My first perm was magical.
Well that’s not exactly true
My first perm was mysterious
It took place in a woman’s home named Dawn
It was the late 80’s and everyone had a side hustle.
She permed people’s hair – going to a salon was expensive
So you went to someone’s home and in doing so helped out the local black economy.
My first perm happened over Dawn’s kitchen sink
Getting my hair washed over a kitchen sink was nothing new.
My mom would wash my hair in our kitchen always ending with a cold water rinse that i would squirm out of happiness. The cool water would feel so good and different after the warm water wash.
My mom would call me “Annie” always after washing my hair
It would take years for me to realize that she was comparing my curly hair to the little orphan white girl –
I had been warned to close my eyes before leaning over the sink
my eyes were surrounded by lashes that would constantly fall into my almond eyes and stay liked they belonged there – when getting my hair washed at home this would be the most challenging part because I was always fearful of some of the soap coming into my eyes. My eyes had to stay shut.
But they often never did, as I could not resist the temptation to open my eyes. As much as I hated the sting of soap in my eyes and the tearing and the rubbing I wanted to also know what would happen if I did it anyway.
This idea thrilled me – it was the reason why I had done the following as a child;
Dropped my mother’s hand and crossed the street against traffic
Lifted my skirt and showed my underpants to anyone crossing Sheridan avenue
Peddled down a steep San Francisco like hill that found its way in the middle of the Bronx.
This time I listened- closed eyes and waited
There was no cold water rinsing; just chemicals moving in and evading the nation of naps all round my head.
Perms were magical –
Mama told me that whatever your length of your hair was
A perm would make it twice as long.
I emerged from the sink
Eyes raw from being closed so tight
Dawn had given me a perm that loosened my curl pattern it might have been a “Kiddie perm”
I don’t know but either way
My hair was not twice the length but double the width,
Big and Wide – not straight but big loopy curl
I was 11 years old and forever altered
Perms are magical.
If you have never been a little black girl I will try my best to explain to you what had changed:
Something happens to little Black girls when we perm our hair.
It’s like the dreams of our multi-coloured tights that we pulled over our ears to imitate long luscious straight hair have finally come true
We become the Barbie dolls that we play with
We look like the girls on TV
We look like girls in the books we read
We look like America.
We begin to resemble other people dreams
A perm is a powerful thing
And it can wedge a space between your parent’s strong black pride beliefs
And it feeds a need to be considered “beautiful” by the mainstream.
I was no exception to this rule.
We – little Black girls begin to live out the double consciousness that Dubois hints about in ”Souls of Black Folks”
Our image is forever doubled – every pocket beauty mirror shows our potential what we could look like- every 3 months. There is a reason why we call it “Creamy Crack”
it’s hard to back away from box filled of social acceptance
Over the years I would approximately 12 more perms
8 press and curls
5 miss would you like your hair braid
And 3 weaves …… and twice I l dreadlocked my own hair – the first time cutting it because I thought I would be considered cuter and would date more
And one attempt at a texturized the lady was like but your hair is already naturally curly
“What is that you are looking for?” Good Question
I discovered my afro lately.
Sounds silly but it’s true
Recently I washed my own hair in my childhood kitchen sink
I had my natural hair saturated with Miss Jessie and Shea Butter Products.
Deep conditioned it.
When I say I discovered my afro:
You should know I had an Afro before the Youtube revolution of black woman cooking up products in their kitchens,
My afro the first time around came about before all of this
When Blue Magic Grease was the only option.
And when I would rock my afro- I was still looking through a mirror not my own
I had wanted my hair to look like someone else’s
I had Afro hair envy- everyone else’s texture was better than my own
And so I would braid my hair and unloose the braid and feel disappointed
Braid outs were not magical like perms
I felt more Colour purple than Purple Royalty
And so while I was natural
I was far from proud.
But that’s the past.
I discovered my afro lately
I have accepted the curls and the naps and bends that belong to me
My afro pic has showed me the way lifting and separating curls tight and loose into a halo of sorts….
My mirror has been replaced by an image that reflects back this pride and acceptance of who I am.
I get compliments all the time now
I like your hair is what the people say
And I reply back “thanks, I just washed it!”
By Yasmine Lancaster
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