There are few things as personal and political to a woman than her hair. And as a Black woman, that pressure expands.
I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with my hair.
I felt detached from my own potential for beauty. I didn’t really have a connection with my hair or any of my features that were typically expected to meet impossible beauty standards — like having a simultaneously skinny and voluptuous body, or being light skinned, with light hair and light eyes. Those were just parts of my body that I didn’t have an attachment to. Perhaps it was an act of self-protection — I knew I’d never be “good enough” to reach those standards. But maybe, it was because I knew that, deep down, they weren’t really me.
As Black women, we’re taught that our hair is an extension of our conformity. Growing up, long, pin-straight hair was highly coveted. To my peers, it conveyed success and belonging.
I’ve always had vivid memories of going to the beauty salon with a thick book in tow — I knew that I’d be dedicating most of my Saturday to looking beautiful in a way that never connected with me.
By the time I was in high school, the pressure to conform began to take its toll. When others complimented my mid-back length chemically-straightened hair, I felt nothing — like I hadn’t really earned anything.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was beginning to realize how much I needed to reclaim my own version of beauty. Not just for the sake of vanity, but for my own self-care and inner strength. So, I made a decision.
At age 17, right after senior portraits, I decided to “Big Chop” — or undergo the journey to reclaim my natural hair by cutting off all of my long, chemically-straightened hair.
My decision to Big Chop came right at the beginning of the natural hair movement. I followed Black girls on Tumblr who documented their own natural hair journeys.
There was so much variety in their hair — close-cropped, waist-length, kinky, curly, coily, and in a rainbow of colors. I was inspired by how they seemed to be so happy and in love with themselves.
I wanted that, more than I knew how to express. I knew that by letting go of my current hair, I was embracing the possibility that I, too, could have that happiness for myself.
When I sat in the stylist’s chair for that first time, hearing the snips of the scissors as chunks of my hair fell to the ground, I felt a sense of newfound freedom and release. I felt like myself for the first time, in a long time.
Today, I’m proud to say that I’m going on six years natural. My hair has grown out to about armpit-length (when it’s not battling that dreaded shrinkage, of course). It has been dark brown, auburn, fuschia, and hot pink. Most importantly, I feel that that freedom I’ve gained through my natural hair journey has given me courage to be my true self in other ways, too.