me relaxer, and it took what felt like hours to make my 4c curls become ruler straight. From there, from age 9, I hated my hair.

I was born in Generation where every Black girl I knew either had a curl, or ruler straight hair. There was no debate, there was no discussion, the hair on your head is never seen as yours. It is seen as something to tame, to subdue–even to hate! I hated my hair. I hated that I had to have straight hair. And now settled in my adulthood, I sometimes have no idea what to do with my hair now that it is just growing as it naturally was supposed to.

The thing that I reflect on is why did my hair have to be straight? Why was my appearance so much of an issue that I couldn’t even see my own beauty? I literally did not feel pretty unless my hair was straight. We don’t even talk about the complexes Black girl can sometimes have with their hair! How they see their hair—a part of them–be seen as something to be removed or altered for the approval of other people.

I am aware of the Brown Paper Bag rule. I know that hair and Black culture is always a divisive topic. I mean, there is legislation 90 years after this suggested tool of how to be a ‘Pretty Black Girl’, that now ‘approves’ of natural hairstyles for Black women. Think about that. Do you know what that does to a Black girl? Having to fight the world just to be you–including how you wear your hair?

I don’t understand, even now, why it was that important to do ‘make’ my hair be straight. I don’t get it. And, to be honest, it is a trauma! It was something that happened to me, and other girls my age, and it does effect you. I mean hair is a big issue in the life of a Black girl–it is our source of expression, and pride.

As a mother of daughters now, whom have never had the inkling to every chemically straighten theirs. I try my best always to tell them to love themselves, to treasure each part of them; their hair doesn’t make them.

Their hair doesn’t make them.

Too bad their mother, and lots of other Black women their mother’s age, are still working that out.