Two and Half Years Later, Relaxer Takes It’s Toll

 Niece’s Hair Predictably Not Thriving — At All

relaxerdamage-1.jpg picture by Nappyme

I’ll admit, this was a story I was hoping I’d never have to write…

It’s been coming up on three years since my niece got her first relaxer and boy back then was I was surely disappointed. She was sitting on the sofa watching the TV, and I thought her hair was just pressed because her mom, my sis, would allow that from time to time.

Well, I was sitting in a chair directly behind her watching the same program when I caught a whiff of a familiar scent. It took me a moment to register what it was. That’s when it hit me, my niece had gotten a relaxer.

“You didn’t tell me you got a relaxer,” I said with probably more attitude than was called for. She turned around and looked at me like she’d been “caught.”

“I thought I told you,” she said.

My first thought was “you’re such a big liar.” But I said, “No you didn’t,” with even more attitude.


“Yeah, uh huh,” I said. Hmmm…yeah right…

Ok… I had to stop. Not my kid. Not my decision. Alrighty then. Time to let it gooooooooo. But it was hard. My disappointment stemmed from the fact that I’d spent a lot of time teaching her to love her natural hair, and teaching her not to embrace the good hair/bad hair concept. Besides, between me and my sister, we always kept her hair looking gorgeous in twists and braids and puffs. All the while she was natural, it seemed to be working. She never complained about her hair (except when she had to get it done) and seemed to always like the styles we did on her including braids, twists and her cutest monster afro puffs.

Plus, unbeknownst to me, she was quick on the uptake and could ward off any negative comments that came her way about her hair. Once, when she was in middle school, she got to wear her hair pressed. Since pressing her hair didn’t happen that often, it was the first time her friends had ever seen her with straight hair.

Apparently, some little boy looked at her hair and said, “So what, you still got nappy hair.”

“Don’t hate,” she told him, “You got nappy hair too.”

When she told me that story I screamed with laughter and beamed with pride. Yep, it seemed my niece could face the world and handle any negativity towards her nappy hair if she had to. She would be just fine.

And after all that, I was really hoping (though apparently against hope) she wouldn’t choose to go the way of the relaxer. Mostly out of pride, if even just a little. And quite frankly because I’d already fed her all of my relaxer horror stories and to see what damaged relaxed hair looked like up close, all she had to do was look at her mom. We’ve got pics of her during her college days when her hair was long, thick and gorgeous. But to see her hair now, you’d never know it. It stays constantly damaged. Despite the fact that relaxers leave her hair dry, brittle, broken off and unable to retain length, she continues to get relaxers.  So it’s clear that our family’s hair just cannot handle chemicals and the heat abuse that come along with that. Based on this, I was certain my niece had an understanding that having a relaxer would come to no good end. 

I was also hoping that an occasional press n curl would satisfy her desire for straight hair. But it just wasn’t meant to be. Especially since, as an athlete, thermally straightened hair is so impractical. I totally understand that. And, if you grew up in the press n curl era, you know that was the whole point of getting a relaxer; it meant you didn’t have to deal with water (sweat, humidity, rain) reversion. And, you didn’t have to deal with the every-two-week wash, detangle, plait up, air dry, take down and two-hour press routine. Yep, relaxers back then were a Godsend, or so we thought and they replaced that nightmare with wash ’n wear permanently straightened hair. Back then, we just didn’t know that relaxers were simply a nightmare waiting to happen.

Me and my sis were no different in wanting the convenience of no fuss straight hair. So really, why would I, how could I expect my niece to be any different? Wanting to break free from nappy hair and the hours it would take to get it in a style. Not having to worry about sweating a press out. Wanting to look like other kids her age, the majority of whom wear relaxers.

Yeah, well now the price of convenience and artificial beauty is showing itself and taking an inevitable toll. The proof, although being ignored, is there. Not that I wished any ill will upon her head, but I knew what would happen. Virgin, relaxed hair ALWAYS looks good at first and then, for many, it doesn’t take long to lose a perfectly healthy head full of hair.

My niece’s hair has not been the exception. It’s just not thriving. I’ve seen evidence of it here and there over the past almost three years. Since she’s been relaxed, she’s not retaining length much past the top of her shoulders. From a distance, her hair looks like it’s in good condition. But up close, you can see the fried ends. And just the other day, I was at my sister’s house when my niece came out back. She was in the process of styling her hair and it was looking kind of wild. But to my horror, her edges were sticking out and looking like someone had chewed them up and spit them out.

I was shocked. Primarily because, freshly done her hair looks great. She’ll wear it down and it truly has that swing you used to only on white girls. Yeah, yeah…that white girl “flow.” But most of the time it’s usually brushed back into some sort of ponytail. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it wild, loose and all over her head like that.

I guess wearing it the way she does really hides the damage.

Her mom started laughing cause she was truly looking crazy. Unfazed, my niece laughed too and remarked that she was in the middle of doing her hair. Her mom went in the house as her little boyfriend, who was over earning some money doing yard work, came up and stood next to me.

I couldn’t resist. “I told you that perm was going to take your hair out. Didn’t I?”

She just scowled at my “I toldja-so-remark.

“You need to let that relaxer go.”

Ignoring me and attempting to take the heat off her for the moment, her face lit up as she told me that her sister (whose mom is half white) was natural.

“She cut all her hair off.”

“Really? Well good for her.”

“Well yeah, but you know she has good hair.”

Rewind. Did I hear what I just thought I heard? Damn girl, didn’t I teach you nuthin? Uggghhhh!

“There is no such thing as good and bad hair,” I say with a whole lot of attitude. She smacks her lips (what is up with that) and playfully rolls her eyes.

“I got good hair too, I got African in me.” Ok that was old and tired but she didn’t know that.

Her little boyfriend starts laughing. He initiates a fist bump with me. “See that’s what I’m sayin,” he says as he points to his own nappy hair. “I got straight up African hair. Yo, mine is straight off the boat. My hair is good too.”

Ya know, I’m starting to like this kid. Maybe I’ll stop giving him the evil eye and grilling him about his relationship with my niece. Hmmm… relationship. They’re 15-years old for crying out loud. Anyhoo, at this point, my sis comes back out and has him finish up his work so she can take him home. The brief hair lesson, which I’m sure fell on deaf ears, is over.

Makes me wonder though, if she’s ever gonna come around. And if so, how long is it going to take? What’s it gonna take? But I’ll have to be resolved that it may never happen. This was actually the only thing negative that I’ve said about her relaxer since that day I found out she had first gotten one. I was resolved to let go and live and that’s exactly what I’d done, and so I shouldn’t have any problem leaving her be yet once again. Because like I said before, not my hair, not my decision.

But it certainly doesn’t hurt to hope. I think I’ll keep my fingers crossed too. That doesn’t’ hurt either.

5 Responses to “Two and Half Years Later, Relaxer Takes It’s Toll”
  1. sundayzchild says:

    Kinda sad. I had just been wondering the other day how your niece was doing, as I had not seen articles on her lately. Cannot believe its been nearly 3 yrs.

    I have a 14 yr old daughter. I am teaching her to take good care of her natural hair, but I do wonder if she will jump on the bandwagon later. Her hair is nothing like your niece’s hair. It is fine and takes ages to grow. It also does not handle manipulation well even in its natural state. Relaxing would be a disaster.

    There is, however, no telling these kids, and some times they just do it to assert their independence. Perhaps she will come around and at least if she does she has a fabulous resource on natural hair in you!

  2. NubianPrize says:

    Prayers that your niece sees the light.I don’t know how old she is but I was 17 when I had a Hair Strate perm when I was a college freshman.It would be convenient I thought,not to have to run to the hairdressers every few weeks,plus I had a swim class.Other girls in the dorm had that perm & it looked fantastic; mom thought it would be OK so I did it. I had below shoulder length jet black virgin hair. The perm felt like molten lava & my hair came out dark brown. In a few weeks it got frayed ends & started breaking.I’d comb it & it broke off & came out in handfulls.My soft fine thick 4a/b hair ,which is like my parents’ hair, couldn’t take that perm.The other girls whose hair looked great all year had that coarse super kinky wiry type hair (now called 4z ?) that could take relaxers. I never had another relaxer & never will.Some inner voice said that my hair wasn’t made to be chemically straightened & my scalp couldn’t take it either.Curly perms are much better for my type of hair & I had one for 28 yrs with no problems..I never really wanted dead straight hair anyway ( it’s boring after awhile) & always thought curly hair was prettier & had more personality.Long story short I had to have scalp treatments for about 5 years total to get my hair to grow again.At the worst point it wouldn’t get longer than about 2″ & I wore wigs. It was the 60’s & I later grew a huge fro then went to curly perms in the 80s.Started getting breakage & thinning at nape in 2008.Decided no more perms after last one in Oct 2008 .Did BC Feb 2009,wore wigs til June 2010,now doing flat twists & a puff & thin areas are filling in.NO MORE PERMS AGAIN EVER. I’m getting gray edges now & started using henna & indigo to dye it black & it looks & feels totally natural.No more Bigen dye.It left my hair dry & brittle. Your hair looks something like mine except mine’s black.. Our kind of hair can’t take relaxers. I see & hear about young girls/women losing hair like I did,esp girls whose moms started relaxing their hair in elementary school. Their hairlines are receding & when I see a lot of women in their 40’s & up to my age…50+….they have thinning hair,esp at the top,edges & crown.We actually had a discussion about this at the salon,the day I got my last curly perm because some were at that stage. I asked my hairdresser if I had any thinning & she said no. Many of the women there that day I’d seen regularly over the years getting curly perms & relaxers. That discussion haunted me & I started looking at a lot of midlife women & noticing the thinning.The press & curl women didn’t have as much thinning.That fact,plus the thinning I started getting at nape & temple convinced me to go back to my roots.All the women who’ve done that have regained healthy hair & now it’s thriving.Please show your niece this post .It might help her see the light.

  3. Ms-gg says:

    These youngins’ don’t listen Nappyme! It seems as if her boyfriend is very receptive to natural hair and even though she is young and this may not be a long term relationship, maybe he will have a positive influence on her hair self esteem because it seems as if he is very wise for his age.

    Auntie knows best and she will sadly, as so many young people do, will have to learn the hard way if she ever really comes to realize the damage that is being done to her hair at all. You planted the seed and it is up to her to grow from your knowledge and wisdom.

    Yes, there are some women who are able to grow waist length hair with relaxers, but there are many more women who do not because the chemicals are just too much. Hopefully she will be natural again one day 🙂


  4. twist-n-shout says:

    you better believe that those women with waist length relaxed hair only get a relaxer up to 4 times a year. most people totally miss this concept and overprocess their hair up to 12 times a year. i truly hope that your niece sees the light. we were all once on her path…. 🙂 you’ve shown her the tools but it’s up to her to use them.

  5. adamson says:

    I felt about the same as your niece did when I first got a relaxer (I was 11 or 12). I was more into the aesthetic of ~good hair~. How times have changed!!

    I like the way her boyfriend responded. It’s nice to see people that care about their natural hair texture that are young 😀

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