Little Girls and Relaxers

by kcurly on February 5, 2010

in Body and Mind,Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow (Random Hair Thoughts),Kids and Hair

Growing up, we had a family tradition that little girls waited until the age of 11 or 12 to get a relaxer. When I went to school, other African American girls were , for the most part, also natural. It may have been pressed or blowdried, but it was not relaxed. I fondly remember coming in from the playground and seeing everyone’s pressed hair “go back” from all the running and playing outside.

Fast forward to adulthood. Now, I’m not around a lot of little girls on a regular basis, but I see them out and about. It’s obvious to me that children are being “chemically altered” younger and younger.

I was hanging out with a friend whose nieces were visiting when I noticed their hair. It was very limp, with a slight wave and heavily greased. I asked the little girls if they had natural hair, just because I couldn’t figure out what exactly was going on with it. They said their mom put a texturizer in it.

Their hair looked horrible. They were maybe 7 and 8.

Are little girls getting relaxers earlier now? I think they are, but why? Why am I seeing so many toddlers with “ate up” hair? I’ve been thinking hard on this one and I’ve come up with the following reasons.

Texture softener companies are “tricksy and false”. Thanks to Gollum for the accurate description. By the way, if we keep doing this to our kids tender little scalps, their hair is going to look like Gollum’s by the time they are in their 20s.

Mothers are obviously being tricked by the “gentle” texture softeners . If you ask them if they relax their daughters hair, they say “No, I texturize”. They don’t put it on the same level. The words “gentle” and “for kids” lull parents into a false sense of security that this is not the dreaded, dangerous relaxer, but a nice, safe alternative.

We like things fast and we like them convenient. You can stop on the way home from work and, in five minutes, have a full meal for your family without having to turn on the stove.  You can pay your bills online and file your taxes just as easily.

It’s just the world we live in…and for most of us hair is no exception. So, if you’re a busy mom with enough on your hands already, of course you may look for the easier option when dealing with your child’s hair. And with claims like “worry free manageability”, who wouldn’t be excited? After all, we are the “now” generation.

Whatever the reasons, it can’t be good. This article, though it lists many different reasons not to relax children’s hair, lists a reason that I see as being one of the biggest problems:

10 ) The period of age 5-12 is a very crucial time for child development and when a child has low self esteem due to poor self image during this time the results are often times difficult to reverse.

• More than 40% of African American girls have a case of hair loss or alopecia areata by the time they reach the age of 16 and are forced to thus wear wigs and weaves for the rest of their lives to cover up the damage.

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  • Christina

    I get the seriousness of this post but I LOL at the Lord of the Rings reference. Some people’s hair does look like Gollum’s from relaxing all the time.

  • Freda

    First, Gollum scares me :) and his (lack of) hair does too! I’ve noticed this too very young girls with relaxed hair (not in the best condition either). I was on a plane recently and a little girl was traveling alone and I couldn’t stop staring at her because she had to be maybe 8 or 9 with limp, relaxed hair. It took all my might not to reach over and comb her hair before the flight was over. Her hair was pretty long which made me wonder if mothers are sacrificing the health of their daughter’s hair for long, straight tresses?

  • http://www.serenity23.blogspot.com S23

    I wasn’t allowed to get a relaxer until 7th grade. I actually started off with a hotcomb, but begged and cried for a perm b/c “everyone else” had one. Fortunately, my hair was healthy even with a relaxer. Now that I know more about how to care for natural hair, if I had a daughter she would not be allowed a relaxer until she left my house. I would hope that she would see my hair as an example of all the things she could do with her hair w/out chemicals. I have a few friends with daughters and for the most part, we’ve gotten to the point where parents don’t even comb their daughter’s hair everyday. If they don’t have a relaxer (and most of them do) they get braided up for a couple weeks and then rinse and repeat. When I was a kid, I got my hair combed EVERY morning for school. Every Saturday was wash and hot comb day so I would look fresh for church on Sunday. I think people have just gotten away period w/spending quality time w/their families.

  • Joslyn

    LOL @ the Gollum reference!!
    I LOVE my mother for laboring over my hair as a litte girl. Not only was it a bonding experience(every Sat morning), and I know it was a sacrifice ( She was a single mom I had a lot of hair) but as I got older I realized that is just what one does when you have a little Black girl! While I dont have any girls (3 boys) I have many friends who I check up on and make sure that they have NOT relaxed their girls hair! Also at times I’ve helped do hair too!

  • http://thenaturalhaven.blogspot.com Jc

    lol love the Gollum reference too! I don’t know if kids are getting relaxers earlier but I do see kids shockingly young with weaves. I really think it is quite sad and destructive. Great post!

  • http://theaccidentalnatural.wordpress.com Urban Sista

    40% with alopecia? Good grief! My mom started me off with a jheri curl at 11 for the ease of styling. At 13, I got my first relaxer and relaxed regularly for 20 years (damn! was it really that long?) I was young when I first got my hair chemically treated, but I wasn’t as young as some of the sweet little girls that I’m seeing with perms and their hair still doesn’t look well taken care of.

    40% is a horribly high number — we, as a community, just don’t know how to look after our own hair — relaxed or natural. Hopefully, with sites like yours and others, mothers and daughters will realize how beautiful the hair that God blessed them with.

  • http://cottoncandyfro.blogspot.com Roxy

    LOL at Gollum…
    It really is sad, I wish more people would choose to educate themselves about natural hair before turning to the creamy crack..

  • Novella

    I got my first relaxer at 10 yrs old good old Ultra Sheen
    pure sodium hydroxide (lye). My goodness what
    was my mom thinking I guess convenience.
    I was happy because no more all night Saturday
    press n ‘ curling getting ready for church Sunday
    and I had a head full of hair.

    I say after 40 years of relaxers the little girl in me wants to be Au’Naturale!

  • http://www.jessicas-jewels.com Jessica

    This is such a great topic and I’m really enjoy the comments.
    I have a long funny story about the first time someone asked me about going natural. I won’t share it here, but I will tell you about the shock I felt. In so many ways I had never considered it to be an option, just because no one I knew in my immediate family had EVER worn their hair naturally curly/kinky/nappy.

    I had an intimate relationship with the hot comb until I was about 12, getting a weekly press. It was and is considered a right of passage. One that I am certain I won’t subject my daughters to, now that I know healthy hair is so much more important than *straight* hair.

  • deb

    I made this mistake with my then 4 yr old. Listened to my old school mom. I permed the nape. I wish I didn’t listen. This was over a year ago. I have since decided to co wash her hair and take care of it. The nape of her neck is not the same. If any of you are thinking of this, please don’t do this. Let your child wait until they are old enough to decide for themselves. I keep her hair in twists most of the time, or afro puffs, and she likes them. I feel awful about this.

  • http://newnaturalista.com Tonya

    As a mother of a 3 year old girl, I get heated about this subject. In no way, shape or form should a child under the age of 12 or 13 get a relaxer. I suspect (I haven’t seen it but based on the condition of the child’s hair) that my brother’s wife has put a kiddie perm or relaxer on her 1 year old daughters hair.
    I am not kidding. She also put her hair in these really tight pig tails, slapped down with grease or something. The little baby is constantly pulling at her head, I’m sure it hurts. I tear up just thinking about it – like Chris Rock said, it’s abuse and should be against the law!

  • Abreyon

    Tonya I agree…I have a 2 year old daughter with a HEAD FULL of hair. Her hair is really curly, and I was not blessed with the ability to do anything. However, I will not be putting a relaxer in my daughter’s hair. I will allow that to be a decision that she makes, but hopefully she will see my hair and want to follow in my footsteps. I remember those hotcomb days sitting in a dining room chair right next to the stove and my mama slapping the back of my neck with the comb because i’m squirming (LOL)….but the relaxer came and the bonding left. I just think becoming natural has helped me understand how to take care of my daughter’s natural hair better. I washed her hair the other day with my organic shampoo and conditioner and she didn’t cry a bit (unlike other times)…I keep her hair braided because I don’t have to fight it and as I said before I can’t do a lick of hair, but natural is definitely the way I intend to keep her hair.

  • http://anothernaturelle.wordpress.com Daphne

    What a great post! I remember when I got my first perm. It was in the 8th grade…and that was after begging my mother. I was probably one of the last girls in my class to get a perm.
    I am a mother to a now 5 year old girl. She has never seen my hair with a perm and she is growing up knowing that “our” hair is beautiful. I was proud to hear her tell one of her friend in Kindergarten, none the less, that her hair is beautiful. Here was my daughter’s response to one of her caucasian classmates:
    “My hair is beautiful, I can have it flat like yours or I can have it curly and puffy when ever I want.” There was more to the conversation, but I was so proud of her.
    BTW – when she says flat hair – she is talking about having straight hair.

    Thanks again for a wonderful post!

  • April

    Hi, this is my 3rd or 4th time visiting the site, and there is always so much great information. I’m writing because I made mistake and I need help. I put the above mentioned ‘texture softener” in my 5 yr. old’s hair about 3 months ago. In the 1st month it was more manageable and almost looked like the girl’s on the box. By the second month it was drier and drier. As the new grow is coming in, her hair is not the same texture as before. It is more coarse and very dry, her scalp is even drier than before. Her hair is very thick and long, and at first I told myself it was just winter shedding, but it just feels like hard dry hair. I wash with cream of nature detangling shampoo and use the leave- in conditioner. I use the kids soft and beautiful moisturizer and some old school Blue Magic. Its a mess. I know I’ve ruined my baby’s hair! Can I save it or will I have to cut it off before it gets worst.

  • adrienne

    My daughter was 8 when she got her first perm. Her hair was so course it was hell everyday trying 2 comb through her hair. So her beautician suggested a perm and she get her hair done every two weeks since she was 8 and now she’s 11. The only time her hair was really damage was when she went swimming and I guess the chloride and chemicals from the perm didn’t mix. Since then her hair hadn’t been the same its still long and pretty but it don’t feel the same. Perm really don’t work for her anyway because her hair is back nappy by the third week.

  • http://newlynatural.com kcurly

    Adrienne, maybe you should try some different styles for your daughters hair so that it won’t be necessary to comb it everyday. Help her embrace her beautiful hair :) Also, chlorine from a pool will ruin anyone’s hair, relaxed or natural. Please check out my swimming hair routine.

  • robin

    Never had a problem with it she only get a perm every six months when the summer comes i stop perm around march.Whenschool start she get a perm.She was only five years old.

  • http://newlynatural.com kcurly

    robin, that is your prerogative and your child. However, I strongly disagree especially for a child that young. If you do some research on the subject, I bet you would be appalled at what you find.

  • http://newlynatural.com kyra

    My mom has never put any relaxer or texturizer in my hair and now im 20 and my hair is still long and natural every 3 weeks I wash my hair and go to the salon to get it done I feel so sorry for them little girls that have a dried up perm it aint the moms fault they are just getting convinced to put these horrible chemicals in their little girls hair it aint easier to look After because you have to get treatment every 2 weeks and some parents dont have time for that. I think moms should just keep their kids natural so they can decide for themselves when they are older.

  • angie

    My daughter now 4 makehas hada texturizer in her hair. And it was to make it more easier for get than me because she would be in alot of pain getting her hair combed, but I try to maintain her hair by washing it and deep treating it once a week and her hair has allot of body and very manageable. But tryst me I was against the texturizer because it made NY daughters hair straight rather than just make it easier to comb. All I can do now is maintain it. The m mistake some make is putting weave for braid on these chemical services that tend to dry the hair out…that’s a another bad decision. If you have made the mistake of putting a chemical in your Childs hair the best thing to do I’d maintain the health of the hair with weekly protein treatments, and avoid heat as much as possible.

  • Michelle

    Well I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I like natural hair as I transitioned back to natural hair a year ago after relaxed hair since I was 9. But on the other side, my 10 year old daughter is involved in all kinds of activities–Girl Scouts, field hockey, chess club and neither of us has the time to spend 2 hours a day on her hair. So yes she has a mild relaxer and wears a wrap style. I condition, blow it out and flat iron every other week. She loves being able to wake up and comb down her wrapped hair instead of me combing through her tight curls for two hours while she is wiggling and crying. Now I celebrate blackness and all that it represents but at the same time we spend a little bit too much time focused on whether our hair is relaxed or straight hair instead of our inner beauty and intelligence.

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