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To Thine Ownself Be True

Relaxers are a popular way to restructure your hair—to use chemicals to alter the protein chains in hair. In the African American community, relaxers are especially popular for straightening typically coarse or kinky hair. However, relaxers are usually detrimental to the hair because they deprive it of moisture and then break down the structure of the hair. While many Black women choose to get relaxers anyway in the pursuit of straighter hair, I never even had the option because of this story that my mom always told every time I wanted to get one:

When my mom was ten she had ridiculously long and thick hair. This isn’t typical for many Black girls, so she was the envy of all her classmates (so she claims). Though her hair was very pretty she felt the need to get a relaxer, so that her hair would be straighter like that of her Caucasian classmates. To this end, she begged my grandmother to get a relaxer, but to no avail. My grandmother had had one too many bad relaxers and consequently wears a different colored wig every day. Still, like most children my mom did not listen to her parents and instead stole money out of my grandmother’s purse and went to buy a relaxer. She went and brought all the things she thought she’d need: combs, towels, brushes, a magazine to pass the time, and lastly the relaxer. She always remembers that the total came to ten dollars and laments that, “It only took a ten dollar bill to destroy ten years’ worth of hair!” She came home excitedly, skipping the last half of her school day to avoid getting caught by my grandmother. As she put the relaxer in, she made sure to follow every instruction. However, as she worked on herself she became increasingly tired and grossed out by the awful smell. Wanting to escape the smell that the relaxer created, she went to her bed to lie down and read the magazine. What she learned was about six hours later, she woke up to the sound of my grandmother motioning wildly and screaming. She hadn’t washed the relaxer out! When she finally moved past my grandmother to the bathroom to wash it, a LOT came out. Luckily, since she had so much hair it wasn’t too bad, but her hair continued to break off badly for YEARS.

For this reason, my mother will NEVER let me get a relaxer and I’m glad I never did!

Danielle Gillyard

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