No. Not at all.
I’m not specifically sure where it went awry, but hair, more specifically what grade and what length, became of importance. If I’d take a good guess it probably goes back to the days of slavery. Yes, taking it way back today. A time in which, white men would have their way with black women, creating interracial children, with various hair textures and various shades of beautiful brown skin. All of this (among many things) subsequently left a substantial divide, that still haunts our culture to this day.
Here we are, and afrocentrism is deemed new and hip. Kids are getting afro weaves put in their hair, to stand out (errr blend in?) amongst their peers. Who would have known. Afrocentrism isn’t new, and even I, as an African American woman in one of the most accepting and moving neighborhoods in Brooklyn, a neighborhood that embraces and rings the resounding black love alarm, with it’s lively Ethiopian restaurants, African dance festivals, and mocha mama meet-ups, has yet to fully grasp the depths of what it truly means to be afrocentric.
But this post isn’t about afrocentrism. It’s about hair. It’s about actually and truly embracing your roots and going all in, without fear.
Honestly, the most uncomfortable part when talking about natural hair texture with someone who is considering transitioning, or who happens to be in transition, is the big chop portion of the conversation. I understand slow transitioning in many ways, I do. I understand not wanting to be bald, and or close to it for months at a time. I even understand placing wigs upon your hair up until you feel comfortable. I get it, I respect it, but I don’t fully agree. In many ways, it’s a close comparison to the likes of those high school girls wearing wigs because it’s simply cool. Not because they actually know or fully grasp the meaning of adorning what their ancestors gave them. When you’re trying to hold on to your long and permed hair until it because fuller and kinkier, and inevitably, more versatile hair, it’s like masking the process.
Let yourself feel it. All of it.
The mere act of cutting one’s hair is transformational in itself. During my first cut, I immediately felt vulnerable. That lasted for weeks. I quickly realized that beyond needing to feel pretty when I cut all of my hair off, I needed to acknowledge and accept the path that I was taking. I needed to understand, as best as I could, why I was cutting off my hair, and what it meant for me, and more importantly, what it meant as a woman in general. In many ways, once my hair was gone, there went many of the chains of conformity that held on to me for far too long.
Lest you think the pot is calling the kettle black, I in many ways, have yet to dive deeper in the natural pool. My hair is currently rotating in shades of golden tones, to give me “a just returned from vacation” vibe. Mostly because I take very few vacations these days. And who in the world leaves New York City in the summer?! But still, mama loves to look like she’s just stepped off of some island far far away from the city smog.
Hair can sometimes be summed up to simply being just hair. And in many ways, this works. Like when discussing the big chop, my simple, less blog like response sounds a bit like; “girl, stop stressing! It will grow back even more beautiful than before. It’s just hair!” If given a few more minutes, I would explain the gravity of the transition as someone who has taken the plunge, not just once, but twice. I’d take on those last few minutes to talk more in depth and in a more powerful nature. If you educate yourself properly on the power of what it means to change your hair to fit the straight European ideology, when you are in fact an African American woman, the transition becomes more. So much more.
Beautiful art by Emily De Nicolais for LaTonya Yvette.
Thank you for this post. I so appreciate it as a black woman who did the big chop almost five years ago. I let my hair grow for four years and then cut it short again. Each time I cut it, I felt vulnerable. Seen. I bought bigger earrings to hide my face. I worried my boyfriend wouldn't find me attractive. I had gotten my hair straightened from age four and to suddenly see my natural curls was amazing…and bewildering. I didn't realize I had internalized a lot of ideas of beauty around hair…but I had. It has been a journey. It still is. It is just hair. And it isn't. My hair journey has been one about coming into my own.
So beautiful and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing and for helping to educate me both in culture and tolerance.
I am a white woman and for years I struggled with the wavy/curly texture of my thick, coarse hair. I put it through the ringer and still do starting at 12 with an array of tools and products . I desperately wanted my friends' long, straight hair, or hair that looked like it came from the beach and was also convinced men wouldn't find me attractive with my natural texture. I only convinced myself to wear my natural texture occasionally about three years ago, after I left college and realized there was not a whole lot of extra time to spend on hair. I finally learned (and am still somewhat learning), that in so many ways, it is "just hair."
I know black women can and do go through much more in terms of hair maintenance and cultural identity than I ever will, which I deeply respect. Hopefully, we can encourage our friends, moms, daughters and sisters to celebrate their hair, however it was made or however you choose to do it.
Beautiful art & post! Every black woman needs to be engaging in these conversations, with herself and others. No one cares to know the origin of to today's trends.
How timely. I recently cut my hair again and although it's not as short as my first big chop, I still went through the same vulnerability. It was shocking to me and highlights how much we can unlearn (or relearn) in a hair journey. Nice post.
Yes, yes, yes! I also found that even after I did the big chop, I was still caught up in rocking a "certain type" of afrocentric look. I wanted natural hair, but I wanted it to have a curl pattern. I constantly found myself doing twist-outs and bantu knots so that my hair would look "good," as though my hair out in it's natural, giant fro looked "bad." I think the tendency within the natural hair movement to get caught up in hair-typing, curl patterns, etc., just goes to show how deeply embedded our adherence to Eurocentric standards of beauty is! I ended up loc-ing my hair because I was tired, even after big-chopping twice, of still finding ways to get caught up in wanting my hair to look a certain way. Now, with my locs, I feel more myself than ever! Thank you for sharing this post and encouraging me, and others, to think! xx
You had me nodding in agreement. I agree that the cut is itself transformational and when that step is left out in favor of long transition, you deny yourself a possible growth experience. When I "big chopped" almost seven years ago as a college sophomore (at a mostly male, mostly white, conservative school btw) I had to confront lack of acceptance from others and my personal insecurities. "I am not my hair" was on heavy rotation, but after the fear I came to a place where I don't place my value in my hair or in traditional beauty standards. I realized that when I spoke in class or performed in recital my professors and colleagues weren't looking at my hair (although my crop was cute imo), they were focused on what I was doing, saying, or sharing in the moment. I love myself and how I look, but by going through the process of cutting my hair all off and growing it out again, I learned that I am so much more than my outer. My self worth and beauty ideals are not wrapped up in my hair anymore and my big chop began the process of learning that.
Awesome post. I agree with others that transitioning can be a deeply vulnerable act, made all the more poignant and a little bit sad because it shouldn't be. It is, in fact, "just hair."
I've always felt I transitioned "wrong" six years ago when I simply stopped perming my kinky African-American hair and let it grow out without big chopping. It's still never quite caught on and grows at wildly different rates and textures all over. Twists, curl creams, 'fro-hawks, I've done it. My "wash-n-go" routine is no less than 45 minutes and now that I'm 34 weeks pregnant with my first child, I know that's not going to work anymore. All those hours struggling with my tresses are much better spent with my husband and baby. But I still hesitate to cut it off, because of the same insecurities so many of us deal with. My husband is Australian and is only beginning to understand the politics of femininity and black hair in this country. In the past he's said (half) jokingly, "I don't know what it is, men just love long hair! Can't help it." Which is kind of hurtful. I know he doesn't mean for it to be, but to me it rings like basic admittance that as much as he adores me regardless of my appearance, he's always going to desire/prefer the long, luxurious locks that I simply do not have, and maybe never will.
As a feminist it irks me unbelievably that despite all my soul-searching, education, relative confidence in other areas, and 33 years of life on this planet, I cannot get over the inclination to tie so much of my femininity into something as silly as my hair. For goodness' sake, I'm making a human being from scratch! I can feed them from my own body! Why does that not make me woman enough (for me)?
Obviously no one has all the answers. But it's very comforting and meaningful to hear voices like yours and know that everyone has their journey and that there can be light and complete love of self on the other side.
Thank you so much for your words Charly. I hear you, it's so bewildering, and takes patience and confidence and understanding, to get through. It's just as much of a physical journey as it is a mental.
Thank you so much for leaving your thoughts here. I think this too is a subject that white women can get involved in as well. I fear that far too often, white women are afraid to talk about the fact that they too have issues like this. But also the fact that they in fact love natural hair as well. I don't know, not that it matters too much, but having my friends, my white friends especially, encourage me with their hair stories and let me know that they thought my fro was beautiful, but also, having them want to gain more knowledge about the subject of natural hair, helped a ot.
I think like many things, this is a subject that we all need to learn about. Even if we can't necessarily get involved, I think relating in any way and just educating yourself/ourselves can help grow our community as women.
You are welcome! So happy you found that good spot of natural hair transition!
I totally hear you! Funny enough, I've been considering year another big chop; for no other reason than just needing to cleanse and just feel those feelings and move through them.
Thank you for reading dear!
Oh dear, i loved this, I love that you are honest about transition wrong. After a few years of marriage, my husband is just understanding as well. He initially thought it was simply because I no longer liked my permed hair. And yes, that had a bit to do with it, but the culture part played a bigger role for sure.
Thank you so much or leaving your thoughts here. It comforts me as well.
Thank you so much for this post. It was inspiring, positive and basically re-enforced that beauty is your own personal standard and not anyone else's.
As a Jewish woman growing up in the South, once I hit puberty (and my hair became super textured/curly), I was constantly told to change my thick curly hair. Family members would comment and say, " you look prettier when its straight" or " its more attractive to men and more put together when you straighten it". I think that mentality comes from a place of wanting to fit in, and not outwardly state your "otherness". I went through a period of time in college, where I straightened it so much that I damaged it. ( I rocked a pixie crop for over a two year period recently, it was SO LIBERATING).
Now, as an adult woman in my 30's, I have really grasped that my hair is pretty the way it is. Its more work for sure letting it go natural than using keratin/straighteners on it. But its authentic this way, and it represents "me".