Why So Soon? A Girl’s First Perm

March 19, 2012  |  

This past Saturday, I actually had time to treat myself so I headed to the hair salon. While I was there I saw something that really hurt my heart. I saw a little girl who was in the chair getting her hair permed, she could not have been older than 8 years old. The stylist had her on a booster seat so her little body could be high enough that she could reach her. She looked so small in that seat where countless women sat before her undergoing similar processes. Her mother was also there, ironically also getting a perm. As I looked over at the little girl I couldn’t help but notice that she was squirming in her seat with a look of displeasure on her face.

It immediately brought me back to when I was her age.  When I was that age I hated when my mother would do my hair. I would run and hide whenever I saw her gathering her hair tools. I would cry throughout the entire process, wondering why I had to endure such pain for hair. It got to the point where my mother became fed up and just braided my hair. It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that I took matters into my own hands and figured out how to do my hair myself. I was more than happy to get away from the hands that had burned my scalp for years. To my surprise I found that it wasn’t my mother’s fault it was the chemical processing of the perm. I had a very sensitive scalp so I was burned by my perm every single time. I have tried every name brand and method under the sun, all to no avail. Flashing back on these memories I knew that little girl in the stylist’s chair was enduring some serious pain. Her mother would check on her and ask her if she was okay, “Let me know if it’s burning” she said. The little girl was small and meek you could tell she was not the type to say anything even if her head was on fire. And just like I thought she never said a peep until the stylist came and washed her hair.

The question popped in my head, why does she have to get a perm so soon? I am sure that the little girl’s normal texture is manageable. It may take some extra time to do it, but there is no reason why her little hair follicles should have to go through such stress. I am sure there were other options than just slapping a perm in her head. Personally, I did not get a perm until I was 12. I went with no perm through all of elementary school, my mother used a hot comb instead. (Which explains me hiding under tables.) Even though I was 12 when I got my first perm, I was not ready nor was I informed on how to take care of processed hair. It took me years of going through breakage and dryness to figure out exactly what taking care of processed hair meant. I see little girls all the time ages 9 or 10 with a perm and extreme breakage. The same breakage I had because I was mistreating my hair. It is this same breakage that will send you into years of trying different tactics to get your hair healthy again. It will lead you to try different styles like weaves, braids, twists and even going natural.

I understand the need to get a perm. When you are younger you want to look like everyone around you. You don’t want to be called nappy or brillo head. But I feel like it is the parent’s responsibility to take care of their daughter’s hair. It is no secret that hair is a huge topic in the black community. We spend millions of dollars a year perfecting our coifs. I just hate to see under aged children, damaging their hair. Now that I am in my 20’s I know exactly how to treat my hair and what is best, but it took years of trial and error. That little girl in the salon will leave there very happy because her hair will be soft and straight, blowing in the wind. I just hope that her mother teaches her proper maintenance habits so she doesn’t end up with split ends at age 8. Moments like these make me realize that when I have daughters of my own, I will instill in them all the nuggets of knowledge that my hair drama has taught me. I will try my best to treat their delicate tresses with love and tenderness. Most importantly I will want them to know that doing your hair doesn’t have to be a painful, uncomfortable process, but it can enhance your natural beauty and bring out the woman inside of you.

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  • DMS

    Ms. Loussant. I appreciate your article, but I am in desperate need of feedback! My daughter, (whose name is also Rachel), is 11 yrs old, and has very thick hair. She is at the point where she refuses to allow me to even touch her hair. She usually gets a wash, blow-dry, and thermal curl, (she likes it straight for obvious reasons). We went to a dominican salon three times on the recent past and she loved it, (no matter how hot it was), but when I noticed breakage at the scalp in one area, our pediatrician confirmed how thew blow-outs damage hair because of the heat. She had box braids this Spring for two months. When I took it out, she lost a lot of hair. ūüôĀ I realize that I should not have left them in that long, (despite what I read), and should not have used the dry shampoo that was recommended. Middle-school has taken a toll on her to say the least, so now she is even more emotional about everything! The only chemical she received a little over a year ago was an amino-acid treatment, which did not work-out well. She washed/conditioned her hair two weeks ago with asst. afterwards. She just washed/conditioned her hair this weekend and would not let me help her at all. It is thick and NEEDS to be combed! She has her hair in a pony tail. Her hair appt. will be scheduled for this Tuesday. She even refuses to wear a scarf to bed. Perms may not be an option since she will refuse to care for it properly, braids are now “out-of-the-question”, as per Rachel. Thank you all for your patience in reading this. ūüôā

  • Christina

    I don’t think perm is about “self hate”. I have a 7 year old daughter and she is in pain whenever I comb her hair, no matter how many creams, detanglers, african moisture this…shea that…everything…the combing hurts and she can’t sit for the long hair styling sessions we often have.

    She said to me one day, “why does it have to hurt when doing my hair”? and I thought to myself “well, it doesn’t”…Madame CJ Walker was on to something back in the day…its easier for a little girl to sit for about 10 minutes for a style and go play instead of (I like when someone else said “breaking out the tools”) and sitting for about 30 min-1hour.

    I have natural hair, and have had it natural for about 2 years and natural for 7 years before that but I have the patience for my own hair…her hair texture is much coarser than mine and she barely has the patience for a wash…so I’m still on the fence about next steps…

  • Amija James

    I met a chick through my bf’s family that had permed her 2 year old daughter’s hair. ¬†Blew my mind! ¬†I’ve heard that a girl shouldn’t get her hair permed until she has her period. ¬†Nowadays that might be 9 or 10. ¬†I have a daughter and I wouldn’t let her get her permed until she was maybe 16.

  • Mkthomas1

    I disagree with this article… My daughter is 7 and she received her first relaxer at age 5.¬† The only reason I did it was because her hair is so course I could not comb it. After washing and trying to blow drie all she did was cry in so much pain… I did braids for a year and finally I went to the relaxer.¬† since then i dont have the same problems.¬† her hair does not have breakage and is very long. people ask me all the time how her hair stay healthy… the key is to not over process and I only relax it every 4-5 months.

  • Jolie

    I had a perm by age 6. The hair industry wasn’t as advance in the 80’s as it is now. Trying to straighten my hair with non-ceramic heating tools and no thermal protection would have ruined my hair so relaxing was the lesser of the two evils in my mother’s eyes. She’s not good at braiding so a side ponytail was my ID ya’ll.

    I, (unlike my mom) am¬†really good at styling and caring for hair…watch I have all boys lol!

  • Thetruth

    I would like for anyone reading this article, but especially the topic Our people should stop making other races rich off of Relaxers, Bleaching, using weaves and glue that ruins our natural texture. Me tttoooo. We are throwing away millions to neighborhood stores that we don’t own, to them. ¬†Building them up. ¬†Anyway check out on You Tube “THE BLACK HOLOCAUST” YOU WILL THINK AGAIN ABOUT OUR PEOPLE’S PLIGHT, God Bless and take care.

  • Laj_ljs

    This is an issue of choice, like everything else in life.¬† It was this mother’s choice to use a relaxer on her daughter’s hair to¬†make it more manageable for her convience.¬† No child likes to sit still & get their hair done (be it painful or not); children have short attention spans & have to be active.¬† As a mother of 3 girls (11, 9, & 2), I have to come up with innovative methods of doing their hair.¬† I, however, don’t use relaxers, because I feel that relaxers are too harsh for some adult scalps (not to mention that of a child).¬† I use an organic hair softening kit or texturizer for both my 11 & 9 y/o’s (although they both have totally different hair textures).¬† As for my 2 y/o, shampoo, conditioner, & moisturizer get the job done (& although these are not harsh chemicals); she still screams bloody murder when getting her hair done.¬† Everyone is entitle to make whatever choices they deem necessary as far as their (& their child’s) physical appearances are concerned, because it’s theirs’ & it’s on their dime.

  • allnatural

    Wow. I guess no child is ever too young to be taught self-hate!

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  • HansiCabo

    Addendum:  Has anyone noticed that while one has a relaxer, the new growth growing in always seems tough, hard, and dry?  You would swear that you had really tough hair and that it IS best if you perm.

    Well, lo’ and behold, without the relaxed hair attached to the new growth, that growth is actually quite soft, silky, curly, and way manageable. ¬†That’s what I discovered once I cut off my relaxed hair and stopped the creamy crack. ¬†I really believe it’s the chemicals that change the texture of the hair. ¬†Once those chemicals are gone, people who’ve always thought they had unmanageable hair would be surprised how nice their actual texture is. Go Team Natural!

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  • HansiCabo

    The only reason I got a relaxer at age 11 was b/c my younger sister was getting one. ¬†My hair was manageable and there was no real need for me to get a perm. ¬†I guess, “Monkey see, monkey do!”¬†

    Well I wish I had never gotten a perm now, 25 years later, that I’ve gone natural. ¬†I had forgotten what lovely hair I had and it was a pleasure to rediscover it. ¬†Now that I’m natural, my scalp doesn’t itch incessantly and I can go weeks without combing it, once it’s been styled, and have no problems combing through it without tangles or mattedness. I no longer have to endure scalp burns from that creamy crack that was always too strong for my hair, even the kid’s strength.

    Now I realized I was probably allergic to perms.  Go figure!  I LOVE my natural hair and if I have a daughter will make sure no creamy crack EVER touches her scalp!

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  • Tracieabrooks

    Teach our babies to love themselves and make choices for themselves!

  • Allie1234

    i was 3 when i got my first perm by my dad

    • Allie1234

      by the age of 13 i was perming my own hair

  • Oneluvnlyfe

    I had my first relaxer at 2 years of age. My hair was very long, longer than most women that I know now, what’s the big deal? It’s a fair texture, just very thick. To a two year-old, having those tangles combed through without a relaxer was torture.

    • KT

      Amen! I remember when I was 3 I asked my mother if she could make my hair like hers. It was a little bit a of a pain, sure, but far better, in my opinion, than receiving numerous (accidental y’all) hot comb burns. My mother was relieved, and so was I (no dou taking the time to ice my little ears and kiss them after the burns both dragged out doing my hair AND made her feel bad). I’ve been getting relaxers ever since (that’s 14 years now) and I see nothing wrong with them; my hair has grown down past my shoulders and is perfect condition. Relaxers are not the devil.

      • Allie1234

        relaxers are not the devil but it can be when the moms dont take care of the child hair right. i have seen too many kids with hair to the ear uneven and damanged and over relaxed

  • Colliz6

    I love what you said at the end; that the process of getting a relaxer doesn’t have to be about pain but enhancing your beauty. Because so many out there would have us believe that once you get a relaxer you’re self hating which i believe is absolute rubbish. This is¬†definitely¬†one of the better articles i’ve read on this site it was a good read. ¬†

    • Why do black women get perms hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm¬†¬† oh yeah to look like our white ¬†women.

      • Terrijames

        Black women get perms because they have courser hair and its alot to manage. its hard to comb and some people dont want to deal with it. That has nothing to do with wanting to assimilate into the white race. your ignorant. White women get butt implants, relaxers to make their hair curly, collagen to make their lips bigger, and always are trying to get darker tans. Black women are doing what they believe is best for managing their hair.. get it straight

  • Vic

    Processed minds under processed hair. 

  • bajanamerican82

    It really upsets me when I see females with relaxed hair and its so broken off. My grandmother relaxed my hair when i was younger and I disliked it, my hair was not as healthy. What black females fail to realize is that the chemicals in the relaxer break your hair down causing it to be weaker, regardless if you go to the hair dresser and keep it up. Your relaxed hair will never be as strong as your natural hair was. If you want your hair to grow longer, wear it natural.There are ways you can straighten your hair without relaxing, you can get a blowout or you can get your hair flat ironed. The funny thing is everytime we see a female with ¬†long straight hair we assume that she has a relaxer, but thats not true. I did a survey among a group of black females that had long hair pass their shoulders and asked if they were relaxed. Many of them were natural, wish shocked me. And the females that relaxed, stretched their relaxers getting them from 2 to 4 times a year, thats a big difference. Many females relax their hair every 6 to 8 weeks. Every women should watch the movie Good Hair, It has some profanity in it, but try to look at the message of the film. Whats funny is that some relaxers will say they have no Lye in them, thats not the truth,its that they have a small amount of it. The lye is what is straightening your hair strands. I think its wrong to give a child a relaxer, your putting a chemical in a child’s hair. Google Lye and see what pops up. Lye can melt through almost anything. The Dr. Oz show just did a show late last year on Lye in Relaxers and he is a white man and he told black women and other races that get relaxers that they should not put this chemical in their hair.

  • Helado31

    I’m 25 and I’ve never gotten my hair permed, relaxed, texturized or any of that. I simply straighten my hair when I’m in the mood.¬†

  • Tishy_tish

    I am 20 years old and I didn’t get my first relaxer until I was 18 years old. My parents flat out refused to treat my hair chemically so I went to the salon on my own.¬†

  • Tiff

    I was probably around her same age when I first got my hair relaxed. ¬†My mother was very diligent about my hair care and we went to the salon religiously every other week. ¬†Even as a teenager and before I went off to school, my hairdresser taught me how to maintain my hair so that I didn’t have tons of breakage and dryness. ¬†I went to the same hairdresser from the time I got my hair relaxed until a year and half ago, so she knew my hair and knew what it needed.

    Now my hair is natural and is healthier and longer than it ever was when relaxed.  Hopefully as people become more aware of the resources to educate yourself about natural hair care that are available these days, mothers may choose a different path for their daughters until they are old enough to make the decision on their own.

  • RT

    Agree, my lil girl is 5 and when I do her hair she yells and cries, even tho’ I try to be gentle. And her hair had the same texture of mine, but longer. My mom permed my hair when I was 5yrs old and it took me years when I got older top get it on track. She kept it permed and cornrowed. I will not make that mistake. No perm;)

  • This is a wonderful article, and I can definitely relate, as perms or chemical relaxers, detanglers, are a part of black hair care around the world. Little Girls SHOUD NOT ¬†have these chemicals in their hair before the age of 18. The reason why, is a child is growing into an adult, EVERY ASPECT of their little bodies is growing, taking shape. If you damage her hair follicles at such an early age, then she will NEVER have the chance to have a healthy head of ¬†hair in adult hood. Looking at many of our sisters, under all those weaves, ¬†you usually see a damaged scalp from years of caustic chemicals. ¬†Good Work!!!

    • Immapray4u

      I disagree with the statement that relaxed little girls will never have the chance to have healthy hair. I was relaxed at a young age, about 6, and now at 25 years old¬†I’m natura andl my hair is very thick and healthy. I do agree that children should not have relaxers before 18 if ever. My daughter will not have a relaxer until she is old enough to make the decision and pay for it herself, that is if she even decides that she wants one.

    • God’s Child

      I agree with the statement, I was relaxed at a very early age, around (7-9). I received relaxers consistently for almost 11 years. I am now 22 and find it very difficult to maintain my hair in a healthy state. My hair breaks off when it is permed, natural and in almost any form. I have tried everything and nothing seems to work (moisture, protein treatments and etc). It is always dry even after I put oil on it. I have drawn the conclusion that my hair shaft and follicles are permanently damaged. I hope this won’t be for life, but I’m not going to be surprised if it does.

  • Guest

    I got my 1st relaxer at the age of 10. My mom wouldn’t let me do it before then. Unfortunately I had no clue how to care for my hair, neither in its relaxed nor natural state. I do think 10 is a bit young, but I remember wanting to be “grown up” which is what I equated having straight hair with.¬†If I have a daughter I would keep her natural until she is at least 12 when she can decide how she wants to wear her hair. My responsibility is to teach her how to care for her hair–deep condition, moisturise etc. I wouldn’t let her relax until she was old enough to understand and willing to undertake the maintenance of relaxed hair.¬†

  • I agree a young girl should not go through the same process as a woman. ¬†I personally did not get my first per until I was 16 or 17 and could do my own hair. It was then my choice.

  • LesMiz

    I don’t like the generalization at the end that little girl will leave the salon happy because her hair will be straight. We don’t know that. She might have been unhappy with it for any number of reasons.¬†Who knows what she would have chosen if she and her mother had a clear talk about it before?

    I grew up with my hair natural, with box braids and the like. I didn’t put any chemicals on my hair until I texturized at age 20. I was¬†afraid¬†to relax my hair because I liked my braids, and while healthy straight hair would be nice, I knew that a lot of people with relaxed hair had hair that was broken, dry, dull — less attractive than my braids, and less pretty than my hair when it was flat ironed. I remember deciding not to push my mom to let me relax my hair from a very young age¬†because¬†I was afraid it would look bad and there’d be nothing I could do about it. My older sister relaxed her hair when she was 14, so it’s not like there was a ban, my mom just waited until we were old enough to understand what we were choosing.

    Maybe it’s because I was raised this way, but I think no chemicals should be put in a girl’s hair until she’s old enough to make the decision for herself, at around 12-14.

    • JustSayin

      lol there’s no such thing as a “texturizer” hunny that is a perm. My mother put 1 in my little sisters hair to loosen the girls a bit….. YIKES it grew out just like a perm and has basically the same chemical makeup of a perm.

      • JustSayin

        Curls** not loosen the girls lol

      • LesMiz

        When did I say I considered it to be substantially different from a relaxer? I agree that texturizer is just another way to refer to a mild relaxer formula. (Just like I say “relaxer” where some others say “perm” – it’s just how we talk where I’m from.) And that parents who put “texturizers” on their girls’ hair are kidding themselves if they think they’re doing something different from a relaxer – the same principle that I talked about above applies to texturizers. Chemicals are chemicals, but people use different strengths based on what their desired hair texture is and the natural hair texture they started from. Also – no need for the¬†condescending¬†“hunny” to make your (absolutely correct) point about texturizers. SMH at black women always trying to put each other in their place about each other’s hair!

  • L-Boogie

    Great article!