Is it Fair to Force My Anti-Relaxer Stance on My Daughter?


GDHAIRPOST

When I went natural 8 years ago, it felt revolutionary to me. I chopped my relaxed hair off for a number of reasons: I was a broke grad student with no home perm skills; I was curious about my natural hair texture, and I wanted to model self-acceptance for my future daughter. At the time, I was 23, idealistic, and full of fervor for little Black girls with beautiful kinky hair. I issued this proclamation: No daughter of mine will get a relaxer!

Life has a way of either mellowing you out or bringing people into your life who add some chill to your #TurnDownForWhat tendencies. My person is my husband. When we had our daughter “Bean” two years ago, I reiterated my stance on relaxers.

“I’m not paying for a relaxer. If she wants her hair straightened, she can get it blown out, pressed, flat ironed, and maybe even Keratin treated. But I’m not paying for chemical straightening before she’s 16.”

My husband grew up seeing his mother relax his sister’s hair at the age of 5. While he agrees that five is a bit young, he doesn’t see any problem with relaxed hair on preteens or teenagers.
But I remember what it was like to get my first relaxer at age 12. It felt like tingly white magic applied to my scalp. Black beauty in a plastic jar. I had begged and pleaded with my mom for the treatment; I wanted my hair to look like hers. In those days, straight hair meant you were Grown, having endured the chemical burns to reach womanhood.

That brand of beauty was pain. It was a rite of passage marked by me peeling scabs off my head with morbid fascination, thinking, “Ooh, that was big one!” It taught me that Black girls grow up to be women who painfully distance themselves from the texture of their original beauty. I had no idea what my natural hair looked like by the time I was 23.

One of my sincerest wishes for Bean is that she know and love herself deeply and early on. She will have no kiddie perms glorifying how much prettier she looks with sleek hair. That means I will praise the kinky coils of her hair loudly and often. And yes, that means forbidding her from permanently altering her hair until she’s old enough to love herself without enhancement.
I have no problem with straight hair on Black girls; Black is beautiful, period. I flat iron my own hair straight on occasion. I am simply wary of an aesthetic that tells Black girls the only path to Black womanhood is paved with a white chemical. I am scornful of a culture that insists we inflict pain upon our daughters to make them presentable.

I don’t blame my mother at all for allowing me to relax my hair. She followed both cultural convention and my own wishes by doing so. She came of age during the Black Power Movement in the 70s and wore an Afro when she was pregnant with me. History repeats itself, but times change. I have enough clarity to realize that I may not always feel this strongly about the politics of Black hair.

Years from now, when my opinion matters less to my daughter than her friends’ approval, I wonder what will be best for her. Would it be kind to allow her have a relaxer as a teen if it makes her feel pretty? I feel strongly about allowing her self-determination. As much as I can try to teach her, she (like me) may have to find her own way.

At the very least, she will not get a relaxer in her tender years; I feel I’m being reasonable in that stance. But what do you think? Should I force my daughter to be a naturalista “for her own good, ” or should I…relax?

Dara Mathis is a freelance writer, editor, and poet who lives in Georgia with her husband and daughter.  Her writing interrogates the politics of respectability for women, concepts of femininity, motherhood, and the intersection of race and gender. You can catch her tweeting reckless acts of punctuation on Twitter @dtafakari and at daratmathis.wordpress.com.

Leila

About Leila

Leila is the founding editor of Baby and Blog. She splits her time between editing hair and culture site, Black Girl with Long Hair, whipping up butters at BGLH Marketplace, and writing here. She adores her husband and two kids, her parents and her friends. But she hates Chicago weather although she is slowly coming to peace with it...


  • Elodie

    I do hope that no matter how high peer pressure will be when your daughter will be a teen she will stick to your natural stand. I hope she will understand it goes beyond “feel pretty” and it s a strong identity choice. When you relax your hair, there is no going back…after that you have to chop it all off if you want to go back natural…

    Easy to say when you’re a teen…you obviously feel differently as an adult. Maybe you can find a compromise and emphasize the versatility of natural hair by telling her, if you want straight hair, you can blow dry your hair, once or twice a month…instead of relaxing it.

    I will go to the same problematic with my daughter…but for now she is only 6 months-old so I still have time to figure it out.

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  • http://www.embracinghim.com Andrea

    Thanks for sharing such a thought provoking post! I’m interested in reading responses as well.

    I have 3 girls and my husband and I have selected the natural route as well. I went natural two years ago and am pleased with my decision but I still do flat iron my hair a few times a month.

    I don’t view our decision as forcing our views upon the girls, but rather helping them recognize that the hair they were born with is beautiful. I also want them to see that natural hair is not impossible to style. It’s versatile and fun just as they are are. Finally, I want the girls to recognize that fewer extra things they do to their hair, the healthier it will be.

    At this time, my husband and I have decided this is what is best for them and thus far my older girls, nearly 10 and 8, are happy with their hair and haven’t asked for straightening even though they have friends wearing straight hair.

    If they do decide to relax, I’m fine with that too as long as they’re taking care of it well. I believe that a woman’s hair is an expression of her and she should style it as she sees fit.

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  • JenniD

    I don’t think its a bad thing at all. Honestly that you are natural yourself and speak positive about it will probably send a message loud and clear. With children sometimes its not what we say but what we do that make a lasting impact. A relaxer should be a genuine choice for a young lady when she is of the appropriate age. Not forced on her as a mere child.

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  • Teeky

    I have no problem with parents “forcing” their counter-culture beliefs on their children. It’s their duty to do their level best to instill what they believe to be right and what’s best for their children, on their children. The reality is the culture rams its not-so-benign views down our children’s throats. Parents can’t afford to be passive or timid in protecting their kids.

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  • Jessica McDougle

    I have a two year old and she has the most beautiful curls I have ever seen!! I totally agree that relaxing before puberty is a no-no!! I hope, like you, that my daughter will love herself enough to embrace what she has been given naturally, from hair to height, to shoe size. But if,and when, the day comes and she requests a relaxer, before we hope in the car to go to the beauty shop, I’m going to give her the information about relaxers that I wish I had had before I began that long path to burn scabs and new growth. Not to mention explaining to her how sentive skin runs in her family which was one of the reasons I went natural. I had an allergic reaction to a new brand of relaxer because my stylest some how forgot that shea butter irritates my skin, and I was terrified that I was going to wake up one morning and all of my hair would still be on the pillow. I think before we allow them to get in the chair they need to be Informed of the possibilities, so that they know what they’re getting into, and that once they do it, it isn’t a “let’s wash it out and start over type of game”.

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  • http://www.revcrowningglory.blogspot.com Chantal

    Personally, I am against straightening a girl’s hair in any way before she’s 10. Relaxing shouldn’t be a question until the teens.

    I don’t think you should “force” a texture on your child, because a daughter will inevitably rebel against whatever’s being forced on her. Go with what you know is the healthiest choice, and when she’s old enough to make her own hair choice, make her feel good about it.

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  • http://TakingInfinityBeyond.tumblr.com Cia

    I think it is funny that its appearing as forcing her to choose to be as she already is. I think it is ok to give instructions to your children, especially as teenagers and young adults. Because those ages are as crucially as the beginning years of a child. People are always finding themselves throughout their lives. But I think with this whole restoration of ourselves as Black Women, it is important to share those informative jewels of information. Also I think because you are her mother and an example of what natural beauty will look like. I understand as a parent wanting their child to be free to do as they please. But what if that isn’t good for her? Do you think it is good for her to be okay with changing her natural looks?

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  • T_R

    I think is it more than fair to encourage your daughter to be natural, at least until she hits 16 or can pay for her own upkeep of her hair. Parents pass all kinds of beliefs on to their children, so why can’t natural hair be any different? Educate your child on the benefits of maintaining and caring for natural hair, whatever that means to you. No child should be picking scabs from their heads from a chemical burn! One of my former co-workers (who is also natural) kept her child natural until high school and then let her daughter decide what she wanted to do to her own hair. The daughter decided to relax her hair and the mother agreed to it.

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  • youngin girl 1

    No, It is fair. Your the mother. You know more about hair than she does. Maybe if you don’t start your daughter off with a relaxer. She will grow up to embrace her hair. She may be like you when you were little;begging for a relaxer or a glued in brazlilian weave or a japaense chemical straightener. Your in charge and as soon as she hits 18, the choice is up to her. She doesn’t know what the stuff she’s begging you for can do to her later and it’s not like your abusing her, your helping her. There’s nothing wrong with straight hair but helping your daughter by allowing her to wear her own hair will make her see that there’s nothing wrong with what she got. But I think you should teach her about her hair as to why you are anti-relaxer. She probably won’t get confused.

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  • Karma

    WTF? Why is it even a question to tell a child that the hair that they were born with is just fine? What do you think the creator of existence would say?

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  • mel

    I am a mother of two beautiful daughters. One is 17 and the other is 1. While my hair is relaxed my children have natural hair. My 17 year old does get her beautifully long thick hair flat ironed. I decided a long time ago not to chemically process their hair. I felt that they should make the decision when they were older. I have always felt that 16 was a good age for girls to make decisions about their hair. My 17 year old sometime wishes that her hair were relaxed. Mostly to make swimming easier. But, so far she has decided to continue to go natural. For some reason people find it hard to believe that a brown skinned girl can have long beautiful hair.

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    • toni

      check out the blog, Black girl with Long hair. Millions of black women have long hair.

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  • Patra

    I am personally against relaxers. I have been natural for years and I don’t even blowdry or flatiron. While this is my choice, I don’t throw shade on people who do chemically alter their hair. If I had a daughter that wanted to relax her hair, I would need for her to clearly explain to me why she would want to do it. If her explanation included comments like, straight hair is better or I hate my hair, I know I’m dealing with self image issues and it is past time for some deeper discussion on what true beauty is. If its a fashion thing, we buying a wig!:)

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  • toni

    What an odd title. Is it fair to put unnecessary and toxic chemicals in a child’s hair to achieve adult standards of beauty?

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  • CreativeforaReason EadaFashion

    This culture is FORCING their standard of beauty on the world. You aren’t forcing anything. You’re refusing to accept the programming.

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