Friday, 4 September 2009

Lock or Relax - Caring For Our Young Girls' Hair

I came across this post on Lakeisha's Blog a few days ago and have been chewing on it ever since.
I think it's an issue that resonates with many of us as aunties, sisters and mummies - and girlfriends!

Perhaps you reach a point where you think this child's hair is "too thick, too 'hard', too tangly, too long, too brittle, too whatever" for me to manage anymore - I'm sure we've all seen that video of the Black mama brushing the little girl's hair while she screams in agony! Maybe we think we no longer have the time to sit and 'do' it or the economics of going to a braider etc have become off putting - especially when you can spend $10 BDS or £3.99 and buy a D-I-Y relaxer kit...

So what do you do? How young is too young to relax a child's hair? How young is too young to lock a girl's hair? Is there any difference (in permanence for e.g.) between a parent saying "time to relax that" as opposed to a parent saying "Let's lock it up!"?

Quite frequently, I've heard 'people' say "She's too young for locks" or "Shouldn't that be her own choice? (i.e. wait til she's old enough to choose for herself) when locking the child's hair is offered as an option. Many of those same people have no objections to the same child having their hair relaxed. So readers - what do YOU think?

In Lakeisha's post she quotes this piece from Eva's article:

The unthinkable happened to one mother one summer evening while her daughter was visiting at grandma’s. After a whole day to herself of summer revelry, she walks up her mother in law’s steps and stops upon hearing her daughter’s scream of delight from the direction of the backyard. Going around the side, the mother walks toward the back and slowly sees a little girl similar to her daughter shaking her pin straight hair running every which way. With a hostile glare at grandma, the mother volcanically demands with a voice unheard before today, “What did you do?” Her mother-in-law glides to the side of her granddaughter, saying matter-of-factly, “We got her hair relaxed, and it’s about time. She couldn’t wear her nappy hair forever. You don’t have to pay me now, but the salon receipt is on the kitchen counter.” Resembling Princess Jasmine from Aladdin, her daughter squeals, “Now Mommy my hair is like yours.” Needless to say, the next words out of the mother’s mouth were not rated for Disney.

Needless to say I am sure that'd be a parent's worse nightmare... ok one of their worst nightmares. What would you do if this happened to you?

Lakeisha goes on to say that something similar had indeed happened to her and her (then) seven year old daughter's hair was relaxed by her father and his mother without prior consultation or warning. Lakeisha is now growing locks and in an ideal world she would let her daughter's perm grow out and then lock it up. In her post she asks : "What Would You Do?" so readers, I have copied my response below but please feel free to share your comments as well as I'm sure she'd love to hear your support and advice.

I've kept thinking about this post because I can totally identify with your situation - I think I may have to post it on my own blog and invite my followers to respond because I keep coming up empty.
My daughter's hair is relaxed, she is 11 yrs old and had it done shortly after her birthday. I've received a lot of flack for it... looking back my preference was for her to grow locks (SLs or traditionals) but she was about to go on to Secondary School where children of her background would be part of the minority and we weren't sure how they'd react in the end we didn't wanna give 'other kids' any 'other' reason to potentially pick on her. We asked her whether she'd like to relax, lock or leave it and she chose the relaxer. (Of course I explained how much hair care she'd need in order not to suffer from burns, breakage etc). My hope is that when she reaches 16 (or uni age) she will cut it all off and grow locks - but I didn't want to pressure her into locking simply because I had done it.

I want her to have full information so she can make the right decision for herself when the time comes. (I think she was a bit 'scared' of locks as mine were falling off inexplicably at the time - of course we now know what that was...)

I'd love to tell you to let your daughter grow that perm out and get some locks! But I also know the unconscious assault your little one's mind is under having siblings of mixed heritage and 'looser curls' etc. I think it might be better to work on reaffirming her self esteem and confidence regarding her identity and her hair, continue to grow your own locks so she has a yardstick to measure 'locks' by and then when she's a bit older you can say - "wouldn't you rather have hair like mummy's?" and emphasise that she won't have to go to the hair salon etc anymore!

What do you think?
PS and yes I know there is always the option of leaving the hair natural i.e. don't lock and don't relax but I'm not giving you that option here. I'm basically speaking to those who have reached the point where they don't want to leave it natural (loose/free stranded) and want to choose between relaxers and locks.

PPS - I do not own the copyright on this image.


msfullroller said...

Personally, I'd rather see children with locs than relaxers. Yes both may be considered permanent but locs don't have the potential for internal damage as relaxers do and with lots & lots of patience can be removed to retain some of the length.

Gigglz said...

Although you didn't really give me a choice I'm going to have to choose neither (smile) for my own personal situation (smile)..

So my daughter is not of age (age 5) in my opinion to get a perm or locks. Ugh--this thought bothers me as I type it, but she does have what we all consider "good hair" her curl pattern is very loose and soft. As she gets older she could stay loose and natural and not have much to struggle with on a daily basis.

Now to answer the question (wink, wink) if I had no children, I think I would say (and I might get flack from this) but a perm. Unfortunately as young black woman we have so much else to struggle with in regards to self esteem. All the magazines, and pop-icons and such that they see on TV is that of girls with pin straight hair. I would not want my child to grow up feeling as if she is not beautiful because she never sees herself on TV and/or magazines. Or what is considered beautiful. I would have to say that I think if she asks for it I would explain why I wore it for years, and why I've choose to lock and then explain as you, the maintenance and damage. If she still opted for it, which at a young age she would I would do it.

anthia-ofo said...

Hmmm... I'd choose locs over relaxers any day-Probably microlocs if my daughter really wanted to mimic relaxers. I relaxed my DD's hair when she was 11yrs, out of ignorance and frustration. She was forced to go natural at boarding school(Ghana)at 15yrs and vowed to never go back to relaxers. By then, I had found out the potential for damage relaxers can do both externally and internally (they are highly toxic) and was appalled at myself for relying so heavily on them over the years.I've since apologised to her for being part of the problem and we've both moved on with our natural hair journeys.

What would I do? I won't be leaving my daughter there again until they undertake to respectfully check with me b4 permanently altering her hair. Fresh locs can be taken out, but a relaxer must be grown out or cut, and if that toxic cocktail touched her scalp, it would have seeped into her bloodstream.That cannot be undone. I also believe we need to teach our daughters the beauty of their natural hair not only by words, but by example. They don't need to conform or take the path of least resistance, however if the parent herself is relaxed it's certainly a losing battle. (I'll never forget years ago, a white doctor asked me why I would do this to myself. He gave me a break down of the chemical composition of perms /relaxers and what it's probably doing on my scalp.) My daughter actually stood alone for some time, endured nasty comments from members of the fam etc. I'm pleased to say this all changed,when her locs gained length. Although she's the only one among her peers with natural hair, they admire both her hair and courage to stay natural.

Phil said...

It's a tough one. My 6 yr old daughter wanted "blonde hair" (which translates as "straight hair") when she was at school. Now the kids are being home schooled that peer pressure is pretty much eliminated as most of her church friends, and parents have natural hair.

She doesn't want locks at the moment, prefering the versitility of natural styles ... Read moreshe can have. If she wanted locks now, I would say yes. She won't actually get the choice of relaxing it until she is an adult!

I've seen what relaxer/texurizer has done to many a scalp, male and female, and seen foreheads get bigger over the years with shape-ups or extentions, so it's natural all the way for our family...

The Woman Inside said...

My daughter is almost 2 yrs old and she is still sporting a soft little fro. Her hair is taking it's sweet time to grow. Maybe the universe is giving me time to learn how to neatly cornrow bc if I tried they would look busted!!lol When her hair grows I may change my mind but for now I really want to keep her hair natural as long as possible.

But if/when we get to the point that we have to choose btw relaxer and locs I will def encourage small locks. The small loc look is very versatile and if she doesn't like it she can take it down. But if I put that relaxer on her it is in her system and her hair has been altered and can not be changed. As I mention on my blog I really suffered with relaxers when I was younger and I don't want that for my child.

I think the little girls on this page are so precious

Vickie said...

Girl, i totally agree with ur advice....I would just wait until the child was a little older to make the decision herself after hearing the pros and cons of each situation....alot of it comes from peer pressure but with locks becoming so prevalent in the caribbean I believe there will come a time where, from young these little girl will want to have this done and there will be no stigma attached.....what the grandmother did was totally wrong and very disrespectful

Naturally Sophia said...

Because of my mother's tenacity and father's assurance, I never had a relaxer. I do not regret that decision now.

I have a problem with new age types of parenting styles that require parents to explain or justify their decisions. Children are given to parents, and the parents should make the best possible decision for the child. The child should trust that decision. Why would you choose something for your child that you would not choose for yourself is completely bewildering to me.

Now permanence? Relaxers can always be cut off, but the chemicals they live behind are not helpful to the body or the hair. Locks, I think are a better option because there is no chemical and locks can be picked apart and combed out. Also, the smaller locks mimic loose hair more than larger if that's important to the family. The best choice is loose natural hair. It can be heat styled occassionally if the parent would like. Think of the Obama girls!

Khandi said...

Hmmm interesting debate. Well i am not a mother but I've said if i have daughters i will loc their hair at 3 so it should be mature by the time they start school. My reasons for this is that I do not agree with chemicals on children's hair. Also I cannot braid. But then I think well maybe wait a lil til they are older there are very cute styles you can do on natural hair.

You can argue that locs are permenant but they do not do the damage as chemicals do. Either way nothing is permenant as you can grow them out, cut them off and do something else. I know my consultant's daughter has cut her's off after about 7 years

Bajan Lily said...

Thanks to everyone who has responded. I have enjoyed the debate (discussion) - definitely food for thought.

This comment is a bit delayed because I broke my blog and couldn't post comments til now.

I think it's still very interesting to see how the general (ie non-locked) population feels about locked hair (and its permanence) and how this differs from the way they feel about relaxers (which are equally permanent).

I guess maybe the best thing is too leave it loose (natural) until they're old enough to choose for themselves - in their teens perhaps?


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