Then and Now: The Perm Box Girls Are Cultural Icons and All Grown Up
11th October 2022 by BOTWC Staff
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11th October 2022 by BOTWC Staff
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For many Black girls, relaxers were a ritual. Hair was sacred, and a perm was a rite of passage of sorts. While many Black women have begun embracing their natural tresses, sans perm, back then, going into the beauty supply store and finding a perm box with a little girl who looked like you on it was just another branch of Black culture.
Last week, Twitter evoked a little nostalgia, bringing back photos of the old days when Black girls were models on perm boxes. We got a special treat when the good folks on “Black Twitter” started a conversation about wanting to be one as a kid.
“I remember wanting to be the face of a hair relaxer so bad,” Twitter user @prettiestluxury captioned a collage of the old relaxer boxes.
User Ash Leon retweeted it:
where are these girls today? show yourselves. https://t.co/WHSaNHL6Me— 𝐀𝐒𝐇 𝐋𝐄𝐎́𝐍 (@AshTheDonLeon) October 2, 2022
In true Black tradition, if you make a call, you’ll get a response. And that’s exactly what happened as former perm models began responding to the tweet. The girls came from all over to show their then and now pics, a trend emerging amongst the group. Most of the former relaxed girls were now naturalistas, some even admitting they never had a perm then. Popular rapper Baby Tate even jumped in to let her followers know that she also used to be a perm box model:
Here's what she wrote:
Here I am today, a successful artist wearing 40” bussdowns on national tv, still with no actual perm in my head. #themboxesbelying https://t.co/QpnE6tfeer pic.twitter.com/mQOY1rXVCq— tatey 💖🐥💅🏾 (@imbabytate) October 3, 2022
It was quite amazing and led us to wanting to know more! Who are these girls? Where did they come from? How did they even get started? We caught up with a few of the models to ask the big question: where are you now?
Alexis Davis was one of the girls, and she currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Making up half of the sister-duo that was featured previously on the Kids Organics Hair Softening System box, Davis told us that the photo shoot was actually her first one and it took place in 2008. At the time, she said she had no idea the impact she was having on other young Black girls.
“At the time I was only 8. I was mainly enjoying the experience and opportunity! As I got older, I truly [started to realize] the impact I could make on little girls everywhere,” Davis told Because of Them We Can.
Former child model Ariel Binns, who was signed to Wilhelmina Kids and appeared on the Dark & Lovely box when she was only 9, echoed those sentiments.
“Considering how young I was at the time, I didn’t recognize how much weight and symbolism my image being attached to that product had. However, as an adult I realize both the impression and lasting impact,” said Binns.
Many of the girls found their way to the boxes through modeling agencies and other various promotional gigs. Some of the girls said that they never actually had a relaxer, despite modeling for the company. Others say the modeling job for the ad was the beginning of their relaxer journey, many of them having since transitioned to natural styles.
“After having to actually relax my hair for the job (I had been natural up until then), I kept getting relaxers until my senior year in high school where I began to transition to natural hair. I thought I’d be going to school out of state, and I only trusted my hometown hair stylist to relax my hair. I was determined to explore how my natural hair worked for me and I’ve been natural since,” said Jordan Kelley, a child model who was just 8 when she appeared on the Soft Sheen Carson Dark and Lovely Kids box.
While the politics of hair was something the girls didn’t learn until they were much older, their own hair journeys were still deeply personal. Aleah Davis said she was on the relaxer box with her sister but as a biracial Black girl, doing her own hair was something the siblings navigated together since their mom couldn’t help much.
“My parents actually put me and my sister on the box together and wanted us to pursue modeling at a young age…My sister actually started getting really serious about her curly hair and she taught me. [Because] we are mixed, [and] our mom is white, so she doesn’t quite understand enough to teach us. She always did the best she could with 5 mixed babies,” Aleah explained.
When the girls first saw the tweet, many of them said they were shocked and also quite tickled.
“I found the viral tweet really amusing, it was so cool seeing my work come full circle. I didn’t know how impactful the marketing of these products could be,” said Binns.
“I was shocked that the tweet had gotten so much attention because the box was really just a period in time. When being put on the box, they did not discuss distribution and how far it actually reaches across the world,” added Jocelyn Van Taylor, who appeared in the Soft Free N Pretty campaign when she was just 12 years old.
“I thought it was so cute! I loved seeing my fellow box girls. I was so ecstatic to see us all get recognition after all this time,” shared Davis.
Nowadays, they have their own lives, extending far past their initial days as perm box girls. While some of the girls are still modeling, others are pursuing a number of career tracks. Binns is now a full-time student on a pre-med track who still enjoys modeling with consumer-facing brands. Sisters, Aleah and Alexis Davis, are creating content and still modeling while Taylor is an international public artist. Kelley is a registered nurse and has been documenting her own hair journey on Instagram; being back in the spotlight is a bit of a full circle moment for her.
“It was exciting to see how the other ladies had grown beautifully into themselves and still exuded that same confidence from all those years ago. I’m still very happy it happened; the community really came together to reminisce on something purely positive…I’ve actually been documenting my hair journey over the past couple of years on Instagram, which is also why this moment was so full circle for me. I’ve been going through a rebrand, which can be discouraging and frustrating. It was a reminder that putting myself out to the world is something I’m capable of, especially when it comes to my passion for natural hair,” said Kelley.
Natalie Githu lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and is currently working on getting her film degree. Githu started modeling when she was just 4 and said looking back at her time on the perm box, she could’ve never imagined the impact she would have on a whole culture.
“When people realize that I am the girl on the box, [they always say], ‘I would go into the salon and ask the hairdresser to make my hair look like yours on the box,’ and that would blow my mind. My day is always made when someone sends me a picture…[from] wherever they may be in the world because that in itself is a huge reminder to myself that the idea of this product is actually bigger than what I can fathom. My face is in countries that I have not stepped foot in. That is overwhelming but in the best way possible,” explained Githu.
Githu transitioned to natural hair in 2018 and has vowed to never go back after going vegan. She says she hopes that Black girls everywhere know that whatever they choose to do with their hair is fine, as long as it works for you. Van Taylor echoed similar sentiments but said she thinks it was dishonest for the companies to portray an image of relaxed hair even though some girls like herself never had one. She hopes girls everywhere know their authentic tresses are just fine. Nonetheless, being a part of such a huge cultural movement is something all the girls say they’ll never forget.
“I was grateful for the opportunity then and I’m still grateful now,” said Davis.
To keep up with the perm girls, feel free to follow them on social media.
Twitter Shines A Light On Some True Hidden Cultural Icons, The Perm Box Girls. Photo Courtesy of @prettiestluxury/Twitter