Demetria L. Lucas talks about the decision to cut off all her permed hair.
Last week, I decided to shave my head and get rid of my permed hair, or as they (or I guess, we) call it in Naturalista Land, the Big Chop. I was hesitant to write about my decision because well… I’m not the first (by far) nor will I be the last to, as my old-school Southern father put it, “cut off all my hair.” This isn’t even the first time I’ve done it.
Back in '97, fueled by one too many listens of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” I started to question exactly why I was wearing “straight hair like Europeans/ fake nails by Koreans.” The day before my 18th birthday, I took out my bra-strap length jet-black weave and popped off my airbrushed acrylics to find out what the unaltered, un-enhanced me would look and feel like.
My first realization? I didn’t fear rain, humidity, water, or any other form of moisture. Or parties at the Student Union where thousands of Black people danced in a poorly air-conditioned room. Usually, my hair would be a tangled wreck at the end of the night. But suddenly, I wasn’t worried about looking crazy when the house lights went up as my natural hair with little frizz fluff up, actually looked better at the end of the night than it did at the beginning. I went to the beach and splashed in the water without thinking about the time it would take re-do my hair. I could get in the shower without a plastic cap, then hand-fluff my mini-‘fro, and go.
Immediately, I noticed a change in how I was perceived. When I walked around D.C. on lunch break from my internship at a Black political think-tank or walked thru a club, I was no longer greeted with “hey ma” and a tug at my hand to get my attention. It was more, “Excuse me, Miss.” My drinks at the bar got picked up, doors were held open more frequently. What changed… other than my hair?
I’ve never thought the follicles on my head my hair -- texture, cut, or color -- as a political statement, testament to my Blackness or a reflection of my self-esteem. It was hair. That’s all. You don’t like it? You change it. You cut it, it grows back. As Andre 3000 put it, “every[body] with dreds ain’t for the cause/ every[body] with gold [teeth] ain’t for the fall.” But unfortunately, many people see Black women’s hair, as some sort of walking billboard about how she thinks, what she must be into, and how must feel about herself.
It’s not that deep.
I’m unpermed again, but I won’t be joining any hair sororities, obsessing over its texture, regarding my follicles with religious fervor, harassing other people to come to “this side,” or giving into Willy Lynch-worthy thinking about my natural hair being “better” than anybody’s with a relaxer.
It’s just hair.
It changed; I didn’t.
Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationships Editor at ESSENCE and the author of "A Belle in Brooklyn: Your Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Ask her your dating and relationship questions on Formspring.me/abelleinbk