For black women, hair often holds a lot of meaning — here's how I felt when I cut mine short
I stood nervously in the kitchen with my boyfriend at 2am on a Friday, a day before I was going back home for a much-needed break from my hectic college schedule. Tears formed in my eyes as I gently touched the damaged locks upon my head.
I had been chemically relaxing my hair since I was 12 years old. It was all I ever knew. I grew up wanting long, luxurious hair like the other girls in my classes. But black hair can be difficult no matter what you do with it, and relaxed hair was just not working for me anymore.
Every 6 weeks I’d pay upwards of $70-$80 to straighten my naturally curly fro. It smelled bad, burned my head, and took hours out of my day. But it was worth it in my eyes, because it made me feel beautiful. But when the winter quarter of my sophomore year at DePaul University got very busy and I was juggling my studies along with my job as a student assistant and my new relationship with my boyfriend, I couldn’t spend as much time oiling, moisturizing, and washing my hair.
Each morning it would fall out in large knots, which devastated me. When my mother called and asked when I could do another hair appointment over spring break, I freaked out. I couldn’t do this to myself or my hair any longer. It was finally time to do something I’ve always wanted — to cut it short and let it grow naturally.
I approached my boyfriend (who is white) and explained to him how some black women get “the big chop” when their hair is damaged, and either grow it naturally or put in a weave or braids to give it a break from relaxers. I didn’t know how he would take seeing me with such a short cut.
He loved the idea.
I was relieved and happy, looking up pictures of people like Lupita N’yongo for inspiration. They just looked so beautiful, and I wondered if I would be like that too.
I went home for spring break, and the first night I saw my mother I had a panic attack explaining to her what I wanted and needed for my hair. For some, this may seem over-dramatic, but black hair culture has a lot of weight to it. Black women are judged by our hair, whether we have “good hair” or “bad hair,” weaves, natural hair, braids, or something else. My mother and I had both always wanted me to have long hair, ever since we moved from Zimbabwe to the U.S. in 2001. We wanted to be accepted and welcomed in this culture.
But now I wanted to embrace our natural culture and my natural hair. She loved my idea as well, and the most moving thing that happened that week was the fact that she cut my hair for me. My mother stood behind me at 11pm on a Thursday night, slowly snipping away at the last strands and years of our hard work.
Honestly, I’ve never felt more alive than I did then.
We both agreed it looked incredible. I couldn’t stop looking and touching it. I took hundreds of selfies, started experimenting more with makeup (something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do), and started to feel more grown-up, more beautiful, and just happier overall.
I thanked my boyfriend and my mother for helping me take a huge leap I could not have done myself. I love my hair now. It is good hair, it is amazing hair, and most of all, it truly feels like MY hair.
Charlene Haparimwi is a 20-year-old DePaul University student studying Public Relations and Advertising with a minor in Creative Writing. She has been published in Hooligan Mag, Femsplain, Slant News, Literary Juice, The Coffeelicious and more. She is passionate about intersectional feminism, black rights, LGBT rights, and restorative justice. She is originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, lived in St. Louis for 13 years and currently resides in Chicago. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and check out her blog.