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When I was seven years old, my mother relaxed my hair without asking me. I can’t say that it was totally out of the blue as the clues were there. Tugging my hair in resentment, her frustration with my hair—and me by extension—was palpable each time she put her hands in it. Sadly, my story is not unique.
Between ages of seven and twelve, I had little control over my hair, which in some ways is a good thing. A child who has had a relaxer forced on them has no business trying to take care of their own hair. I lived with my grandmother and saw my mom every couple of weeks. With my grandmother, it was thick blue or green grease, barrettes and plaits. When my mom would see my hair like this, she thought it unacceptable and would promptly deliver me to her favorite salon du jour.
I was eight years old on one of these salon trips when she left me under a hooded dryer to run an errand. I had already been at the salon for hours and my hair was still not done. By the time I climbed up into the stylist’s chair I was struggling to stay asleep. I remember muttering something about my bangs before drifting off to sleep. I woke up to the stylist patting me on my shoulder and shoving a hand mirror in front of my face. I looked in the mirror, my eyes quickly bulging in disbelief. My bangs! My beautiful, beautiful side swept bangs. What had she done to them?! They were several inches above my eyebrows and greased to an inch of their lives. This was 1987, so 1940s Betty Page bangs were not in. I had to go to school like this for several weeks until they grew to a reasonable length. In addition to my lingering Jamaican accent, this was yet another thing the kids at school would make fun of. I could feel the blood rushing to my face as I felt a mix of rage, sadness and disappointment. I was eight, dammit. How could she do this to me?!
I turned to meet the expectant gaze of the stylist. She wanted feedback and I wanted to strangle her. Barely managing my disdain for her, I quickly muttered “it’s fine,” as I leapt out of her chair to go sit and wait for my mom. I sat fuming in anger and holding back tears as I waited for my mom for half an hour. When she finally arrived, she looked questionably at my hair. I told her what happened, expecting her to tear the stylist a new one. To my chagrin, she blamed me for falling asleep. Me for not standing watch over a professional to ensure that she cut a child’s bangs to a reasonable length. Me for looking like someone she didn’t want to be seen with. On the way home, the anger subsided, but the disappointment lingered even after my bangs had grown back.
It wasn’t until much later that I understood what my mother was trying to tell me by blaming me for the bang debacle. Sure, she may have been a little tough on me (did I mention I was eight?) but her point was sound. She taught me that just because someone is a licensed professional, my own common sense and intuition should not go out the door. Whether it is a haircut or chemical treatment, it is I who am ultimately responsible for the way I present myself to the world.