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When I was seven-years-old, I developed a desire to relax my hair. I remember vividly watching as my eight and six-year-old cousins took turns sitting between their mother’s legs as she carefully coated their heads with the thick, creamy substance. Curious, I asked what the stinky, white stuff was that they were putting in their hair. In her heavy country accent, their mother replied, “Dis a perm, girl! Can’t manage these nappy heads without it!” My interest peaked. I had never heard of a “perm,” had never seen it applied, nor did I know what to expect.

My eyes widened with wonder as I continued to observe them get lathered down with the stinky, white stuff that they told me burned, but sat motionless like they were used to the feeling. After they were done getting their scalps scorched, my cousins danced to the kitchen sink antsy to wash the heat of their heads. And after having their crowns yanked and pulled with a fine-toothed comb while fire from the blow-dryer waved over their strands, they both emerged with long, flowing tresses. I was amazed. I had never paid much attention to the fact that their hair was always different from my thick waves and curls, but that day, I got to see first-hand why their hair was not like mine.

When I went home, I told my mom that I wanted to get my head permed like Tammy and Amber. Her immediate reaction was, “Heeeelllll no! You ain’t putting no damn perm in your head with all those chemicals! You’re too young.” And of course, as any seven-year-old who’s desperate to have their way would say, I replied: ” Well, Tonya let Tammy and Amber get perms, why can’t I have one?” My mom looked at me, and with conviction in her voice, she barked, “I don’t give a damn what Tonya does with her kids! I said you’re not getting a perm! End of conversation!”

I was disappointed, naturally. But I never gave up my quest to get that long, flowing hair. And two weeks before my 13th birthday, I finally convinced my mom that I was “old enough” to get my first relaxer. Now, at 24, with a head full of natural waves, curls and coils reminiscent of my pre-perm years, I understand why my mom wouldn’t allow my to get my naps relaxed when I made my first request at seven.

If you’ve ever gotten your strands straightened the chemical way, you know it burns like hell! And if you leave it in a second too long, it will leave your scalp scarred and raw to the point where it stings even if the wind blows the wrong way. Lord knows what long-term effects relaxers have on our brains and chemical makeup, and let’s not talk about what the pungent smell could do to one’s respiratory system or how damaging it could be to the sight if there’s an accidental splitter or splatter. Relaxers are bad enough for adults, so for those parents who make the decision for their children to relax their hair, isn’t it a bit on the extreme side to expose your young ones to such harmful chemicals? Especially at tender ages below the teenaged line?

There’s a little girl somewhere in the world right now screaming in misery from the burning sensation of a perm her mother superimposed on her tender scalp. Is it not torturous to force a child to endure this kind of pain? Even in cases where the child is unbothered by the chemical warfare on his/her head, being open to such harsh fumes is an offense in itself.

Now, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to handle thick, coarse hair. The number one excuse I hear from mother’s who adamantly slather their daughters and sons with the creamy crack is that it makes their hair more manageable. “It’s a lot easier and more convenient to deal with this kinky hair when it’s permed,” they say. “It’s saves me time and aggravation when I don’t have to spend hours combing out that thick head of hers.” But let’s face it, a lot more straighten their children’s hair for the sake of “beauty”—or at least what they’ve been conditioned to believe is visually appealing.

So let’s take some time to really examine this practice: Not only are the components of your everyday relaxer potentially damaging to your child’s physical health, but what are we really teaching our sons and daughters by risking their well-being, putting them through physical pain and stripping away what God has naturally given them for “manageability” and more often, aesthetic appeal? In essence, we are saying, “You’re natural hair is not good enough. It is not attractive. It is not acceptable. And it is not likeable unless it is straightened.”

Most people may not think of these things when whipping out those jars of poison to “tame” their baby’s head. But when you put a young child through an agonizing process for superficial reasons, you have to consider is it really necessary? Is this good for my child’s health? Any parent in their right mind wouldn’t allow their child to smoke a cigarette or drink a 40 at five, yet those same parents would turn around and torment their baby’s scalp with a chemical that burns like acid. Shouldn’t we allow our children to make those decisions for themselves when we feel like they’re old enough to use their own discretion? But unfortunately, patting down our babies with relaxers has become a sad Black tradition and I personally view it as a form of child abuse.

Do you agree that perming your child’s hair at a young age should be considered a form of child abuse? Or do you believe that this issue too light to be taken so seriously? Leave your comments below.

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