by Tiffany H.
I got my first perm around 9 years old, and continued the bi/tri-monthly routine pretty regularly until I was 21. From 9 on, if the hair stylists or my cousin who was in cosmetology school didn’t apply it, my mother did, and ONLY because I asked her to. She never encouraged me. It was definitely a learned behavior from hearing other little girls boast about how their hair looked and felt upon rinsing out their “Just For Me” relaxer.
My mother caved into my constant requests when I was 9 and allowed my cousin’s friend to give me my first perm. I remember it vividly. Sitting in this stranger’s kitchen, white cream being slapped onto my thick hair. The minutes passing. The smell so pervasive and offensive. Then the burning. THE BURNING. I didn’t know not to scratch so it was exceptionally painful. I remember wanting to hop out of my seat and run to the sink to dunk my head in the dishwater, and then attack the woman who was doing this to me! Lol. Perm-burn will make a chick (and Al Sharpton) lose it!
However, after enduring the discomfort, being pressed, flat-ironed and curled, and seeing that “swing” in my now stick-straight hair that I’d never seen in all of my 9 year old life, I was hooked, and I stayed hooked for upwards of 13 more years. Hooked through weaves, coloring, and a very well-camoflauged sense of self-loathing because I always felt like a fraud, perpetuating an aesthetic that wasn’t the true Tiffany.
It was a magical night. I blinked away the tears in my eyes. I felt RELIEVED- like I didn’t HAVE to go through that anymore. I was annoyed at burnt edges, scabs, the smell of relaxer (*shudders*), and an increasingly dry and irritated scalp which made it haphazard to wear dark clothing unless I wanted everyone else to know my scalp was rebelling against the chemicals just as my mind was beginning to.
I didn’t big-chop. I thought about it but didn’t do it. Fear stopped that. I let my permed-hair pretty grow out (and break off), and with frequent trims and using the education I’d amassed from websites like yours, books, friends, and prayer, after about 18 months, I had a head full of unprocessed hair that I’ve maintained for almost 5 years! And I’m NEVER, EVER going back.
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