Every black girl I knew—whether she was ebony-skinned or the color of butternut squash—wanted the same thing I did: hair that hung silk-straight. Our collective desire was rooted in the self-deprecating mentality that kinks were gross and had to be concealed, if not corrected. Straight hair promised romance, laughter, abounding beauty. If I wanted to be happy, I had no choice but to unravel every nap on my head. There was only one method that would do it: I'd have to get a perm, also called a "relaxer."
That first perm is like a black girl's bat mitzvah. It's a coming out—a rite of passage into womanhood. What's different is that the initial relaxing doesn't happen at any set age. And waiting too long could retard a girl's social progress. Here's why: Before your hair is relaxed, you're viewed as a child. (Or even a dope. Or you aren't viewed at all.) Because being invisible doesn't jibe with an only child whose astrological sun is in Leo—I could barely wait ten minutes to be in the spotlight—I got my first relaxer before I was even old enough to wear deodorant, thinking it would accelerate my path to stardom.
I was a follower—mimicked whatever was deemed of-the-moment.... Click to continue reading Being Natural.