Recently, there was a big "debate" (ie-debacle, argument) about black hair care, and specifically the messages sent to black girls by chemically treating (perming/straightening) their hair at a young age. Some argued that it is akin to coloring a white girls hair at a young age and that it sends the message that a girl is not "beautiful" or her hair isn't "good" the way it is, and it needs to be treated to be "fixed." They say that adults are sending the message that "being black" and having "black hair" isn't beautiful because they are so drastically changing it.
Others responded that whatever makes a little girl like her hair (and makes it manageable so that hair time is not PAIN time!) is okay. Who cares if it involves locking, straightening (chemically or otherwise) or lots of products? Just let the girls get to the point where they like their hair- where they can wear the clippies or ballies that all their friends are wearing- or the cornrows or whatever. It's just hair! It's not going to affect their identity as a black woman!
Valarie wrote a post quoting India Arie's song "I Am Not My Hair" which India wrote after her own struggles with letting her hair define her. I am not black, and I cannot comment on how much hair affects one's identity.
But what I will say is this:
My daughter is 5. Last night, we sat on the couch and played "Beauty Shop." We took turns putting nail polish on, styling each other's hair, and applying make up to each other. Abigail loved it!
My daughter watches me put make up on nearly every day. Sometimes she asks me why I wear make up. I tell her it's because I like the way I look and feel when I wear make up- I like how I can pretend to be someone else or bring out a different side of my personality based on my make up. I don't tell her that it is because I don't look pretty without it or because I don't like my blotchy skin or because people with fair complexions like ours look horrible without a little color. Those things may be true, but that is not why I wear make up, nor is it what I communicate to my daughter about make up.
And to be honest, I let her wear make up (sometimes.) Not just when we play beauty shop, but whenever she feels like it. Sparkly lip gloss, glitter in her hair, nail polish or even blush- if she likes it and thinks it's fun- why not? Will it hurt her? No. Do I think it will have long-term effects on her self esteem? No. Is it possible that allowing young girls to wear make up can send the wrong message to them (that they aren't pretty enough or whatever?) Sure, it's possible. But this is not one of the circumstances where I think it will.
And that's how I feel about allowing little black girls to straighten/perm their hair. If you send the message that it needs to be done because they aren't pretty enough, then it will hurt them. But if you give them the option of treating their hair to try something new, different, or fun... I guess I just can't see how that's a problem (nor can I see how chemically straightening hair is safer or less damaging than heat-straightening it... but then again, I am no scientist!)