The Art of the Rhelaxed

“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” Sir Francis Bacon

I don’t weigh in on many of the issues women of color face. Mostly because to me, women of all colors face similar struggles. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. And what’s right is what’s right.

But every now and then I realize there are some things that are unique to not just women but to particularly women of color and those issues should be discussed. This is something that I face and many of my fellow ladies can appreciate. Rhelaxers. In a previous entry, I discussed the lengths women will go to for their hair, I even subjected myself to an oily eggy mess for the sake of silky strands. But there’s something you need to understand about a rhelaxer.

Rhelaxers are chemicals added to the hair to straighten them, “relaxing” normally coarse hair to make it straighten out. The chemicals in rhelaxers include things only a chemist can appreciate. I won’t list the chemicals but I’ll put it to you like this, there is still lye in some rhelaxer formulas. You may still have to request a no-lye rhelaxer. If you receive a rhelaxer burn, it’s classified as a chemical burn and is to be treated as such when applying first aid and you are encouraged to, if your rhelaxer burn is bad enough to visit an urgent care of burn ward. But we trust someone, we PAY someone (quite well, may I add) to willingly apply this on our hair and tender scalp and pray they miss things like our necks, foreheads and cheeks.

I just did. And will continue to likely for the foreseeable future.

There is something culturally interesting about the masochism we go through to achieve “good hair”.  I didn’t think about it because it was just something I’ve always done. Every 4-6 weeks since I was 7. Before my ‘virgin’ ( the term for non-chemically treated hair) hair was first rhelaxed, I was subjected to pressing combs.

A pressing comb is a metal comb that is superheated and then placed to your tender scalp to straighten not just the shaft of hair but the roots as well. Yes, mothers did this to children. Yes, comb-shaped burn marks are hard to cover up. Yes, the burns hurt. A lot. And the smell of burned hair that permeated the entire house was the least of the egregious aspects of pressing day. And yes, it does look like a Medieval torture device.

But yet I went through this willingly. I could go natural at any point in my life and despite the countless burns, bad hair cuts and early mornings and days spent at salons, I continue to feed the ‘Good Hair’ beast.

And while I have friends with natural hair (who do not tolerate my complaining at all about hair-related issues) many of my friends are also feeding the good-hair beast.

The irony of the issue? It’s not something we seem to be concerned about. Not for our finances, for our health or for the cultural dogma it has continued to place on black women and the strive to look more like other races to achieve a more secular version of beauty. We just continue to feed the monster and refuse to acknowledge the racially-charged past of modern black hair care.

I suppose it’s the irony that at least got me to weigh on the topic. I by no means have the solution or a grander opinion on the matter than any other girl who just got out of the stylist’s chair. But I’d love a discussion. So feel free to leave a comment. Or a good recommendation for a stylist.


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I'm just your everyday human person with a keen eye for what's really happening. Be prepared for wit, humor and Dr. Who references. Loves include anime, writing, eating sweets, art and visits to the park to feed the ducks.

One thought on “The Art of the Rhelaxed”

  1. This reminds me of the time I cried when my hair got scrunched by mousse for the first time. It burned my six-year-old scalp. Yes, I’m a weakling. But looking back, it looked just like that awful trend in 2008. You know, when people scrunched their hair with that Aussie spray. Maybe it was 2007.

    Strangely, in my health class in 7th grade there was a section in a textbook on rhelaxers. There was a side panel on one page that featured chemical burns from “inexperienced application.” I have no idea what the photos were trying to accomplish. The section was followed by several paragraphs on teeth whiteners.

    I think you could pull off plastic, floral-patterned headbands quite well, but I’m not sure if you like headbands.

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