I don’t think I’ve ever had such a swift reaction as the one I experienced immediately after I lopped off my hair. I could still feel the pressure of the rubber handles etched between my fingers when I eased those wretched scissors back onto the bathroom counter and looked at myself. I’d heard so many stories of self-love and outbreaks of confidence from other sisters who’d done the big chop. I, however, was more stunned than I was liberated.
I stared at the mirror.
Then back at the floor.
Then, slowly, reluctantly, tentatively, at the mirror again.
If I was flexible enough, I would’ve reared my leg up and kicked myself square in the hindparts.
On top of my head, where my shoulder length wrap had hung, there was a halo of brown, cottony-looking bushiness. I’d been growing it out, bit by bit, for months, pressing the new growth out or braiding it into crinkly bigness to blend the two textures together. For a while, the effort was successful until a run-in with a bad, sulfate-free shampoo broke it all off and accelerated the inevitable. Now it lay shorter on the sides, packed tight at the top and gave up just a little hangtime around the nape, reminiscent of Bobby Brown’s shaggy 1980s back bang or Lester Jenkins’ misshapen box on 227.
I hated it. Not the hair itself, though it was definitely far from perfect, but the way I looked underneath it.
My decision to grow out my perm wasn’t a “me too!” hop on the natural hair bandwagon nor was it the aftershock of some rebirthed commitment to my Blackness. I was just as power-to-the-people in a wash and set as any sister in an Afro or dreads. There’s a lot of relaxer vs. natural contention in the Black hair community and I never bought into it. It’s what’s in your head, not on it, that makes you conscious. I went natural because I wanted to try something new and to give my hair a break after more than 15 years of deep-fried straightening at Dominican salons.
But on that day, barely past sunrise on a Saturday morning, I stood with my teeth unbrushed, face unwashed and my hair topsy-turvy by my feet. I felt awkward, I felt homely and I felt a trip to the closest African braid shop coming on. I don’t mind telling you I was her first client of the day. Literally. First in the chair. And I’ll keep going back as a gold star customer until this crop grows out.
What an unfortunate discovery it is to learn that your face is not designed for short hair after you’ve scissored it to shreds. Bernadine did it in Waiting to Exhale and it was a hit. Janelle Harris did it in Washington, D.C. and it was a fail. God bless the inventor of the kinky twist.
It’d always been one of my best assets, that hair, but I hadn’t realized just how much of a security blanket it had also been. I’ve never been “pretty” under the general definition of what “pretty” is, and that’s OK. Not everyone is a great beauty—someone has got to be average and I was unknowingly volunteered for the job. But seeing myself in that brazen stage of almost baldness brought to the fore all of the flaws I bemoaned but conveniently distracted from with sassy updos and fresh wraps and cute bangs. Without my hair to hide under, all I could do was focus on the perceived mistakes Mother Nature had made.
Once, I accidentally died my hair platinum blonde after a bright idea, too much time on my hands and close proximity to a beauty supply created the perfect storm for an attempt at doing my own highlights. I had to rock a ponytail weave for months while my poor tresses recuperated. Another time, I put relaxer on my new growth—while I had a headful of Poetic Justice box braids, mind you—in an effort to stretch the time between touch-ups.
But none of those boo-boos compare to the baggage the big chop forced me to confront about how I look at myself, especially in the honest hours of the morning when it was just me and a spur of the moment rendezvous with a pair of scissors. I guess both me and the hair are works in progress.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.