OK!!!!!! Let’s get this out of the way before I begin…….. Yes I have been slacking. Yes I have neglected this blog. BUT, I have been keeping my mind busy, mainly reading interesting articles, and doing what I do best – starting meaningless arguments on social media to challenge the way individuals think.
So, while slacking and neglecting my wonderful blog, I stumbled upon and interesting post by someone (the person’s identity isn’t so important). So, the gist of the post was about how bad skin bleaching was, and how they could not understand why anyone would want to bleach their skin.
I found myself nodding in agreement while reading this post, and I was not alone, the likes and comments of support were flying in from all angles. But, of course I didn’t like the status or comment. Yes, you read right although I agree with the general premise of her comments I couldn’t find it in me to publicly show my approval of her message by liking or commenting on the status.
And no, I was not afraid of the backlash I would face from the bleachers or any associations that might represent them (And yes there is an association for everything these days). The major reason for my reservation about the ‘greatness’ of this status was who was actually writing it. I know I know that it’s some sort of fallacy when arguing- but, let me explain before you judge me.
So, the poster was telling readers how bad it was for black women to chemically alter their physical appearance and how she could not understand why anyone would want to. I agreed with the central theme of the post but I could not wonder why she of all people would be against chemically altering your physical appearance.
She herself had been for many years chemically altering her appearance. All signs in her updated pictures showed that she was currently chemically altering her physical appearance. So, how was the form of chemical alteration she was so against in her post, different from the one she was doing to herself. It seemed OK for her to celebrate her chemical alterations (mind you many of those who were in support of her post, where also the same individuals who could be seen celebrating her chemical alterations), while in the same breath condemn another individuals choice to do the same exact thing (chemically alter the physical and natural characteristics of their appearance).
So, for one to categorically state that something is wrong while on other hand doing the same thing in most societies and context would be seen as hypocritical. But, on this issue it seemed like the same standard was not held or applied. Many individuals who I know in most normal instances would call out any form of hypocrisy seem to either willfully ignore or support this.
Maybe I was looking for something that really was not there, or maybe I just wanted something to complain about in an effort to find another excuse to neglect this blog. Remember I have a tendency to pick random meaningless arguments on social medium (don’t worry I will address this issue another time). But, the more I thought about it the more I realized that we as a community had subconsciously accepted this hypocrisy. To think of it I have never heard anyone address this issue… what a golden opportunity!!
I know by now you are wondering what the heck am I talking about, and what is this awful chemical alteration that we as a society have come to accept. If you haven’t figured out by now the protagonist in our story had a perm. OK!! I know I was a bit dramatic with all the talk about chemically altering her physical appearance…
…But think about it for a second and let it sink in!
What does one do when they bleach their skin?
What does one do when they perm their hair?
Both processes involve using manufactured chemical products to change the physical appearance and characteristics of one’s body. Both processes are said by those who partake in it to enhance their beauty. Although, beauty is extremely subjective many individuals have tied their physical beauty to how light their skin is and how straight their hair is. As such, bleaching one’s skin and straightening one’s hair have become the by-products of this craze for instant beauty and acceptance.
But, as my story showed, we as a society have not viewed these two processes in the same light. Rightly or wrongly, we have consciously and subconsciously demonized skin bleaching while excusing perming as a necessary aspect of maintaining black beauty. Many have sighted the ills of skin bleaching and even those that do it have been forced to do so almost in silence (well at least in the African community these days).
The health risks of skin bleaching have been well documented. Skin bleaching products on contain the active ingredients hydroquinone and/or mercury; bleaching creams have been linked with the disfiguring condition Ochronosis, marked by the darkening and thickening of the skin, as well as the appearance of tiny dome-shaped bumps and greyish-brown spots. These health concerns were even used as the underlying reason for the US FDA proposed a ban on skin-lightening creams without a prescription back in 2006.
Even in the United Kingdom, the amount of hydroquinone allowed in retail skin-lightening creams has been limited to just 2%, but demand for these products means there is a ready unofficial market for stronger potions. Ironically, skin-lightening creams are often a misnomer since after discontinuing use, normal sun exposure can make you darker than before. Women can then become psychologically addicted to creams and over years destroy not just their complexions but, also their health and self-esteem.
However, we do not see these concerns over chemically straightening one’s hair. Although the perm creams are applied to the hair, some may inadvertently be applied to your scalp through sloppy application or by accident. These creams are made up of a highly potent ammonium thioglycolate chemical solution, which can be irritating to some users and cause itching, redness, burning and peeling. As well, because of the strength of the ammonium thioglycolate in the solution, many find their hair texture changed after using it. Ammonium thioglycolate can dry out the hair, leaving it brittle and more susceptible to breakage. The only way to fix this problem is to grow the hair out and cut off the damaged portion.
To top it all off perms in general are an illusion and provide a temporary ‘fix’ much like skin-lightening creams. Chemical perms appear to make Black peoples’ hair look straightened; but, the reality is that even with perm people still must still press their hair with a heating tool (flat pressers, etc.). As well, some perm users realize that their hair is cracked and damaged and then wait patiently for new hair regrowth to replace the damaged hair. However, some may find that the chemicals have actually inhibited new hair growth.
Despite the parallels between skin bleaching and hair perming, ‘we’ as a community and/or society have treated these two processes very differently. We have demonized skin bleaching and have concluded that those that do that are evil and must in some way hate their black skin and as a result, being black. On the other hand, we do not feel that those that perm their hair hate their natural hair or that they hate being black.
I know many of you are saying that I am being a bit over the top and over reaching with this comparison. I know you are probably thinking to yourself, ‘I don’t perm my hair because I hate myself; I do it because it’s hard to maintain my natural hair.’ And I have heard this argument many times; simply maintenance is the sole reason for perming one’s hair, so we cannot equate these two processes, especially since bleaching one’s skin is evil and stinks of self-hate.
But, I strongly believe that we can equate these two processes. Both of these processes unnaturally change the natural state of a once natural appearance through various chemical processes. Both processes change the physical appearance of a natural body part to something that it could never be like without chemical help. For example, I hear many people try and equate skin bleaching to tanning. But, ask yourself this, can your skin lighten just by sitting in the sun, or abstaining from the sun? I know that abstaining from the sun would reduce the chances of one getting darker; however, I have yet to see enough people lighten the natural state of their skin by just abstaining from the sun for me to believe that this is natural. I also have yet to see anyone argue that skin lightening is even possible through a natural process. The same can be said about changing the texture of one’s hair through perming.
For argument sake let’s accept that maintenance and time management are the reasons why one would chemically alter the physical appearance and characteristics of their hair; why must the new hair that is now more manageable look European/Asian (honestly anything that is not African)? Why have we accepted without question that Europeanized hair is the way to go when trying to manage, protect and/or grow our African hair? Like I told a friend a while back, no one who bleaches comes out and says I am bleaching because I hate myself and I want to be Caucasian; they will simply say they want to look better and this is the same with many people who chemically alter the appearance and texture of their hair.
I know that the root causes that lead to the prevalence of these two practices are wide and far but, until we as a people are able to honestly address these two processes openly we will continue to miss the opportunity to address them. Slavery, colonialism, societal acceptance, peer pressure and media coverage have all played a role in the need for young black girls from all over the world to seek a change to their natural appearance.
We have never been taught as a people how to take care of our hair and have come to accept permed and straighten hair as more manageable and aesthetically beautiful. As such, when one wants to go natural and stop perming their hair, it seems like more work; and in some cases it is, because now you must learn how to care and maintain your natural hair on your own.
As well, we have demonized many of our own natural characteristics, especially our hair and skin. We often use insults such as, nappy hair, dark skin, black like tar; all why not subconsciously understanding what we are doing to our own self imagine. The world has made it such that black people cannot feel beautiful or comfortable in our skin. The media constantly bombards us with images of beauty that look nothing like us. But, black people have taken it to another level by feeding into these stereotypes and insulting ourselves by using our natural characteristics as some sort of badge of dishonour. Furthermore, there is a deep seeded inferiority complex that has to be killed and I see it slowly happening with the natural hair movement and the campaign against bleaching etc. I hope we can keep on this track because someday I will be blessed with a daughter and I think it would be a responsibility of mine as a father and to help her in discovering how beautiful she truly is.