Breaking Up With the Perm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 20, 2013
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The first time my mom put it in my hair it stung. Each kink it destroyed sent a shiver down my spine, and every curl it straightened pierced my nerves. My six-year-old body winced and jerked as the white cream played with matches in my hair. In between convulsions I reminded myself that it would all be worth it. The perm would make me pretty.

My mom washed the white gel out of my hair and spun my chair around to the mirror with a dramatic flourish. This was the moment I had been waiting for. The moment I would finally be pretty.

I stared at my new self in the mirror. Same face, same eyes, same dorky smile, but new hair – pretty hair. The straight, flowing hair worn by every single Disney princess.

I grinned at the silky strands flowing down my back. It was nothing like the hair I was born with. This hair did not demand attention or sit up like an exclamation mark. It was tidy, well-behaved, and lay down like a comma. This was the beginning of my obsession with the perm.

Since that first perm, I have sat in a chair every eight weeks while caustic chemicals whacked at my natural hair. I have spent hours in that chair to escape the hair that sprawls out like fireworks and be rescued by the hair that flows like a river.

And for what? So I could be pretty? For a while, the answer was yes.

Until one day, I decided I needed to know more about black history. I went on a hunt for information about my race. Each book and documentary made me question my definition of pretty. I learned that pretty doesn't have to mean straight hair and light skin. The books told countless stories about little girls begging to straighten their hair, bleach their skins, and wear blue contacts. Not so they could escape ugly, they said, but so they could escape their blackness.

I decided that I was done trying to escape my blackness. I was going to learn to love my afro by giving up the perm. Two weeks passed, then four, then ten, then 16. Each week my hair became more like it is supposed to be.

The normally benevolent tub of perm was not on my side. My pal for years was now my biggest enemy. It waged wars with my self confidence as it sat on my kitchen counter and whispered insults in my ear. It called my hair ugly, old-fashioned, gross. It summoned me back. It told me that it was the only way I would ever be beautiful.

I looked to my friends to tell me otherwise, but all it took for me to doubt my beauty was one friend who told me she liked my hair better when every strand was predictable.

The perm won the war.

In a desperate attempt to make myself “pretty” again, my 14-year-old self winced and jerked as the white cream again played with matches in my hair. As my mom spun my chair around to the mirror with a dramatic flourish, I finally saw who I was really battling. The enemy was not in the transparent tub of cream, but in the mirror.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

flofloflo4599 said...
Mar. 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm
I sincerely enjoyed your narrative with all of its imagery, personification, and portrayal of expression. What struck me the most was the ending; it was quite breathtaking as well as unexpected. Very well done!
brownjahne This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm
This means so much to me! Thank you so much for the feedback! 
oceanblue said...
Feb. 26, 2014 at 2:16 pm
WOW, this was just amazing. This story is in every way relatable to me. Your writing style is absolutely beautiful. Your story had my heart racing, and then when I got to the end I was just thinking " Aw man! I wanted her to win!" But keep battling it out. You'll find out one day that natural hair is beautiful. Take it from me, I've been natural for around two years now.
brownjahne This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm
This is so very sweet of you. It's always nice to connect with other girls of color, especially those who are confident enough to rock the beautiful curls they were given. Thank you for the feedback!
bookmouse said...
Oct. 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm
Thank you for writing this. I really related to your piece and I love the word choice and imagry. You don't need a perm! I'm sure you are beautiful just the way you are! I have naturally curly hair and it takes a while to figure it out, but once you do it's prettier than straightened/permed hair could ever be! I agree with what you said about minorities (including but not limited to those with curly hair) being included less in the media, I only wish I knew how to change it...
SkippyPeanutbutter This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 28, 2013 at 4:44 am
I really enjoyed reading this. Your emotions, thoughts and feelings are put so well into words. You have a very poetic way of writing and that's very enjoyable to read. Keep it up and I wish you all the strength you need to realize that you don't need the perm to feel beautiful.
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