What the Big Chop Taught Me about Beauty

October 16, 2013 ‐ By Desiree Browne

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?

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  • Odysseyj

    I decided months ago that I wanted to cut my hair. Every chance I got I hesitated. Yesterday morning I woke up and cut off my hair and I have never felt better. The only problem is what should I do now? I want coils and from the websites I read they do not come right away. What styles can I wear in the meantime and how do I achieve those styles?

  • Odysseyj

    I decided months ago that I wanted to cut my hair. Every chance I got I hesitated. Yesterday morning I woke up and cut off my hair and I have never felt better. The only problem is what should I do now? I want coils and from the websites I read they do not come right away. What styles can I wear in the meantime and how do I achieve those styles?

  • Toshell

    I did do The Big Chop. And the only words I can use to describe how I felt and still feel, is liberated.

  • sandra lee porter

    All I have to say is beauty is in the face and the cheekbones and the over-all facial structure ..not hair.. sometimes hair hides serious flaws.. I have seen some women (lots of them) wont mention race..but we all know the race that have long hair and when they put that hair up or back in a ponytail..we see the big low riding ears , the sloth forehead, and the the big forehead and etc. sometimes they use it as a cover up.. and from the side those long noses.. beauty is in the genes and the heritage and hair doesn’t have a gotdamn thing to do with it.I have seen a lot of women with hair as short as a man but the beauty of a goddess in the face.. Halle Berry has short hair and she will make most women look like crap! Take a lesson and don’t be fooled by the media hype and others standard of beauty!

  • brianna lynn

    I just did the Big Chop for the second time in my life & i’m so excited to see my curls coming back like “We missed you !!!” I missed them too.

  • Virgo Chick

    I’ve been natural for about 3 years. Last month I did a big chop (this time accidentally) for the second time since being natural. I went to the barbershop (I now realize that was where I went wrong) to be “shaped up” because I was rocking a big afro. Apparently my son’s barber had something else in mind. I’ve watched him “shape up” plenty of natural hair women, that was the main reason I went to him….anyway. Like I said, apparently he had something different in mind for me because he chopped it all off….more like faded it off. At first I was like OMG…..all I could think of was “this dude has cut all my hair off!!”. I have a round, fat face so I had to force myself to embrace it. Some people were soooo upset that I cut my beautiful, big, red afro. I was already feeling slighted but then when they were rubbing it in, I started feeling bad. BUT……I didn’t run out and get a wig. I kept embracing it and eventually I was really feeling it. I started getting compliments (I kept the color) and it boosted my confidence. I found myself needing to look more girly girl, so I ran out and bought makeup and different kinds of earrings. I’ve been wearing makeup every day….something I only did when going out. Daily, for work, I would wear a little eyeliner and lipstick but now it’s full scale makeup….and I LOVE IT!! The big chop (though accidental) has taught me to 1) not care what people think, it’s about what “I” think/feel 2) to be confident in any and everything that I do and 3) to finally pick the right makeup and apply it correctly, lol…..something I always struggled with even though my mom and sisters are makeup artists (I just never caught that diva bug…..yet, my daughter had it out the womb, lol).

  • Debbie Hicks

    I did the big chop in April. I loved it for the summer months.

  • lizzy

    I didnt do the big chop but I went natural, which to me was equally as frightening and empowering. Being surrounded by women who wore perms & weaves had made me feel inferior before. And that in order to be considered beautiful I had to maintain a perm. But going natural allowed me to appreciate the masterpiece God designed that is me with no assistance needed from chemicals. I too was out of a painful breakup and it was an act of defiance that if I could fall in love with the “authentic” me it no longer mattered what anyone else thought. It was the best thing I ever did for myself! LOVED your story!!!

  • Yvonne

    I did The Big Chop on January 1, 2013! I felt liberated!! My husband loves my hair and does not want me to ever relax it again. I have to admit though, I am still working on fully embracing THIS me. It feels great to me individually but I still wonder about how it is perceived by others (in business, etc.). However, every time I waiver on my decision, my husband and children remind me of how beautiful I am now, even more than before and I realize that embracing ME is the best thing I can do for myself and my children. Also, embracing ME has caused my husband to embrace me even more…… Each day I feel more and more positive about it. I look at other women with “natural” hair and see how beautiful they are…..not the superficial beauty, but the beauty deeper, within and I know I have done what’s right for ME.

  • Lala

    I’ve big chopped twice – the first time was hard because getting rid of my long hair a personal challenge, but once I was rid of the hair, it was amazing how the rest of me transformed – I felt like I owned me and let go of the pressure of having my long hair as a prize that some black women wished they had. The second time was much easier. I realized it was just hair and loved not having any. My hair is pretty long again, a curly/coily mess that I love and my husband does not want me to big chop again. For now, I will give into his desire, but when I finally get to the place where I want to be rid of my hair, he will either love it or get over it.

  • misss

    I big chopped last month and I feel great about it. My mom said she wish my hair would grow back. Guys I knew before just say why did you cut your hair off, my coworker said I should just get a kiddie perm. I get some compliments tho and still get some attention from guys but I feel great and because I been single for 4 years this just took me to another level of self love and appreciation. I like wearing my TWA but I have decided for the colder months I will be wearing wigs but not many different ones just a few. In May I will release my coils again.

  • I’m glad you had such a powerful experience from your BC!