I have struggled for years to get my daughter, Jamilah, to embrace her natural hair. At home, she seems fine with her lovely curls but as soon as she goes out in public her hair is immediately thrown into a pony or bun or hidden under a hat.
Jamilah always wanted to straighten her hair, though she did not want it chemically relaxed she would ask to flat iron it and I would generally refuse. I tried a few methods to make her hair less curly (such as banding) but it never seemed straight enough for her.
I am not sure where the desire came from but I did notice that some comments she received (right in front of me!) about her natural hair were far from positive. Even some of her family with relaxed hair would ask what was "wrong" with her hair or why it was not "done." They comments led her to feel like her natural hair was a "mess" and that for her to look "neat" and "pretty" she needed straight hair.
When Jamilah turned 12 she wanted to start caring for her own hair. She didn't want to take all the time necessary to detangle her hair properly and would rip a brush through her hair and pull it as tightly as she could into a ponytail until the front began to look a bit fuzzy and we realized she was damaging her edges.
I gave in. When a hair company introduced a new "natural hair" line and sent us heat straightening products I decided to flat iron her hair. I had tried flat ironing her hair on a rare occasion before but it never looked very straight and it was kind of pointless. This product (along with my CHI flat iron, which I love for my hair) made her hair completely straight! She really liked it and well, if she is happy, I was okay with it. Eventually though she did not want to go out unless her hair was ironed. "Once in awhile" turned into every day. The front of her hair for shorter. Her ends looked frazzled. When I tried to do a "wash and go" on her hair her curl pattern was changed, mostly on the ends. Some ends looked straight! eeek!
I don't think Jamilah truly believed me about the damage until she saw a family member who she had not seen for awhile and the first thing they said was, "what happened to her hair!!" Sadly I admitted that we had damaged her hair by not caring for it properly and using a flat iron too much.
I do not plan on using a flat iron on Jamilah's hair again. Not that I am telling everyone that it's bad for them to ever use a flat iron. For Jamilah, however, it was definitely over-used and depended-on and was not good for her.
We are now trying to repair Jamilah's hair and it's going to take some time. We will be documenting our journey BACK to healthy hair here and on our Youtube. I also want to work on the root of why she feels like straight hair is somehow better and continue encouraging her to embrace her natural hair. Now that she is a tween I am hoping to try some more "grown-up" styles that will make her happy and keep her hair Natural and Beautiful.
I am not writing this to campaign against flat ironing or persuade you not to use them. I am here to say that flat ironing did not work for us. Jamilah's type 4 mixed hair was too sensitive for all that heat, even with the protective products we used. Really it's not about the flat iron at all, for me it's more about the motivation to flat iron in the first place. To wear a different style now and again, probably not so bad. To hide your natural hair on a daily basis for whatever reason, maybe not so good.
I can't say I understand how Jamilah feels. I wash my hair, de-tangle and maybe throw in a little gel and go and no one seems to have anything to say about it. It's not considered revolutionary or making any statement for me to wear my natural hair. When I wear my natural hair no one asks why my hair is not "done", asks me what's wrong with my hair or asks to touch it. Friends and family don't encourage me to chemically change to composition of my hair.
What I do know is, Jamilah is beautiful. She is a beautiful blend of Sudanese, Scottish, Irish and Native American. She was born beautiful and she is beautiful just the way she is. Every bit of her was created to be just perfect the way it is and I would want nothing more than for her to realize her true, natural beauty. And that's why I will never help her change that again..... whether chemically or with a flat iron.
Peace~ Love~ Blessings~ Jennifer