I recently “big chopped” (cut all my hair off), and the experience has opened my eyes to both society’s expectations and the effect they’ve had on my own.
At thirteen years old my mom came to me with a suggestion. As I was extremely tender-headed, yet I wanted long hair, she suggested I get dreadlocks. Upon hearing I wouldn’t have to comb my hair and that it was guaranteed to grow like nobody’s business, I agreed. Fast forward seven and a half years and my hair hung past my waist, a glorious wave that I valued over all my other attributes. But my pride and patience were waning.
Along with the wonderful length and the interest it captivated, my hair was hot, heavy, and expensive to maintain. It had begun to hurt my back and neck, as dreadlocks often do after a certain amount of time. The longer they grow, they heavier they become, and eventually the back begins to suffer. I was tired of it, and bored, and I wanted to cut it. But I couldn’t bring myself to voice it aloud.
In African American culture, long hair is glorified. If you can achieve long hair without weave or extensions, that’s what you want. Because our hair, normally, doesn’t grow as long or as fast as Caucasian hair. It can, but it takes more work to achieve it. So when one of us has naturally long hair, I feel like others feel a sense of pride in our accomplishment. Our hair becomes the subject of envy and happiness, because if one of us grows long hair, it proves we all can. As though, for some reason, we have to validate ourselves to the world. As though long hair validates us as black women. Not our personalities and what we do with our lives. Our hair.
So I couldn’t tell anyone. My hair felt like it was no longer my own. It felt like it was being shared by many others. What would they think if I cut it? What would they say? Who would I be, without my long hair?
That last question, however, stuck with me. Who would I be without my hair? Would I still be Tatyana, or would I become someone else? Would I still be kind? Loving, generous, compassionate, empathetic… Would I be pretty? Maybe I’d look awful with short hair. So many questions came with my wondering, and so many fears.
So I had to do it. To be so scared of cutting my hair solidified my resolve. I’d been through a few large problems in my short life, and came through victorious. I hadn’t panicked when the former situations took place, so how could I let myself be so easily swayed in this regard? If I wanted to cut my hair, I could. It was not “our” hair, it was mine, and I could tell people that. What they thought didn’t matter. And with that, my determination was born and no one could stop me. I was going to do it no matter what. So I did.
I sat in the chair at the hair salon and my heart threatened to burst from my chest. There was no questioning. No “are you sure you want to do this? Because there’s no going back.” If I didn’t speak up, my hair would be cut. I kept silent. It started abruptly, without warning. In my anxiety, I’d assumed it would be done slowly and meticulously and that I’d feel every slice of the scissors ten times over, each and every time. But the entire process lasted about seven minutes. At first, I panicked. Quietly, of course. I sat in the chair and watched myself in the mirror, eyes tracking every dread she removed from my head. What on earth was I doing? What had I been thinking? This had been a huge mistake.
But as she continued, my panic decreased. It was too late to go back, so why bother freaking out? I didn’t look horrible. Not yet anyway. Talking kept my panic at bay, and as she snipped away my pride and joy, a lightness overtook me. I could hold my head up without straining my neck. My back didn’t hurt so much. I nearly felt lightheaded.
Then she cut the last one, and I was free.
Free of the pain, the heat, the expenses. Free of the crutch I’d carried for years. Whatever society or my own people had to say about me, it was over and there was nothing either of us could do about it. Upon examining myself in the mirror and touching my hair (it was so soft), I realized that I was indeed still me. And I looked amazing. With yet-unwashed and styled hair, I looked gorgeous. I wasn’t ugly. And as far as I knew, no personality changes had ensued. I was still Tatyana. Except I was so much more confident than I was upon entering the salon.
Never before had I considered that I’d gain confidence from cutting my hair. But that’s exactly what happened. Fast forward to today, four days later, and I’m still hopelessly in love with myself. And you know what? Every single person who I thought would crucify me has loved it too. They were shocked, of course, but they all agree that it suits me. Not that I care. I’d love it if everyone on the world hated it. Maybe it’s because I can own it that they can own it too.
I am not my hair. My hair compliments me. As long as I remain confident in myself and the way I look, I can rock any look and get everyone else to love it too. I should never avoid doing something because of what other people might think or say. Because what I think is the only thing that matters.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to look in the mirror again.
Watch the big chop as it happens!
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