Last week an article about the abuse of skin bleaching in Jamaica went viral online. This practice, which requires one to apply a cream to the skin that strips it of its pigment in order to achieve a lighter complexion, is not foreign to Blacks in the U.S., but is rarely discussed. However the topic of Black hair remains on the table within our community and the issues of perms and relaxers is one guaranteed to spark the hottest of debates.
In last month’s all-women’s podcast, one member of our group likened perms to skin bleaching and she received an incredulous response. Though the application of perms and skin are about the same – apply it to the skin/hair and the original state of each is changed – the idea of the two being linked insulted former and current perm wearers at the table. I, too, am a former permie turned natural, but saw the link between the two practices – though I understood why my other sistren at the table were insulted. As a community, we liken skin-bleaching with self-hatred, but with perms we don’t. Perms just make our hair more “manageable”.
However having the dichotomy of the two presented before me I couldn’t help but think about the level of “self-hate” that is imposed upon us as children when it comes to our hair and the need to make it “manageable”. How many of us from ages 6 on up spent hours at the salon under the heat of the pressing comb, and were all too happy to move away from that to the ease of a perm? Both practices instill in us that there is something “wrong” with our hair in its natural state. For me, the discovery of natural hairstyles was not one of raised consciousness, but a decision I made based on economics. However, there was a certain freedom I felt knowing that my hair in its natural state could be managed. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more concerned with hair and scalp health for black women and have frequented sites like Nappturality and Long Hair Care Forum for advice and tips on maintaining hair health.
Our podcast ended at an impasse: One side feeling that wearing a perm has nothing to do with self-hated and the other feeling that there is a definitely an undercurrent of self-hate so deeply embedded in us when it comes to our hair practices, that we can’t see it.
What do you think?