When I was a little girl, I had what my grandmother referred to as, “good, growing hair”. My hair made me feel pretty and the compliments I would get made me feel special. This may seem shallow to some, but to a little black girl who otherwise felt invisible, I welcomed the positive attention.
Early on, my mother made me promise not to cut or perm my hair. She told me chemicals would damage it and she was right. When I started doing my own hair, I tried different styles and eventually became exasperated with using a hot comb and thought it would be a good idea to get a perm. It wasn’t. My once healthy hair became dry and brittle. I resorted to wearing wigs and weaves that I’m sure were not the least bit flattering. I’d lost my crown of glory and I’d felt like I’d lost myself, too.
At the same time I was grieving the abysmal state of my hair, I was also in a horrible relationship. The condition of my hair paired with the condition of my heart was too much to bear. Something had to be done. I had no clue what to do about the relationship. I was in that backwards pattern of thinking, “What if I leave right before he is about to change?” He wasn’t about to change, so I had to do the changing. I decided to do the big chop. Remind you, this was back at the dawn of the new millennium before the big chop became The Big Chop.
Opting for peace was the only way to rid myself of the desperation I felt. Once cutting off all my hair became a viable option, I didn’t waiver or waffle. I walked into my local barbershop, removed the baseball cap from head and told the barber I wanted him to cut it all off. He was being polite when he said, “Come on, Ma, you don’t want to do this. Our hairstylist will hook you up.” I assured him I knew what I asking for and firmly requested an $8 haircut. As the clippers buzzed against my hair and the locks fell to the floor, I thought about my mom. What would she say? I thought about my boyfriend. What would he think? Then, I thought about me and what I needed in that moment. I needed to find the girl beneath the hair. And once I found her, I needed to love her.
When the barber spun me around in the chair and I saw my new reflection for the first time, I recognized myself. I saw the self I knew was there, but was hiding beneath all of the hair. I thought I’d feel masculine and ordinary. Far from it. I felt feminine and exposed in a good way. Other than women in their 40s, I was pretty much alone in sporting my close cropped afro, at least where I was from. Nonetheless, I immediately felt at peace.
When my mother came home and saw my bald head, her immediate response was, “You look like a queen. You look like royalty.” I honestly felt like a queen. My hair was gone, but my glow was back and we were both able to rejoice in that moment.
Of course, the boyfriend I had didn’t like my hair. He, and a few other black men, went so far as to tell me that I was actually pretty before and should have kept my hair. On the flip side, I’d walk down the street and men of other races would stop to tell me I was beautiful and my hair was lovely. That was new. Looking back, cutting off my hair was an act of defiance. I wanted to challenge the notion that for black women, nice hair is the only expression of beauty. I refused to believe that without my hair, I was nothing. Sure, hair may play huge a part in what others deem aesthetically pleasing, but our self-worth should not be wrapped up in our coils. That’s something I learned and something I’d like to teach my daughter.
My hair has since grown back and that boyfriend is long gone, but the lessons the big chop taught beauty and self-worth remain.
Have you done the big chop? How did you feel?