Relaxers: Abuse Continues
From age 10 through 23, I continued to press my hair. It never gained any length, I’m guessing, greater than 7 or 8 inches long, but it was thick and always fairly healthy. For the most part, I liked my hair. Back then, most girls wore a press and curl because most mamas in my neighborhood were single parents and couldn’t afford to maintain a relaxer. In the early to mid 70s, I was in junior high and would occasionally sport an afro. Many of my friends did the same and alternated between press ’n curls and fros. I’m sure at that point my hair wasn’t in the best condition, but it wasn’t in extremely horrible condition either. By high school however, I was strictly doing press ‘n curls, and in fact, I wore my hair like that until the age of 23 — that’s when I let my friend put a relaxer in my hair.
At the time, I was in college. It wasn’t that I hated my nappy hair or anything like that; it’s just that all the girls had relaxers by then. Also, we all had part-time jobs, and were perfectly capable of affording the maintenance a perm required. In my case, I thought that entailed simply getting a touch up every six weeks; shampooing and conditioning my hair every week; blowing drying it bone straight; and using a hot curling iron to curl my hair every single day. How hard could that be?
So I purchased an extra-strength Dark n’ Lovely relaxer kit, invited Cynthia over to put it in my hair. Cynthia had beautiful relaxed hair, and so did all of her sisters. Heck, they all had pretty hair when they were just getting it pressed. Now they all had perms. And they were doing each other’s relaxers, so I figured she knew what she was doing, and I wanted my hair to look like hers. When we were finished, it did look like hers. It was shiny and sleek and bouncin’ and behaving. And best of all, I wouldn’t have to go through the wash, plait, dry, press ‘n curl ritual that I had done all my life. Yep, now I had pretty much wash ‘n go hair. And from that point on, unbeknownst to me, I was setting myself up for 20 years of constant breakage, heartache and countless relaxer hair horror stories. Here are the most significant ones.
Breakage: Story 1
While still in college, with my newly relaxed hair, I resorted to parting my hair down the middle and wearing two big french braids. That started breaking my hair off at the front of my hair line. I remember having to let that grow out and looking really raggedy about the head for a while but really not much else.
Breakage: Story 2
After wearing my hair really short for several years, I decided to let it grow out. I went away to graduate school and came back home for a visit. I let my friend Brigette put an extra-strength Revlon relaxer in my hair. That’s what she always used on her hair, and it was always gorgeous. I, however, suffered major breakage right in one of the parts down the back of my head.
Breakage: Story 3
While still in graduate school, I put a box perm, probably Dark ‘n Lovely in my hair. My hair promptly broke off from ear-to-ear starting at my crown all the way down to my kitchens. At the time I was doing an on air internship for a TV station and had to wear a wig. My hair was still fairly long in the top, so I pushed the wig back a little and combed my own hair over the wig. No one knew the difference.
Breakage: Story 4 (Short stint with a Jheri Curl)
I moved back home and decided to pursue corporate communications as a career. This time, I grew my hair out and was putting a dark brown permanent color in my hair with no intent on changing my own shade, just trying to enhance my own natural color. Then I decided to get a jheri curl. The curl chemicals lightened my hair to the color of my skin. For a while it was very pretty. Then the double-process started making my hair crunchy and hard. It broke off. So I grew it out again. Once I had about four inches of natural hair I put another relaxer in.
Breakage: Story 5
With a job offer firmly in hand, moved to Columbus, Ohio. One Christmas, I was planning a trip back home, but after buying presents, my plane ticket and paying for a rental car that left no money for getting a professional relaxer touch up. So, I decided for the first time in a long time to put a box perm in my hair. I was apprehensive so I paid very close attention to the timing. I started off on my right side of my head, applying as carefully as possible to only the new growth. Worked that through fairly quickly, waited for the timer to go off while smooth my hair with the back of a comb.When the timer went off, I began washing my hair with neutralizing shampoo. As I was finger combing my hair under running water, I started noticing that I had these long strands of hair wrapped around my hands…like a cocoon. My hair was coming out at the scalp! My heart started racing so badly. I washed out all the relaxer and piled conditioner on my hair hoping that would stop the breakage. When I washed the conditioner out, my sink was full of hair. I was just sick. I blow dried it. Curled it and got on the plane the next day to visit my family. By the time I got back from my trip, I had a three-inch diameter bald spot on the right side of my hair about two inches in from my hairline. There’s a whole lot more to this nightmare—but I’ll spare you the details.
Breakage Story 6
Decided to try a Vigorol Liquid Hair Relaxer — the perm you can press. Whenever I washed my hair, it was always soft and spongy. When it dried, it was brittle and hard. And yes, I still tried to press my hair. Lawd have mercy.
Breakage Story 7: My last Relaxer
After that, I started going to a beautician on a regular basis. I reasoned that doing my own relaxers was why my I suffered constant damage and why my hair never seemed to thrive. But beauticians, I found intimidated me. They never seemed to do what I wanted done. So I decided to put my journalism skills to work. I had a list of salons around the city, formulated a list of questions and decided to interview them. I settled on three. Gave each of them a chance and then finally settled on one. I liked her. But after a while, I could see that my hair still would not thrive even under professional care. No matter what, I’d still have breakage somewhere…along the hair line or in my crown or my kitchen area. Plus, my hair would never seem to grow no more than 7 or 8 inches long. Why beauticians subscribe to the notion that “triming” your hair makes it grow, I’ll never know. Cause after five years of professional care, with expensive products, twice a week conditioning and regular trims…my hair should have been down my back! But it wasn’t. At times, it was cute, but it was never thick again…not like it was when I was just doing regular press ‘n curls. But I continued to get relaxers anyway.
In 2000, a wonderful job opportunity materialized for me in Cleveland. So I sold my condo, and moved to Northeast Ohio. I started going to various beauticians, but they were working my ever-lovin’ last nerve. By 2001, I finally settled on a one who I thought was doing a good job but. But by early 2002, something was wrong. I started noticing that there seemed to be a lot of hair going down the drain when I shampooed. Plus, when I blow dried my hair once a week, my bathroom floor was always covered with broken off hair; it was just getting thinner and thinner — and I was getting very self conscious. So I decided to stop putting heat on it and started pulling my hair into a ponytail and wearing a phony pony. But one day, I wanted to see what the back of my hair looked like with my phony pony in and to my horror, when I turned around and held a mirror up to look at the back of my head in the big mirror, my kitchens were so badly eaten out I was almost bald. Once again, I was just sick to my stomach about my hair. And shortly after that, I came to the conclusion that if I wanted healthy hair, I needed to stop the chemical dependency and end the madness. That’s when I decided to never get a relaxer again. Once I made up my mind, I never went back.
And so, my journey towards nappturality unknowingly begins.