Growing up, I often pondered my sister's obsession with altering my natural appearance, particularly my hair. Was it because of the incessant TV shows portraying idealized white figures with sleek, long tresses? Or perhaps the magazine advertisements showcasing black individuals with glossy waves, subtly suggesting the appeal of smoother hair over kinks?
Whatever motivated her, my sister seemed intent on trying every conceivable hair product, gadget, or treatment she could find, aiming to "improve" my hair.
Does the term "Jheri curls" ring a bell? Dominant in the 80s and 90s, this hairstyle was not just about fashion but an entire chemical process. It promised to either straighten or curl coarse hair textures. Behind this style was a mission to eliminate the perilous usage of the hot iron comb.
The Jheri Curl kit was comprehensive. It included a jar filled with an unmistakably pungent orange gel, a bottle of re-activator spray, and a pair of yellow latex gloves.
Now, the necessity of the gloves raises an unsettling question: if the chemicals were deemed too harsh for my hands, how could they possibly be considered safe for the sensitive skin of my scalp? A scalp, mind you, that is mere inches away from my brain.
A slight miscalculation in the application - leaving the gel on for too long - could result in burns. This wasn’t restricted to just the scalp but also extended to the skin around my ears and neck. Essentially, the transition was from the heat-induced burns of the iron comb to the caustic burns of chemicals. Both equally destructive to my skin and hair.
The instructions provided a rather ambiguous timeframe for rinsing out the product. My only cue was an intense heat and an unbearable itch. Panic often ensued, with me yelling, "RINSE IT NOW!" as I desperately tried to rush to a sink, hoping to douse my flaming scalp with cold water.
Post-rinse, my hair took on a glossy, curly appearance with a slight spring to it. Maintaining this look was no small feat. Every night, I had to sleep with a plastic bag draped over my hair to preserve its "juiciness". Moreover, a daily spritz of the activator spray was mandatory to retain the shine and moisture. To keep my sister appeased, I always had a bottle of the spray handy. But most nights, the plastic cap had a way of escaping my head.
As with all things, hair tends to revert to its inherent form. This meant that maintaining the Jheri curls wasn't a one-time affair. It necessitated weekly repetitions of the entire tedious and costly procedure. All this effort, pain, and money for a hairstyle that hardly lasted three days! The sheer absurdity of it!
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