After Being Pressed For A Perm As A Kid, Today’s Natural Hair Movement Is Just What Black Girls Need

July 1, 2015  |  


My how times have changed since the days when we were pressed for perms…

Everywhere you look on YouTube or Instagram, you can find naturalistas with all sorts of curl patterns dishing out advice and tutorials on styles, products and everything you need to maintain your naturally fabulous mane.  Magazines dedicate articles to “the Big Chop.”  With more and more Black women rocking their natural hair and more and more products catering to the naturals among us, there’s an overabundance of options and information available.  I’ve been wearing my hair natural for more than a decade now (minus the brief period when I had a texturizer — no need to rehash that here), and have come a long way since childhood when it comes to accepting and embracing my natural hair.

Growing up, I wanted a perm more than I wanted to meet Michael Jackson.  Well, okay, maybe not that bad, but the thirst was real. My campaign for a perm started in the sixth grade.  And I didn’t want just any perm. I had to have PCJ no-lye relaxer.  I would also have happily settled for Just For Me, whose ads showed young, Black, pretty girls with wide smiles and hair just as vibrant as their colorful personalities.  I was sold once I saw their long, bone-straight hair just a-swangin’ and a-bouncin’ as they danced and cheesed it up for the camera.

I started out small. I pointed out commercials to my mother when I saw them, referenced cute hairstyles whenever she took me to the salon to get my hair pressed.  I cut out any and every pinktastic Just For Me ad I could find in Ebony, Jet, and Essence and littered my bedroom walls with them.  This, in addition to straight up begging my mother, lasted for months, if not a full year.  I drove my mom crazy with my creamy crack campaign until one day, she caved.  She took me to a salon and after years and years of having virgin hair, I finally got a perm.  After that, I couldn’t keep my hands out of my soft, shoulder-length hair or my face out of the mirror.  Oh, the vanity!

But why did I want a perm so badly?  My motivation ran a lot deeper than falling prey to all the ads. In elementary school, I was teased by other Black kids because I didn’t have a perm. The same way they teased me for wearing Balloons on my feet instead of Nike or whatever more expensive name brands were popular at the time.  Kids will tease other kids about any damn thing, and though it didn’t happen to me a lot, it was enough to make a lasting impression on my easily impressionable mind. It opened my eyes to the fact that many of the Black girls around me had permed hair. To them, natural hair was so unimpressive. Apparently, I didn’t get the memo.

I also vividly remember a moment in the sixth grade during recess when my (White) teacher tugged at my natural bangs and marveled at the tightness of my kinky curls.   All that was missing was a magnifying glass or a microscope, because she was all up in my hair like she had discovered something new.  I remember feeling awkward,  but above all else, unsure of what to make of the moment.  The kink in my hair wasn’t that big of a deal or out of the ordinary to me, or so I had thought.  What was all the fuss?

I was bamboozled into believing that straight, permed hair was more beautiful, manageable and attractive than the texture that naturally grew out of my head. I didn’t hate my natural hair, but I sure thought that this other thing over here could be better. But having a perm wasn’t the bees knees either. Going to the salon for touch-ups and styling was costly.  Not to mention if too much time passed in between touch-ups, my hair would suffer damage. Over the years, I dealt with more than my fair share of scalp burns and grew tired of the excessive waiting and overbooking that salons are so prone to doing.

As I got older, I understood why my mother was so hesitant about letting me get a perm.  Obviously, having had relaxed hair at different points in her life, she knew what I might face and wanted to shield me as long as she could from the chemicals. The same chemicals that I would one day have to cut out of my hair in order to return it to its natural state.  And thankfully, my mother never made me feel as if natural hair was a burden, wasn’t good enough, or was less versatile. She was proud to wear her hair any way she wanted (and trust me, she did — wave nouveau, anyone?), and wanted the same for me.

As I peruse all the natural hair related sites that the interwebs have to offer nowadays, it brings me joy knowing that there’s no shortage of positive images of natural hair for little Black girls. Gone are the days when perm ads that catered to young, Black girls filled the airwaves and magazines.  There’s an entire movement out there, an ever growing renaissance dedicated to showing us all the power and beauty of our natural hair.  I’m happy that I finally respect and value my hair as it naturally is. That doesn’t mean I knock Black women who choose to relax their hair, because how we rock our hair is just that – a choice. And for me, natural is my preferred choice.

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